When the Think Ahead team made the decision to start up a blog and share the writing between us, my first thought was ‘I’ve never written for a blog before, what if my writing isn’t good enough’. Writing has never been something that comes easily to me, I spend more time worrying about what to write and if it will be any good then actually getting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard so to speak). Even when I do get started on the writing, I find it so easy to be distracted away by the ping of a new email in my inbox, the buzz from a text message or an unnecessary urge to suddenly tidy my desk. The more I thought about writing for the blog, I started to reflect back to writing my PhD thesis and initially wondered how on earth I had managed to get 60,000 or so words written all those years ago…
At the time I was employed as a research associate in the same lab that I had carried out my PhD. I could have found it really difficult to fit in the full time job and encourage myself to get my thesis written, however looking back I now realise that I had put in place a system to not be trapped by my problems of procrastination and perfectionism. I was incredibly strict with my writing time and would, almost without fail, stay in the lab for 2 hours every weekday evening to write. I set myself realistic milestones of how many words I could write that evening or which section I would edit. This meant I kept the momentum going of my writing, little and often seemed to really work for me. But this way of writing is something I haven’t practised since then. When I became a Thesis Mentor earlier this year, I read an article ‘Innovation in PhD completion: the hardy shall succeed (and be happy!)’ (Kearns, H. et al. 2008) which highlights self-sabotage behaviours including overcommitting, busyness, procrastination and perfectionism, all of which have a large role to play in making thesis writing so difficult. Getting a piece of writing finished means understanding your inaccurate thinking and adapting your behaviour to overcome this. I’ve yet to come across anyone writing a thesis who doesn’t display one of these behaviours at some point in their time writing. A turning point in my writing recently, in order to overcome my own sabotage, has been the introduction of a monthly writing retreat for the Think Ahead team. Once a month the Think Ahead team lock ourselves away in a room together, turn off our mobiles, emails and internet and simply write. We split the day up into set chunks of writing time with organised breaks in between. It’s really surprising what you can get done in a structured setting when you have peer pressure ensuring you don’t get distracted and that you share your goal with others of what you want to achieve that day.
I now realise the way I tackled my thesis writing is something I need to emulate in all the writing I do and the new Think Ahead writing retreat is the perfect environment for me to finally get my writing momentum back.
If you like the sound of the writing retreat, the Think Ahead team are opening up the monthly retreat to early career researchers. Why not join us and kick start your writing this month. The first session will be on Wednesday 24th September (13:15 – 16:30) in the Graduate Research Centre. You can book a slot on the retreat through LMS: https://lms.shef.ac.uk/index.php#TA71 and keyword is TA71 Ultimately stop worrying about the writing and just get on with it. The more often you write the easier it becomes!