Vivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.
Being an intern at PhD2Published means in the past few months, I’ve read more pieces on academic writing than my entire three years in the university combined. Many of what I have read involves investigating the problem of procrastination. I can’t help but notice that academic writers and creative writers hold very different beliefs when it comes to that problem. Some people are calling for academics to cease thinking of themselves as just scholars or researchers, but also writers, so perhaps we can take a few notes from people who fully identify themselves as writers.
So what exactly do creative writers have to say about procrastination?
Embrace it. That’s among the first things you will hear.
Creative writers often have slightly more flexible deadlines, so when they hit a writer’s block, they probably won’t tackle it by sitting down and ordering themselves to write at least 5000 words a day. They prefer putting the tasks aside and wait until inspiration strikes. “I’ve spent the last two weeks not writing and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, and I don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty about it [,]” writes Bryan Hutchinson, a creative writer and the proud owner of the Positive Writer blog. He explains in a blog post on why procrastination is a good thing that forcing himself to write usually results in work he doesn’t appreciate. He finds this method wastes time and is causes more stress.
Of course, this doesn’t mean creative writers simply procrastinate for the rest of eternity. Rather they treat their procrastination period as a short break for their worn out mind. They believe creativity comes and goes as it pleases, and cannot be squeezed out like lemon juice. When the time comes, inspiration hits and that’s their sign of going back to work. Optimistic much? Perhaps, but funnily enough, from what I’ve read, this strategy usually works. “I discovered that the more time I put off writing and procrastinate, the more time I spend creating [,]” claims Hutchinson in his post.
Indeed, for creative writers, writing is a process of creation, not gluing your hands to the keyboard and typing until you hit a word limit. The problem academic writers have to ask themselves is, do they have the luxury to NOT do the latter? Sadly, most of the time the answer is no.
The bottom line, creative writers are people who value quality over quantity, while the academic world seems to expect the opposite. Quantity often dictates a scholar’s worth: The number of their works which have been published by high impact journals; the number of citations those works have received… The list goes on.
Just to cheer things up, I believe academic writers do have the chance to procrastinate. One thing both academic and creative writers can agree on is the best time to procrastinate: Something good usually comes out of putting your work aside after the very first draft. Give yourself a break before revising and editing and you will see your writing in a whole new perspective. If you don’t experience an inspiration spur during one of your showers at the procrastination period, it often still comes when you start working on the piece again.
On a final note, creative writers enjoy the writing process itself. As academics, you may find joy in researching or being published, but do try to enjoy the in-betweens like creative writers do. When you sit in a café with no wifi, writing your literature review, treat the process as something you have come to love. Passion always makes quality work.
Vivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.
Here are some common conceptions about the negative impact of procrastination:
1.Decrease in productivity: Obviously, procrastination means avoiding serious or pressing tasks. When we procrastinate, we basically stop achieving anything constructive. It delays our work progress, creating much bigger problems down the line when that chapter is due.
2.Decrease in motivation: The longer you drag your feet on the task, the less motivated you become to start working on it at all, resulting in lower quality work overall.
3.A decrease in self-discipline: When we start giving ourselves reasons to believe we have all the time in the world to finish a task, we become more and more disorganised and our lack of work discipline can lapse into other areas.
However, a quick trip to the mysterious realm called ‘the internet’ reveals some benefits of procrastination:
1.Stress relief: If a current task is difficult enough to make us want to stop for a while, it usually means we are too stressed up by it. Taking a break from it can relax our mind.
2.Boosting creativity: A lot of people, especially creative writers, believe coming back from procrastination gives them a fresh perspective, and thus stimulates creative thinking. Personally, I am a firm believer in this point. In fact, as a student, the best grade I ever received from my assignments came from a sudden outburst of ideas right after a bad case of procrastination.
3.Sense of control: When we force ourselves to turn off the internet, ignore all the WhatsApp messages, and simply write, write, and write, it feels like we are letting our work control our life. The realization is both unpleasant and counterproductive. We need passion to get a job done well and right now all we’ve got is a deep sense of loathing. Procrastination gives the sense of control back to us. It might be a waste of time, but at least it would be your choice to waste that time, and when we start working again, we may have a new-found appreciation of what we are doing when we cease wasting time.
4.Getting the overlooked tasks done We accomplish a lot of other tasks when avoiding the main one (This is basically the idea of “structured procrastination” I talked about before. Some people procrastinate by completing less important, but also pending, tasks. Some do it by cleaning up their desks. All these, while less important, are still productive tasks. When we procrastinate, we actually have the chance to work on the responsibilities we normally ignore.
Apparently, even procrastination can have its moment if we look at it from the right angle. Some psychologists are brushing it off as people trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in the act of procrastination. However, if you find yourselves trapped in a procrastination period, don’t panic. Remember, you are not alone!
I was going to start writing this post on procrastination yesterday, but then I thought, maybe later.
Procrastination sucks. We all know that. Professor John Perry from Stanford University coined the concept “structured procrastination”. The idea is that you can turn procrastination into a productive process if you spend the time not doing one important task by doing an apparently less important one. For example, in the time when Dr. Perry really should have been grading papers and filling book order forms, he wrote his essay on structured procrastination in order to procrastinate doing those top priority task. The essay would go on to win him an Ig Nobel Prize in literature fifteen years later, proving everyone procrastinates, including the Prize Committee.
Of course, Dr. Perry had admitted that “structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception”. For this to work, you have to adjust your mentality into thinking the task with the seemingly (but not really) most pressing deadline is your absolute first priority right now, so you would gladly fulfil other tasks to avoid working on that.
