Write Here, Write Now
Yesterday I was delighted with how our PORESO event was received, a 90 minute seminar with the wonderful Professor Karl Spracklen on Beginning to Write the Ph.D. Karl also spoke at our annual conference back in June, which I talk about here in When is Right to Write? Karl was one of our most popular speakers from the conference, and we will be announcing the Part Two to his seminar soon. Watch this space!
Karl has a wealth of experience, and I was personally inspired to start writing after his June session. Also, a quote from Karl “Why should you listen to me? I’m a Professor, I have good boots on, and I have a beard”! Reason enough surely. It is also uplifting to note that despite having more books due for publication, teaching, editorial roles etc, Karl has an open door policy. Yet he still manages to get things done. Why? He has a system and he sticks to it.
So often we are told to just write but finding the motivation and inspiration can be hard. However as Karl suggests you do have to just shut up and write! Get started. Do it today. You have to make the time, find the energy, and commit to it. The more you write, the easier it all becomes. Writing is not a natural talent, it is learned, practiced, crafted. The more you do it, the more you want to and the better you will become.
You need to feel ownership of your ideas and your writing. You need to understand the mechanics or what makes a good and coherent argument. I find taking an editorial role is helping me for with, deconstructing and critiquing the work of others, has made me very self-reflexive about my own. We are early-career academics, our knowledge has to fit in somewhere with the rets of the body of knowledge. Understanding how it’s constructed, and how it relates to each other, and breaking that down, is crucial.
Karl says “don’t worry about getting it right”. Just write it as a draft, and send it to your supervisors. If you aren’t submitting work, they can’t provide feedback and you can’t build on your ideas and thesis. And whilst I would be wary of blogging about your thesis material (don’t! always check with your supervisors) the writing process need not be lonely. You can blog about other research interests or the field itself, the writing process, the Ph.D journey, and get instant feedback in cyber space. You can connect instantly on twitter with your peers. This always kick starts my writing. You go to conferences and share your writing and ideas there. There are always so many things on the go, so write a draft, submit, then forget about it for a while until the feedback comes in.
Read everyday! In order to write, we must be reading constantly. And not just academic texts. Read blogs, news sites, magazines, fanzines, novels, poems. Read whatever you can. I always use the Daily Mail for example in my writing and teaching as it’s a magnificent tool; even the most dire tabloid press uses language for purpose.
As Karl says: ” Using persuasive rhetoric and evidence to build up your case” is the essence of the Ph.D! This is a learned skill.
We all have a passion, and it is that which must spur us to write. I know most of my blog posts come when I’m angry! And it’s passion and often anger that drive me to give conference papers.
You must find your time to write. We are all juggling so many tasks, but we also must find the time to write.
Writing isn’t a 9 to 5 job. You may write best at 4 am, or at 11 pm. It’s about finding what works for you. Personally, I write best at 5am – 8am in a block, or late evening, depending on my health and body clock. I need uninterrupted writing time, and when I am in the swing of things, I can write all day. But when we have so many other constraints on our time, we need to carve out that set period everyday, that we guard.
It is just as important to carve out time for thinking, reflecting and planning. Some of Karl’s best ideas come on his runs. My best ideas come when I am on the beach with the dogs. This ain’t no 9 to 5, so when you feel like you have hit the wall, go for a run, or a walk, or do some yoga, or watch a film, or read a magazine. Then come back to the writing. When you get back, empty your head, write the ideas down. Often people find writing in different places very inspiring, such as cafes, or parks, or galleries.
Don’t slow your writing down by trying to perfect each draft, simply write in a frenzy, in a timed fashion if that suits, and write ‘insert ref’ whenever necessary. It is a draft. Your supervisor wants to see where you are up to, they are not expecting perfection. I was so scared to hand in my first chapter draft, but writing in endless notebooks was getting out of hand. I actually think better as I am writing, that’s how I develop my ideas.
No writing goes to waste. You use excess material that doesn’t make the thesis for journal articles, conference papers, blog posts, teaching material, postdoc projects. I like to have a couple of things on the go, so when I hit the wall, I can just do something else.
Getting your ideas out there and networking is important.
As Professor Pat Thomson argues on her fantastic blog here, blogging counts as publication. People cite your work. It opens up a dialogue, you make impact, you further the debate.
As for twitter and blogging? Exactly the same. They are not time-wasting exercises or nice extras if you get the chance. They are a crucial component in the modern early career researcher. As Tim Hitchcock argues here: “The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it. For myself the point is that these scholars don’t waste text, and neither do I. If I give a talk, I turn it into a blog”.
So let’s close the facebook page, minimize our email window, sit down, and just write.