Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What To Do When Struggling to Write Text for the Dissertation: Ideas #1 and #2

I'm sure that many of you have strategies for what to do when it's difficult to face the current piece of academic writing. I thought I'd start making a list.

Here are two things that I'm doing today that seem to be helping me get into the groove and make progress despite my fear of the page:
  1. re-read existing text and do some minor line editing
  2. find, pull, and type quotations that are relevant to this piece/chapter
I'm sure I'll figure out more of these (and I'm sure I'll remember more of them that I've used in the past), but feel free to share your own ideas about how to get your mojo flowing once your butt is in the chair*.

*I did not including "blogging," which is clearly what I just stopped working in order to do. But since this isn't a list about procrastination, I didn't include it. Now, back to my regularly schedule writing work.


Amstr said...

A few things I do:
1. write for 15 minutes. Usually just freewriting or writing focused on what I'm supposed to be working on, but it usually helps me get the task going.
2. Break the work down into 15-20 minute chunks. I'm pretty sure I can do anything for 15 min. and most tasks take me less time than I think they will. And I really do use a timer.
3. Write the worst ever version of the paragraph or page I'm setting out to write. Set the bar REALLY low. Again, it's usually not quite as bad as I think it will be.

Trevor Strohman said...

amstr just stole most of what I was going to say.

When I was having trouble writing dissertation stuff, I would force myself to write about why I was stuck. The point was to come up with a list of reasons why writing was hard. The first reasons might be lazy, e.g. "it's so sunny outside," but after a while there was usually some real difficulty, like "I don't understand what the author of this paper is actually saying."

I usually found that once I dug up a real precise reason why I was procrastinating, it wasn't so hard to attack that problem with direct solutions, like "write to a friend and ask them what this paper says" or "decide this paper is not important for the dissertation anyway and drop it from the literature review"

loveskidlit said...

Usually, fluffing around with paper clips and dividers worked fine. Eased myself into the writing through "strategizing." Good luck! Let us know how the mojo works for you!

C. Troubadour said...

Hmmm ... well, my work's not quite straight academic, but I do find that having noise in my head distracting me from the subject at hand prevents proper immersion. You know, that thing in your brain that churns out messages like, "You need to pay the electric bill." Or "Did I set the VCR to record X show tonight?" Or "I haven't talked with so-and-so in a long time; I should e-mail her." So to shut that voice up, should you have this problem, I recommend a brain dump. Jot down those little messages in one three-minute session just as you sit down to work (because sitting down to work causes that other part of my brain to wake up -- of course), then set the noise list aside.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

My problem with my diss was that there was already a mountain of research surrounding my topic -- Shakespeare's history plays. So I got really bogged down in reading. I would read and read and read, but never get any writing done. So finally, I told myself to stop reading and get my ass in front of a keyboard. I started out by summarizing a bunch of what I read, and that would be enough to get me going. (Also helped me remember what I'd just read, too.)

Good luck! The dissertation is a bear, but you'll be so glad when it's over!

P.S. I have my community college interview Thursday at 9:30 pacific time. Wish me luck!

Bavardess said...

Lots of good advice here. I find I can get a block about actually sitting down at the laptop, so I'll start by writing on paper. I use an unlined sketchbook of really nice paper, which somehow encourages me to write on it. Often, just drawing flowcharts or mindmaps of my main ideas in there really helps me clarify my thoughts and get going on the real writing.