Let’s face it, most writing advice is all the same, because there aren’t too many ways to say “Just do it.” This is my favorite thing that I have read in a while, not because it is particularly novel, but because it really confirms everything I have found to be true for myself over these past few years of trying to crack just exactly the best way to get myself to write.
I am basically just going to summarize what it says in my own words …
Spend less time at your desk. Yes! Look folks, writing your dissertation is stressful and hard. You can only take so much of it in one sitting. And if you end up sitting there dicking around on the internet, you are doing nothing but prolonging the agony. Get in and get out. What do you need to do today? Write up that thing about some random law in some random decade? Write 1,000 word of anything? Revise something you wrote yesterday? Then make a plan and do it–how long is it really going to take? How many minutes or hours of focused attention on this task will get it done? Then commit to that, and then mic drop out of there! “If you stay in the stable too long, the stink will kill you.” Keeping the time you spend at your desk “working” contained will make sure you don’t die of asphyxiation before you can get your dissertation done.
The 2 hour rule. I take this to mean we are all miserable failures and can’t really work as long as we all believe we should. You are not fresh for very long. Face it. You’ve got about 2 good hours before the day goes to shit. After that, the quality of your thought, efficiency, ability to write good stuff, or tackle a new problem significantly diminishes. Plan to do your hardest work in this “fresh” window, then plan to do more mundane, less intense stuff for the rest of the day. Also, if you are trying to do something hard after you have already been working for four hours, you are just kind of beating yourself up and it is going to get really demoralizing. Reconsider how you think about your work time. “I have all day tomorrow! I can get so much done!” No, you fool! You will still just have a couple of good hours, and then a bunch of rough hours. Plan accordingly. Treasure those fresh two hours and protect them. And if you have to do something else in the afternoon, realize you still have those morning hours and you could actually be almost as productive as if you were at home all day.
Which leads me to my own rule not covered in the snazzy article … Quit early. The returns diminish so quickly, that it is literally better to just stop at the point that you are not being very productive any more. Better to quit, have dinner, exercise, sleep, have fun, etc than continue whatever unproductive self torture you’ve worked yourself into by the end of the day. Just quit already. It will be easier tomorrow.
Write fast. Write like you are ripping off a band-aid. Just get it out, get it down, you can always come back later. Just never get slowed down by some idea that what you are writing at this moment is crappy. Of course its crappy! You are a graduate student! This is like the first thing you’ve ever written. Just get started, get it down, and then it will only improve from there.
Leave it to rest. That steaming pile of crap you wrote so fast will be really bad, and if you try to improve it after you just wrote it, you will become incredibly discouraged and just want to quit altogether. Just come back later–you know, tomorrow morning at that fresh two hour window–and it will be easier. Your brain will put it on the back burner, and by the time you come back, you will be all the closer to knowing what you want to say and how to say it and how to change around that crappy draft to make it a reality. Leave it to rest also goes for any problem that is giving you a headache. Is this getting too hard? Do you not know how to proceed? Just let it be for the rest of the day. Do something else that isn’t as hard. Then come back when you are fresh and tackle that problem. Do it in iterations.
Disclaimer: AND BY “YOU” I MEAN ME.