The Thesis Whisperer

ImageHey Mellons! Check out some seasoned advice from the blogger “The Thesis Whisperer.” And yes, reading this blog might very well be “good procrastination!” Here is an excerpt below:

Step one: spend less time at your desk

Now close that Facebook window and listen to Auntie Thesis Whisperer for a moment. The secret to writing at least 1000 words a day is to give yourself a limited time frame in which to do it.

What’s that I hear you say? “Are you crazy Inger??”.

Well, as I’ve said before, just because Mr or Ms Bottom is paying a trip to Chair Town it does not always follow that productive work is being done. If you give yourself the whole day to write, you will spend the whole day writing and, in the process, drive yourself bat shit crazy.

One of my supervisors once said “Doing a thesis is like mucking out a stable”. His point was that you have to tackle it one wheel barrow load of shit at a time – if you stay in the stable too long, the stink will kill you. So dedicate less than a quarter of the day to making some new text and then take a break and return  later to clean it up. This sounds counter intuitive, but trust me – it works.

Step Two: remember the two hour rule

I think most people only have about two really good, creative writing hours in a day – two hours in which new ‘substantive’ ideas will make their way onto the page. Most of us are in the best frame of mind for this after breakfast and before lunch – whatever time of the day that happens to be for you. So writing new stuff should be almost the first thing you do when you sit down to your desk. Personally I find it hard to resist the siren call of the email, but if I am on deadline I do an emergency scan then close it until lunch time.

Step Four: start in the middle

When I am on deadline and need to generate words I don’t even attempt to write introductions, conclusions or important transitions. As Howard Becker in his excellent “Writing for Social Scientists” said: “How can I introduce it if I haven’t written it yet?”.This attitude is echoed in “Helping Doctoral Students to Write” , where Kamler and Thomson recommend that thesis writers think about their work in terms of ‘chunks’ rather than chapters.

A chunk can be anything up to two pages long – the text between each subheading if you like. No doubt you have some scrappy notes which you can transcribe or cut into a new file as a ‘seed’. Once you have planted the seed, just start adding on words around and over it – this builds a chunk. Don’t worry about where it fits yet – that’s a rewriting problem.

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