This weeks post is a reflection on my writing process and what I need to get those term papers, grant proposals, and thesis statements finished. You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Superman, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
From undergrad, to masters, to PhD my writing process has, not surprisingly, changed. It used to be that I could sit down and write a 15 page paper in a single night and hand that in for an A, no problem. Of course, in undergrad I rarely worried about whether I was citing the “right” author and I especially never worried about an instructor judging my intellect based on a single piece of work. Typically my main concern was whether my writing was “good”, that is, was my thesis clear, did I support my thesis with enough/adequate evidence, and was my spelling/grammar passable?
This all changed for me, and I suspect many others when they started Graduate School. Now in addition to worrying about my writing style and skills I worry about whether I have enough sources researched (and the correct ones), whether I’ve properly understood their arguments, not only whether my argument makes sense, but does it contradict or confirm the prevailing thoughts within the discourse? This is in truth only a partial list of the things I worry about during the writing process. This change in attitude has affected my writing process. I tend to spend a lot more time on the research phase, convincing myself that I am not ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) until I’ve read a few more sources. This works all right for term papers, but will not serve me well when writing my thesis later on. There’s no possible way to do “all” your research before writing and then expect to sit down and hammer out a few hundred pages. The second-most important change has been how closely I refer to other sources while writing. In undergrad I read the sources and thought about how I could make them talk to each other, then I sat down and did it. Now, I have to constantly check and double-check what the authors said to carefully include their thoughts into the prevailing topic of the paper. This often means having the source up on my screen during the writing process.
One thing has remained fairly constant, however is: My Writing Fortress of Solitude.
In order to mentally prepare myself for the task I require an environment that is my own sanctum. This is why I can’t write in libraries or at my office, typically I prefer writing at home where I feel the most comfortable. More than that, though I need a large block of time (preferably the whole day/night) that is devoted to myself and my writing with no concerns about interruptions. This is typically the biggest obstacle because as you can imagine finding an entire day, let alone multiple entire days, where minor distractions or errands don’t come up is more than a little wishful thinking. What tends to happen is I will ignore those minor distractions as much as possible, for as long as possible. BUT, those minor distractions can be used as an excuse to derail my writing process when my desire to get that paper started early trumps my desire to, well, NOT work on that paper. Plus some things can’t be ignored such as when you get an urgent e-mail requiring your immediate attention.
I’d like to keep my fortress of solitude and not have it go the way of the “ancient relic”. It’s comforting to have my material possessions around me to look at while I write as a minor distraction from the inside of my brain. It would, however, be nice to sit down when I have even a couple hours and work on my writing assignment. I’d get little bits done over a longer period of time that would improve not only my mental state, but my writing as well, because it would give me time to think about what I am writing/have written.
I could go on in minute detail about my writing process, but these are some of the major issues I encounter that I will be attempting to tackle before getting too far into my PhD and finding that my old ways are too antiquated.