One page a day keeps the professor away…

Blank page (from Cameron Cassan on flickr)

Today I showed Godwin, a PhD student who want to finish this year, the just-about-completed thesis of Jacques, who will, any day now, hand in his thesis. Two-hundred and fifty-two pages glared the Adobe Reader back at us. “I wish I was him”, Godwin said.

Indeed handing in a PhD thesis is no mean feat, usually years of work.  Being the nasty professor, I then did this simple sum: at one-page-a-day one can have a 250 page “book” by 10 September 2011 (250 days after today 3 Jan 2011). Of course few manage that… in fact, is this a case where I don’t practice what I preach?  I read in the introduction to Roy Peter Clarke’s Writing Tools the following:

If you want to write, here’s a secret: the writer’s struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing. “Why should I get writer’s block ?” asked the mischievous Roger Simon. “My father never got truck driver’s block.”

“But truck driving is not ‘creative'”, I can hear the critics say… or wait, was that my alter-ego speaking? OK, maybe there is a sliver of truth in that argument if you are writing poems or fiction; however, for other writing, specifically research writing, the creative aspect is much less prominent. When you write an academic paper, a thesis or a dissertation you supposedly do not grab “stuff” from the air! No, you base it on other research and your own data. Sure you must interpret data, draw conclusions and figure out the best way to tell your story… but for that you should have a strong foundation.

So if you cannot write ask yourself: “why not?” I suspect a truthful answer would not be that you have writer’s block, but rather that you fall short somewhere in your foundation. If you do the research properly the reporting becomes so much easier. Why is that? The answer I think is simple: the story is there, it must just be reported on, and that is easier than sucking a sensible story out of your thumb.

So you cannot write a page a day? Well go and do your research, collect your data, analyse your results and then… write a page a day and keep the professor away… or at least quiet.

Of course I should practice what I preach. Fortunately I have no thesis to complete, but I have many possible creative outlets to pursue, inter alia, academic papers, course material and, of course, this blog. So I will take up a challenge and post more regularly. Given my ABCD for 2011, I would have loved to believe that I can do a post-a-day, very creative, but since it is not my only writing and I also believe in balance, I won’t set myself up to fail. However, I am going to start Writing Wednesdays – every Wednesday I am going to post something that I think can help my students (and others of course) to write better. This will be challenging as I am not a linguist, not even close; however, this may be where the value lies: I also struggle with these things, I share your frustrations. (Read my blog if you require evidence!)

Do you think this could help? What questions do you have about writing that I can try to answer? Why not drop a comment and I’ll see whether I can help.

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4 Responses to One page a day keeps the professor away…

  1. Laurie says:

    What I have found helps with “writer’s block” is to just force yourself to start typing. (Personally, I think my fingers can often type without my brain being engaged in any case – but that’s a whole different discussion). Once you are actually typing, the ideas will come. AND THEN you can go back and delete the first few paragraphs that you wrote to get you started.

    • rabotha says:

      Laurie, I think that is exactly one of my points – one must have something to write, unless you did no reading, no actual research before, you WILL have something to write, and that something can always be edited. Editing will always be with is, its necessary to polish the writing. Reminds me of the ABC of research: Apply Bottom to Chair. Maybe we should amend that with: with a computer in front of you and start typing 🙂
      Must admit, you being such a prolific producer of written output, I feel a bit stupid commenting on “removing writer’s block” to you 🙂

  2. Gary says:

    I find having a goal, finish by the 7 Jan 2010, does wonders 🙂

    • rabotha says:

      Gary, I’ve noticed !! 🙂 What I also learned from the way we are doing yours is (again) that one needs to get the ideas down on paper (write!), the language, phrasing, etc. can be fixed, if not by yourself by somebody who is a specialist. I think with my own writing I am often too worried about not being 100% that I may miss the plot and not produce afterall…

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