10:28:25 pmCategories: Writing, Academic life and family

Manifesto for faster writing and shorter workdays

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To my surprise I discovered that it was easy to change my way of writing and even my way of working more generally. The writing came easiest. When I wrote my master thesis, on very good days I could produce half a page. I could file and mould every sentence for hours, a technique I think contributed to the far too dense structure. Not only is the fluency easily lost, but I also started to find it a boring way to work.

I then read a tip that helped me out of it right away. Now, regularly write at least a 1000 words on a regular workday. It’s just to write on, without any censorship – don’t erase anything, just switch paragraph – and preferably no checking of sources during the first draft. [Write everything you want like to check in square brackets]. One should start first thing in the day (or rather, in the work day, for us with children) and keep it going for two hours. Often it goes so well that it is just to continue. They way I wrote earlier made me so fed up with my own text that I never rewrote and hardly even read through it. - But even then I had to restructure the text, both within and between chapters. Now, this editing work is much easier on all levels. It’s far easier to delete since my sentences and paragraphs haven’t had the time to become particularly dear darlings, and it is far easier to rewrite and restructure.

This writing exercise also helped me with the more challenging task to change work habits. When it suddenly was necessary for me to get as much work done as possible, it almost seemed like I needed to change personality. Until then, for as long as I can remember my way of working can be likened to a heavy, heavy steam engine setting off from last chance saloon. I could (can) spend hours getting started. I’ve waited until the absolute deadline, than procrastinated a little longer before slowly pulling my forces together, in order to finally work for a loooong, looooong time with an increasing speed and enthusiasm. Then of course, after a period of intense effort and concentration, some kind of break is desperately needed, and it will once again take a long time – and usually a last call – to get the steam engine going again.

Then circumstances just came and changed the pattern. Circumstances demand that I get a minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep every night (if not things can get very nasty between Mrs Surpæt [untranslatable old dialect related to ‘grumpy’] and her offspring. Circumstances also demand that (at least the first part of) the office day must end around 15H. That leaves me with no more than 5-6 successive work hours, something which was unthinkable under my previous regime. I sometimes force myself to take a lunch break, and I still rarely write less than my 1000 pages. – If it is not one of these awful, annoying, aggravating days that keep me from getting on with the writing right from the beginning. Because, the thing is, if I get hung up in some petty task of searching for something or clearing some space on my desk or some administration of some kind, I’m almost certainly unable to recover that day’s work spirit.

But if I’ve prepared rightly and know where to start (either by thinking it through the day before or on the way to work), and I sit down without too much fuss, it’s almost as if the fewer work hours I have in front of me, the more I get done. Down to a certain limit of course, but working concentrated for around 5-6 hours (with or without a break, is really perfect). This scheme worked amazingly well for more than four months in the autumn, a very lengthy leg which it would have been impossible to beat under earlier circumstances.

Now the question is: My thesis needs about 33 000 more words. Can I get them written in 33 days (divided on 4 days a week, - also due to certain circumstances), thus a little less than two months?


Comment from: Aleksandra [Visitor]

Good for you! This is the way I have been always working. I fill out pages and pages and pages and then the operation starts: cut, move, lim, sew etc. Always worked for me (maybe because I do have problems with finding a structure first, like in painting, you kind of know that it will be a winter landscape, but you are never sure if you’ll end up with 2 trees or 4 etc).

Works for me, but stream of consciousness is a painful method while working on texts with co-authors. I am still not sure how to handle it.

Regarding you question - even if you do 1000 a day, you still will need (I guess) some days/weeks for the operation part. But as you, say it will be much easier to edit. So I would optimistically say 44 days:)
So, cheer up and enjoy the stream and look forward to the lovely structure you’ll see in the end.

Best wishes,
A. (who DREAMS of being in your place - with all its + and - :)

11/01/11 @ 09:51
Comment from: [Member]

Thank you for your comment, Aleksandra! You’re absolutely right about the editing, and 11 days seems like an optimistic and good estimate. Today I’ve done about 600-700 new words and quite a lot of cut’n'paste and now the bulk work for my paper in Catania, Sicily(!!!) is done.

Actually, I do structure a lot along the way, but always with a pencil on paper on in my notebook. That’s why it is so important for me to know exactly what I’m going to work on the next day: I need to have at least an idea, a problematics or a simple outline drawn out beforehand.

Co-authoring I’ve never tried, but I can imagine it must be both creative and confusing the way you do it.

And, finally, no reason do dream of being in my position right now :-) In the beginning of a research project, yes absolutely, but now, when the money and patience is running out, it’s quite nerve-wrecking. But on the other hand, I understand what you mean: When the story finally flows from under your fingers, the feeling is of course absorbing and great. Good luck to you!

11/01/11 @ 14:45
Comment from: genoffkin [Visitor]

WOW! 1000 pages a day is impressive hihihi

15/01/11 @ 22:47
Comment from: Peterblu [Visitor]

Yes, I’ve a simple phrase tacked over my desk to remind me of this “don’t get it right, get it written". Good luck!

24/01/11 @ 16:22
Comment from: [Member]

That’s a good one, Peterblu. It didn’t take me long in front of the keyboard to remember what an important advice that is. Thank you!

25/01/11 @ 10:30

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