The light(s) at the end of the writing tunnel

So you spend 5 years working through your doctoral research part time along with its ups and downs – you know the sort of thing – ‘oh my research is terrible why am I doing it?’ and ‘what is my research about’ through to ‘I love my research it is really interesting’ (well maybe that happens less!).  You get through all that, get the structure and main research element of your doctorate sorted out and in your head you sort of think, ‘brilliant I’m nearly finished, just the write up to do!’  Hmmm, as many academics will tell you unfortunately that can feel like the hardest part.  And boy do I now know what they mean!   You have thought about your ideas loads, turned them over in your head, considered them from every angle, and had lots of eureka moments but when you get to your write up suddenly it’s about writing the ideas and making them sound intelligent, rather than just generating them!  

You sit down at the keyboard (nearly wrote pen but that would be aging myself) all you can think is – ‘there is so much to write and say where do I start?’  Or you convince yourself that typing up more references or reading another chapter of a new book are more important things to do!  It can be a really difficult time and there is no doubt that it tests you.  But as I am discovering there are ways through!  So I thought I would share some of my tricks that are helping me get through for all those sharing my pain and to all those that will be writing up at some point.

Firstly for me getting up early and getting to a PC as quickly as I can seems to work.  I even sometimes just wear the same thing as I did the previous day just to  get to a PC as quickly as I can.  Because it is early my brain is fresh and I think writing requires this. If you’re a later person, fair enough, but I would still suggest you have to block out time to do the writing.  For me usually that is 3 hours at a time – sometimes I can do another stint but I try not to be too hard on myself –  if I just want to do less strenuous things for the rest of the day.   Another tip that has worked for me is writing down what you want to do next when you finish – it really helps when you come back – especially if it’s a straightforward thing to ease you into the next day’s writing.

Another factor for me is environment.  It is one of the only things you can control – because you know you have to do the writing it can feel pretty liberating to say ‘I want to work here because I like the view or I like being in a coffee shop’ or whatever your favourite location might be.  For me it is either the Research Hive in the library because I am surrounded by people in the same boat as me or a well known American coffee shop (I can’t bring myself to use the brand name).
One of the biggest tricks for me has been to avoid thinking about the whole thing and to focus as much as I can on the chunk I am writing.  This is not as easy as it sounds as I keep panicking about how it will all come together but what I keep being told is that you just need to ‘have it in hand’ then you can worry about all the moving around/editing etc at the end.

Probably the most important thing for me has been to try and talk about it with other researchers or get advice/help where I can.  It is useful to know that the library offers help in the form of one to one meetings if you need some assistance with library resources etc – you can find out more abou this service here – http://www.sussex.ac.uk/library/informationfor/postgraduates.html %20And  And the Research Hive have started running discussion groups on topics such as writing so that we can all help each other – so you’re not alone and the end is in sight!

To find out more about support for writing, email the Hive Scholars at researchhive@sussex.ac.uk

Craig Haslop, Doctoral Researcher in Media, Film and Music and Hive Scholar

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