When I first heard this, I thought it sounded rather clever. Structured procrastination assumes that all chronic procrastinators always ditch the first priority for slightly less important work. It plays with our own psychology.
However, the problem, I believe, is the evil existence of some less flexible deadlines. Perhaps a conference coming right up, or, for a humble BA student like myself, assignment due dates. Unlike Dr. Perry’s examples, these responsibilities can’t be ignored and saved until some even more urgent matters pop up. It also depends highly on the procrastinator’s self-discipline. The fact that my method of procrastination, instead of accomplishing other marginally useful tasks, is to start a Doctor Who marathon definitely does not help!
Personally, I prefer the traditional ways to overcome procrastination. Bribing yourself is usually a good idea. Take a tiresome piece of writing: When in doubt, take a deep breath; sit down, and once you reach a certain word count you get a drink, or maybe snack a bit, or even reward yourself 2 pages of that novel you’ve been obsessing over – whatever floats your writer boat. I also find adding more details onto the outline whenever I feel like putting the writing aside helps motivate me to continue working.
Whether it’s for you or not, structured procrastination means one more option for all procrastinators out there. If you are interested, I would suggest first trying it out on tasks with softer deadlines. Be sure to let us know what you think about it. Do you have other great ideas for battling procrastination? We would love to hear about that too!
This Twitter chat was dedicated to co-authoring (hosted by @llmunro)
The idea is that you set yourself an academic writing goal to achieve by the end of the month. Some people prefer to count words typed, others the time and effort they put in, or the number of projects completed. You sign up and then follow the hashtag on Twitter or check our Facebook page for tips, tricks advice and support from a community of thousands of academics. Together we investigate what it takes to become an efficient academic writer – and of course make academic writing a bit less lonely.
For the first time this year we are offering facilitator toolkits (click the pink button to the right) to help you host an AcWriMo team at your own university or even just focus on academic writing in one of your classes. La Trobe University are a great example of how to lead AcWriMo in your own institution.
If you need help getting started just ask on Twitter or Facebook and someone will be there to help you!
More about US:
The newly redesigned PhD2Published boasts hundreds of blog posts on various aspects of academic publishing from writing book proposals to dealing with reviewers comments on a journal article; presenting papers at conferences; publishing with open access journals; and professional networking – as well as countless tips on writing productivity. We receive well over 10,000 unique visitors a month and have a Twitter following of more than 13,000 people. Founder, Charlotte Frost, has presented PhD2Published at institutions including the Australian National University, Duke University and University College London and we have been featured in publications including Chronicle of Higher Education, the Guardian and Inside Higher Ed.
Host Pat Thomson will moderate a discussion on the challenges of setting and meeting academic writing goals. Everyone is welcome to join in with their questions and insights about productivity in academic writing. At this time of year, many writers are trying new approaches and making new resolutions; in this chat, we will consider why those resolutions are so hard to keep. Are we setting unrealistic goals? Are we saying “yes” to too many non-writing activities? Are we trying to find time to write without giving up anything else? Are we sticking with writing approaches that haven’t worked well for us in the past? Are we getting discouraged by the lack of immediate results? Are we assessing our own writing too harshly? One thing that we know often hampers attempts to develop new habits is trying to do it alone. While writing is often a solitary task, we can still gain solace from a community of other writers. The #acwri chats are a way of building that community and creating a space for writers to share their experiences with all facets of academic writing. Please join us on January 22 to be part of this valuable forum. In addition to questions and comments about goal setting, we welcome suggestions for topics for future chats.
Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.
After a fantastic month in Germany, I am now back in the UK. Is it a case of proudly looking over what I’ve achieved, or licking my wounds after an unproductive month? Well I’m delighted to announce that it’s the former! I have had one of my most productive months of writing in the short history of my PhD.
It was always going to be a challenge working in a foreign country for a month, but they say “change is as good as a rest”, and the different scenery and culture helped a great deal with my productivity.
After my interim report stated that I’d made a solid start, things got even better in the following week, meaning—and I take a deep breath as I type this—I have returned to England with a final first draft of my PhD thesis! It’s an incredible feeling, and one I didn’t expect when I flew out on October 31st, but the month away has propelled me into a very strong position.
How did I make it work for me? Well, as previously highlighted, I made use of daylight hours by sightseeing, hiking, taking photographs and generally forgetting about research. Mentally and physically, this was important. Then, when it got dark at 4.30pm, I wrote until around 9.30pm each evening, with breaks for drinks and a meal. I repeated this Monday to Friday, and took weekends off.
Over the course of three weeks, I managed to write 14,000 words using this method. The final week, it was decided early on, would be a break as a reward for working hard. I cannot recommend taking a week off enough. It is the first time in over two years of PhD research that I have truly abandoned my research for a week. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t check emails, I didn’t even open my laptop on some days. The impact on my wellbeing was incredible. From feeling proud of my efforts, but also a little stressed to say the least, I returned to England invigorated, refreshed and as enthused as the day I began my PhD journey. As I tweak and polish my thesis in the run up to Christmas, I have already promised myself two weeks with no PhD over the festive break.
In conclusion, I look back with fondness on a country and experience which worked wonders on my PhD productivity, and perhaps there is something to be said for a 3 week/1 week working pattern, giving the body and mind time to recover before the next stretch of research.
Whether you set goals. met goals, or decided not to even consider #AcWriMo, the important takeaway is a vibrant, supportive community of scholars who are encouraging one another year round.
So we’d like to ask you, our community of academic writers, what we can do to keep that community going strong beyond November. Would you want a series of Twitter chats? A virtual Shut Up & Write session? Workshops? Tips? Please post your ideas here!
Looking forward to a productive December.