Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The 17-Step Plan

I've come into this PhD with a determination to try and write often. This is for two reasons: mainly because I want to hone my outcome (my writing). But this determination is just as much because I want to refine the process (how I go about writing).

Here's how my writing process looks at the moment.  After I finish all my reading, and make all my notes, I:
  1. Make a brainstorm of criticism and my ideas;
  2. Group ideas and number this. Use this as basis for my paragraphs;
  3. Wait until tomorrow, because you can't possibly start writing in the middle of the day;
  4. Add headers;
  5. Crack out 2,000+ words in less than 4 hours;
  6. Print off first draft;
  7. Wait until tomorrow, because you can't possibly write and proof-read in the same day;
  8. Read first draft;
  9. Scribble notes all over it;
  10. Despair because I have so much editing to do;
  11. Spend 3+ hours making corrections/editions and refining my argument;
  12. Print off second draft;
  13. Wait until tomorrow because you can't possibly write and proof-read in the same day;
  14. Despair because I don't want to read it again;
  15. Palm it off on husband to proof read;
  16. Make corrections as quickly as possible because I don't want to look at it any more;
  17. Send off to supervisors with a feeling of dread because it's drained me so much; then
  18. Spend the time until my next supervision berating myself for being bad at this writing lark.
It is possible for me to write, but I can't help that feel this isn't the most efficient way to do it: just typing out this 17-step process has made me feel drained, and anxious. However, typing out the process is making me think about which particular elements of this make the process so hard. I'm going to try and suggest a few changes for the next time I write. I might do a follow-up post to see how they go.

Firstly, it takes a few consecutive days. Which as part-timer, I don't have. The intensity of the process (along with my natural tendency to procastinate) means that by the time I finish one stage (usually within a few hours) I run out of motivation to keep going. There are two solutions to this: stop procrastinating (yeah, right) and allow the process to take longer: I'd rather spend 6 hours writing at a manageable pace then spend 3 working flat out and then be drained.

Secondly, my argument changes between my first and second draft. Not majorly, but it often changes in focus or tone. Often I add more evidence. Often I remove points entirely because they suddenly seem weak. I know this isn't unusual; in fact, it's the whole point of editing. But it happens so often, with so many points that it makes me doubt my academic judgement in including them in first place. With the next piece I write, I want to have my ideas clear and present in the first draft, then keep most of the there.

Thirdly, that last draft almost always involves making bitty corrections to references. This one is simple, I think: I need to do my references as I write! More to the point, I need to start using the bibliography function on Microsoft Word. Or finally figure out EndNote...

I'm finally coming up with ideas that I'm proud of, and I think might go somewhere. I'm hoping that if I sort out these areas, I can actually focus on my ideas, not the strain of getting them down on paper.

Of course, in the meantime, I'd love to know what writing blocks you've faced, and how you cope with them.  

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