How to make your writing Dino-mite!

I’m about to get on the ride known as the PhD.

It’s a bit like going through the large wooden gates of Jurassic Park.

You’re knowingly entering a world where things may get a bit hairy. There’ll be running, screaming and a probably a few injuries along the way. Worst case scenario? You get swallowed whole. But stay close and listen to the experts and you’ll emerge bruised and battered – but alive.

a PhD thesis....?
a PhD thesis….?

Whether your thesis is a cupcake or a dragon (or a dinosaur theme park) the key is to write. I love to write. In the last 18 months I’ve written 7 articles. Three have already been published. What’s the problem you might well ask?? Well, it’s how I write.

Because it takes me hours – but more often days – to get through 500 words.

I end up writing late into the night, through the night, on weekends. I feel I need lots of time to get into the writing ‘zone’. And I edit. Constantly. Always looking for some kind of ‘perfection’. So I prioritise everything except writing during my working day and end up using lots of time outside of work to write and edit. And this is before I start the PhD…. eek.

I don’t think that anyone comes to a PhD without intellectual baggage. We’ve had ideas swimming about in our minds for ages. We’ve read articles and started to plan where we fit in the literature. We’ve had discussions with colleagues and research mentors about doctoral pathways. In my case, I’ve done all three. I’ve been working out which pathway is the best for me for nearly two years.  Fingers crossed (*waves hopefully at selection committee*) I’ll be officially starting a Professional Doctorate in September.

But it’s given me a lot of time to think about the way that I approach writing. And worry about it. And read about how the experts are avoiding being eaten – and trying their strategies out.

So last week, I re-read the fantastic article How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy) from The Thesis Whisperer, which is my go-to blog for all things PhD. Many months ago, my reaction to that piece was something along the lines of “that sounds great, but I’ll never be able do it”. Faced with an idea for an article and a looming deadline, it was time to give it a shot…

“Clever girl…”

So I did it!

From 8 – 12 June I wrote 1000 + words a day. During the working day! And without ignoring anything else that needed doing.

It was important to be smart about it. For example, for various reasons there was no point in trying to write in the afternoon. The morning would be best. So I set aside 2 hours every morning to write. I protected that time by turning off emails. Even if I started at 9am I would be finished by 11am and have the rest of the day to deal with any email correspondence. Some days I worked from home and those were my best days because I got up early and started straight away, breakfast next to me on the table. I was often finished by 10am and then had an odd feeling of not being quite sure what to do next. Old me would have sat and laboured over the text. New me got on with other work and went for a walk at lunchtime.

One day, I started at 8.30am-ish. My manuscript had reached 1894 words by 9.18am, and 2503 by 10.10am. Watching the word count get larger and larger was really encouraging.

 “Hold on to your butts”

Okay, so here’s the thing. You just have to write. Don’t stop. Don’t worry about the spelling mistakes and the bad grammar.

It’s a really weird feeling. You want to think about linking phrases and paragraphs. You want to make sure that everything flows into everything else.

Throw all of that out of the window and get typing. I ended up writing something on day 1 which ended up on page 10 in the final draft. And it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that I wrote it in the first place. Would I have done that if I was still mulling over creating “perfect” sentences? Probably not.

“See, here I’m now sitting by myself, uh, er, talking to myself. That’s, that’s chaos theory”

Don’t panic when you can’t think of what you want to say. That word that makes you sound more intelligent? You’ll remember it when you come to do the edit.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck for a word or a phrase, here are some of the placeholders I used:

that word you can’t think of right now


clever word about knowledge

you have no idea what you’re trying to say here. Something about educational value and danger and power and stuff

“Life finds a way”

At the start of the week I was concerned that I would end up with a very long, very uneven manuscript. But as the week went on I started to see how my work could be coherent and I made small notes about how I saw certain points linking together (like “I think this would go well with the section on x”).

The editing process was the most fun ever! Rather than get frustrated that I was spending time making small adjustments that might not matter later on down the line, here I had a whole script that I could rearrange. It was really very easy to do. The words that I couldn’t find when I was writing came flying back. Heck, I thought of better ones! Editing took less than 2 hours. It had a clear purpose and it had value. I looked at it as a ‘reward’ for getting to the end of the week.

Part 2: The Lost World

This is the less fun bit.

I’ve spent the last week perfecting references. A week?! How can this be possible? Sure, sitting in the kitchen checking my Bluebook style guide is fun but, come on,  there’s better things to be doing with your evenings…

2015-06-24 19.12.18

So that’s the bit where it all goes a bit Lost World. The momentum fades away and you end up staring at tiny footnotes and faffing about with Endnote. So someone needs to come up with a “how to do your referencing in as little time as possible” guide, please. Or better still, can all journal editors club together and decide on one style? Many thanks.

Have you tried writing 1000 words a day? How did it go for you? 

Any tips on the referencing issue? Or is it just a necessary evil?

3 thoughts on “How to make your writing Dino-mite!

  1. Keary Shandler says:

    Your posts are inspiring. It’s like I am almost writing them myself. Thank you for the guidance as I’m at about where you were in May/Jun 2015…


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