WRITING FOR WRITING’S SAKE

Sometimes when inspiration eludes me, I get stuck in a mental rut. I put things off, I get distracted, I feel that there’s no point in starting as I’m not in the right frame of mind to write. But over the last year or so, I’ve really focused on the problem. It doesn’t matter if what I write, right now, is a load of complete drivel. I’ve done something, I’ve got it down on the page, and I can return to it.

I’ve got a few articles on the go at the moment, and what I’ve so far put together for each separate piece is not that great. But I can see elements of something quite special in all of them that I might be able to draw on, to pick and choose from, to get the words I want. I’ll probably write, re-write, and edit each one several times and I might not be happy with it then. But if I must be a perfectionist, I must also be a realist. A first draft is rarely the finished item, and if it is, then it’s probably not that good.

I spend a lot of my time alone, and travelling, and it gives me time and space to think. I come up with so many witticisms and points of principle that I do usually recall when I am back, sat at my keyboard. A little bit of distance allows me to mentally edit my prose from afar. The detachment allows me to look at it again with fresh eyes. And having seen the improvements I’ve made since allowing myself to make mistakes, I’m convinced now that this is the correct way to approach writing.

The hope it has given me has encouraged me to start a number of projects that I’ve had in the pipeline. I’d been putting them off, waiting until inspiration found me. Well it doesn’t work like that: you must find inspiration. Inspiration comes from within our own minds. Whether it is the ability to come up with an original idea, or a good eye for spotting an opportunity, it is 100% man-made. There’s no magic formula or mystical connection – it is created by us, and we bring it into being by imagining, re-imagining, and putting it on paper. If we never write it down it remains a dream.

500 WORDS OR DIE

I’ve recently had a lull in output, and so I’ve set myself a target to deal with it. Some of the Ph.D-ers I follow on Twitter set themselves goals of a certain number of words per day, and so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m starting off small, but 500 words is better than No Words. I’ll be distributing my 500 words across reports, drafts of papers, and blog posts. They all contribute to my overall Ph.D aims, so it’s a great way to ensure that I actually get something done, even if it’s just a rehashing of previous work to consolidate my thoughts. The only rule is that the words have to contribute to something that I will publish in one form or another. I’m tempted to include posts on forums, or replies to blogs. I could split the 500 words over multiple pieces, but I’ll try not to diversify so much as to make individual contributions meaningless. Like I said, 500 words is just a start. I’ll build up to more words as time goes by. 500 words can sometimes be a lot when you’re studying part-time, but I’m determined to get better at writing and being more productive. That’s the whole point of this exercise. Who knows when I will go up to 750 or even 1000 words daily? Then I could end up with the problem of too many words. Numerous individuals I follow on Twitter complain of having to cut superfluous verbiage from their theses. I am permitted a maximum of 90,000 words in my final submission, but 80,000 is the recommended figure. Not Writing Anything is a problem I suffer from terribly. My supervisor often encourages me to just submit what I have in its current state for review – it’s not possible to monitor progress if it’s all in my head. But I’m a perfectionist – I don’t like to submit anything unless it’s complete and done exactly to my liking – this is a very dangerous vice to have. And so, 500 words that are meaningful in some way, but not necessarily perfect. There’s always room for editing at a later stage. 500 words amongst all the other things I have to do – the research, the reading, the thinking, the discussing, the presenting. But that’s really half the battle. There’s no record that I’ve done and understood the work unless I get it down on paper. 500 words might be the optimal quantity – enough to get me writing something, but not so many that I waffle on about anything for the sake of production. And what if I go over 500? It doesn’t matter. I can’t save up my words to get out of writing another day. I must be strict on myself, or I’ll slip back into my old ways. One idea I have is to create a graph of my daily output over time (tracking progress motivates me). I love graphs. And I love words.

Word Count: 499

POSTSCRIPT: I found this rather neat productivity suite while messing about online (ha, the irony!): http://prod.uctivity.com/