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Tag: Writing (page 2 of 3)

“Moving Forward” Seminar 3

This seminar related to bottlenecks in your research.  Rather depressing when the whole thing feels like you’re stuck in the neck of the bottle, like a cartoon character with your head bulging out, or should that be in?

The key is to stop procrastinating (ha!) and just to start.  So if there’s a section in your thesis that is weighing heavily on your mind, and you don’t know what to do about it, start writing using one of the techniques from the first session.  So for example, use freewriting, freefalling (the one where you make the text white on white so that you can’t make edits) or writing in a different genre.  Even if you only do 20 minutes to start with, you should gradually find that you’ve worked through the bottleneck and gone some way towards writing the section that was causing all that anxiety.

“Moving Forward” Seminar 2

The second of the seminars was about managing resources.  Speaking personally, and as an interdisciplinary researcher with a lot of resources on the go at the same time, my bibliography and research notes are in a real mess.  I’m pretty sure that I’m doing better on my computer than I would be with a card system, but only barely!

This disorganisation is leading to a certain amount of anxiety, as I always feel that my research is out of control, and keep thinking that I’m missing out lots of things I meant to mention.  Time to sort it all out before it’s too late!

Part of my problem up until now has been a deep seated hate of EndNote.  It works ok, inserts citations into Word documents etc., but it is so painful to edit references and make notes.  I also couldn’t find a satisfactory way to organise my references into themes and chapters (and I tried using keywords and groups).

I have decided to switch to Zotero (on the advice of a friend, and after a quick trial run over the last couple of days).  I still have the EndNote files as a backup, but from now on I’m organising and note-taking in my new browser based interface (much more satisfying and less clunky).

Anyway, on to what I took away from the seminar…

Never just read a resource (unless you decide after a quick look that it’s of no importance to your research).  Make your read through worth while, even if you don’t have time to make exhaustive notes, always record a summary and a critique, so that you’ve got something to jog your memory when you see the reference again.

The summary, um, should be a summary.

The critique should: identify problems you see with the text and identify aspects that are particularly pertinent for your own research.

I’m sure I knew that I should have been doing this all along, but I haven’t.  Maybe everyone else has been much better and more organised than me.  However, all is not lost, and next week I’m going to work on categorising my resources in Zotero, deleting the things I now know are of no use and writing quick summaries and critiques for resources where I haven’t already done this.  (Yes, that probably is a huge number, even though I have lots of notes for many of them, but I’ll work from the most relevant to the least relevant).

Plan Y: Speaking to my thesis

Plan Y is based on an idea from the first Moving Forward seminar: trying to write in a different genre, but with a twist.  I have been trying to write to a deadline this week, but I’m experiencing the same old problem of being unable to move along with what I want to say.  I seem to get tied up in prose.

Having tried free-writing, but finding that it just leads to the same old rants, I have decided to try something new.  I have Plan X’s Radical Über Chop-up Document to work with, and I’ve decided to just write my first draft as if I was giving a presentation or a lecture.  The twist is, you see, that really I’m not using a writing genre at all, it’s more like trying to access the way that I’d explain it to an audience directly, face to face.

The reason that I think this might help is that I almost always feel more clear over what I’m doing when I’m talking about it, as opposed to when I’m trying to write it down in “scholarly prose” (whatever that is).  Last week I even recorded myself talking through the chop-up document, because it helped me to get on with reviewing the document rather than miserably trying to work at improving it from beginning to end.  This did help, but when I went back to writing my positive ideas fell apart too quickly.

So, Plan Y:

  • Write as if I’m presenting the material live, talking it through, using my examples etc.
  • If I get stuck then record a section and then write from the recording

Obviously I’m aware that this will only result in an early draft, and it’ll need to be rewritten to make it a “real thesis”, but at least I might end up with the precious draft to work with :).  I’m hoping that by accessing the speaking as opposed to the writing parts of my brain I’ll bypass all the negativity that keeps on tangling me up in knots.

“Moving Forward” Seminar 1

This morning was the first of the “Moving Forward” thesis writing seminars.  It was mostly to do with writing block, which while it is still there to an extent is not currently my major problem.

The seminar was worrying to start with, as I began to wonder how useful it would be for me, and there were (as usual) many people from sciences and social sciences and not many from arts, humanities and cultural studies.  However, it was good, and there was lots of writing time which worked pretty well for me.

The standout thing I took away was the rather depressing fact that writing never gets any easier.  It is always like getting into a cold pool for a swim – every day starting to write is going to seem like a really bad idea, and you’re only going to begin to feel better once you’ve taken the plunge and got going.

So, I could finish on that note, but that would be bad!  Here’s an idea:

Sometimes I can dive in if I promise myself I just have to do 20 minutes – this doesn’t always work, but if you remember to take a short break after that initial 20 minutes you may well find that you’re ok to continue and write for longer.  Even if this doesn’t happen, at least you’ve done that initial 20 minutes!

What if the 20 minutes just doesn’t happen?  Well, if I’m just time-wasting (ie browsing/networking) then I suspect (although I haven’t done this very often and should do it more) that I need to remove my internet connection!

If you’re just stuck then try free writing, although I’d try writing about a specific piece of your thesis in this way, rather than just babbling, that way you are more productive, and will hopefully build up your focus so that you can continue on thesis-related stuff.

What is free-writing in this context?

Well, I think I’d describe it as writing for yourself.  The element of freedom is more in the style, rather than in the content.  Don’t worry about being academic, don’t worry about your supervisor reading it, use “I” to focus on your argument.  You can use this piece of writing later, rework it so that it fits into whatever style you need to use, but if you start like this it really is much easier.  It also has the advantage of making you write more about what you think, rather than just piecing together what other people have said.

If you find that you can’t flow with your writing, ie you keep stopping, making corrections, going back and editing etc. then a suggestion from this morning’s seminar was to switch your screen off, use a white font on a white background, use a small font so that you can’t read exactly what you’ve written.  This sounds extreme, but I think it would help if you find that you’re thinking too much while you’re writing.  You want to write something that says roughly what you want it to say rather than being perfect (in any respect).

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