Part of the Writing 101 assignment for today is to “commit to a writing practice.” Specifically, they recommend taking at least 15 minutes every day for free writing. No editing as you go, no stopping to re-read what you’ve written, just writing what comes to mind. If you want to polish it up for a wider audience, you do that later.
This sounds like a really good idea. When forced to do academic writing, I have found that the most important step is to just get something – anything – out on the page. Large chunks of that rough draft will be crossed out and completely rewritten, but it’s somehow easier to write out a new paragraph when I have the old one physically in front of me.
At the moment, I’m not really interested in adopting a daily habit of pure free writing. When it comes to just getting thoughts out of my head and into words, blogging has helped a lot, but I want to keep blogging as a fun hobby for now. If I don’t have anything to say on a particular day, I don’t want to force it.
However, I do have something very big and very overwhelming that needs to be written: my PhD thesis. What if I were to commit to 15 minutes of thesis writing every day, following the rules of free writing? (Wait, isn’t there a book about this?)
No second-guessing my sentences, or worrying that a phrase is too cliché.
No pausing to look up citations. No falling down the rabbit hole of reference after reference.
No messing about with formatting.
I could do all that later, once I’ve broken down the start-writing barrier. Sources will have to be checked, graphs made, sections rearranged, and chances are that very few of my free-written words will make it into the final thesis. But I have to start somewhere.
It’s a scary thing, making that kind of commitment. I think I could maybe do 15 minutes a day – just sit down right when I arrive at the office and write – but officially declaring it a goal opens me to the possibility of failure. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. If I don’t try, I don’t have to face the guilt and stress and anxiety that comes with attempting to succeed.
But if I don’t try, I’ll never finish. Maybe I’ll never finish anyway – although I’m leaning towards not quitting the program before graduating, I’m still undecided – but this is as good a time as any to try something new.
And so, as extraordinarily anxiety-inducing as it is, I make this commitment to myself before the entirety of the internet:
I will spend 15 minutes every weekday writing my thesis. Just writing, no stopping to edit or thinking too hard about my words before they get to the page.
To make this practical and feasible, I will allow myself exemptions on days with unusual circumstances. If I have to stay home and take my son to the doctor, for instance, it’s OK that writing doesn’t get done. Or if it’s the day before a major deadline and I’m feeling so stressed that I can’t concentrate on anything but the deadline – that’s OK too. The key for me is to be consistent, not perfect.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Crap, that means I have to go do this today. Ugh. Wish me luck!