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So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt I
‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

Organise your time. No matter how much of your time you’re able to dedicate to your thesis/dissertation/article/paper/chapter you won’t get it done if you don’t manage your time. In fact, it’s not about the time you have but the way that you use it. There are lots of ways you can do this. One is to use the Pomodoro Technique and divide your writing day into pomodori (25 minutes of writing 5 minutes of resting). Another is to notice which are your most effective writing hours. For example do you do best first thing in the morning or only after your third cup of coffee? Whenever is best for you, mark out that time for writing and fit in other tasks around it. And don’t over-do the amount of time you dedicate to writing – sometimes less is more if it stops you from feeling burnt out the next day.

Break. it. down. Of course your writing project is daunting if you continue to think of it as a T/D/A/P/C. Instead try to break it down into a set of components. I have started using the free Trello project management software to help me create a workflow of task cards and action columns. You can attach all manner of items to a card including Word and Google Docs, images, check-lists and due dates. You might like to have columns for research tasks such as reading, note taking, writing up, editing, and then pass a topic card (and attachments) through various stages.  Or maybe it makes more sense to you to divide up your project into chapter or section columns and sub-section cards. Perhaps you prefer to do this on a Whiteboard or using Post-Its? However you do it, the  important part is just to get yourself to see the project as a set of elements and then to see each element in terms of what you’re required to do for that part alone. Once you’re at that stage it is a thousand times easier to start, to keeping working away on each tiny task and, most importantly, to finish (and finish on time because now you’ve seen your work for what it really is – a set of tasks – you’re more capable of allocating the right amount of time to each task).

Set realistic goals. In November for AcWriMo we advocate pushing yourself harder than usual. For the most part this is because it is a diagnostic programme; we believe that if you put in twice the hours (words, projects etc.) you’ll find out what doesn’t work in half the time. Plus we build a support community to spur you on and who doesn’t want to finish their T/D/A/P/C that bit quicker? But in the main it’s important to set goals that you can meet so that you learn to manage your time efficiently and can keep up the momentum. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals you’ll feel bad about yourself and your writing, you’ll likely have a very erratic writing schedule and, you won’t be able to see what other tasks can be completed while writing is going on (you might even start to feel like you’re failing at everything and that’s not good). Use AcWriMo to find out what is realistic for you in terms of hours or words you can write and stick to that the rest of the year.

Put ya thing down. It often feels like academic writing means like you have to make a strong and definitive statement on something. This is intensified when working on a PhD thesis because you have all sorts of feelings of guilt and self-loathing and have the desire to prove yourself and have something megatastic to show for all that work. But would we ever even open our mouths if we felt this kind of weight on our shoulders. The trick is to think of academic writing as a conversation. Gerald Graff demonstrated this idea in his classic They Say, I Say (even if I prefer the Missy Elliott version). Each time you sit down to write imagine yourself in dialogue with someone. What do you need to say to carry that conversational baton on to the next runner/writer?

Duh! Read something.. It sounds really obvious but you need to have read enough to even start writing in the first place. If you are struggling to write, it probably means you haven’t read enough yet so get back to the books (other information platforms are available) and read some more. Or re-read the texts you’re working with and attain a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, if you find yourself stuck at any point, pick up a book for inspiration. Either look at the content and refresh your thoughts by reconsidering what is being said, or look at the style and see if you can’t jump start you next paragraph by using the same approach. You might even go and read the newspaper, just read something to fill the gap where the ‘omg what the hell am I trying to say’ thoughts are and you’ll be on your writing way in no time.


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