On your marks, get set, go: Keeping momentum in your writing

Posted on 27/01/2014 · Posted in Dialogos, Recent news

Writing a thesis is a lot like running a marathon. You’re in it for the long haul, cramps and all.

You also have to practice often if you want to make it over the finish line. But it can be difficult just to get started. There’s usually something else to do first, like reading another article, answering e-mails or mowing your lawn. And your neighbour’s lawn.

There are many reasons why we put off writing. It can be fear that we’re not good enough or don’t know enough. Maybe the first sentence or paragraph has to be just right before you can write the rest of your thesis. Or your muse has been on holiday since you started thinking about doing a postgraduate degree.

Don’t despair! There are several things that you can do to get you writing.

One of the most useful writing strategies is free writing. Choose a topic or idea that you’ve been grappling with and write about it for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, sentence structure. Don’t plan anything or fix anything. The only rule is that you write for 10 minutes without stopping. This might greatly worry your inner perfectionist but she’ll soon be amazed by the benefits of this exercise. You’re forced to focus on getting your ideas on paper instead of writing perfectly; ideas you didn’t even know you had become dislodged. Hopefully, after 10 minutes you’ve found your rhythm and you can’t stop writing. Even if you’ve written nonsense, the sky hasn’t fallen and the blank page becomes less scary. You can always go back and reformulate your new ideas.

Remember that a thesis is a marathon – not a sprint – so write short pieces at a time. Focus on just one small piece. Once you have many, many pieces, you can start sewing[*] them together.

Reward yourself for making progress. Do this often and celebrate even the small milestones. If you haven’t written anything in the past month but you wrote a paragraph today, celebrate that paragraph. Have a biscuit (or five), do a little dance, jump on your bed[†] – anything that makes you smile. You deserve it.

Once you’ve written something – good or bad – you’re welcome to come and show it to us at the SU Language Centre’s Writing Lab. We’d love to celebrate your paragraphs with you.

[*] I apologise for the mixed metaphor. I like running and I like sewing. And sometimes writing.

[†]The Language Centre will not be held liable for any weight gain, sprained ankles or broken beds.

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