Ever have those days, weeks etc., where you just can’t seem to get your ideas out into writing? Well, that’s been me lately. I’m in the throes of finishing my literature review chapter and have been struggling because my brain keeps thinking it needs to be perfect.
No it does not. This is a first draft. Writing is a process and you get better and better as you go. I hear the words, but they have trouble sinking in. Not all the time, but they do. Then there are moments like today when you come across a piece of gold (in the form of a book in this case) which makes things so much easier! If you haven’t yet, you need to get your hands on The Only Academic Phrasebook You’ll Ever Need: 600 Examples of Academic Language. Whilst I have been reading and writing since July (note taking for my reading), I have found myself coming unstuck when it has come to the writing process. For me, this has been quite unusual as I have always loved writing, especially essays. I have all the notes there in my Evernote notebook (something I highly recommend you use to organise your research), it’s just been a struggle to put these notes in to something worthy of a chapter.
Those doing postgraduate studies know how isolating it can be. This is your own project, your baby, you no longer have a class of students that you can talk to about the writing because they aren’t doing the same thing. You can chat to friends who are also doing postgrad, but only you know your subject (except for those scholars who you will be mentioning in your lit review and so forth). I’m writing this piece not only as a piece of therapy for myself, but to also tell others out there, you’re not alone. Self-doubt is that annoying thing sitting on your shoulder telling you that you can’t do this. Yes you can, you’ve done it before, you’ve gotten this far, you’ve gotten through colloquium, so of course you can!
You are going to have days where you can’t write. On those days, do something else. Read more literature, organise your notes, revise your notes, or just take a break. Yes postgrad is hard work and takes dedication, but your brain cannot handle being switched on all the time. I’ve been there and done that. Listen to your body, admit to yourself when something isn’t working, and find ways to make things work. Just don’t give up on it, if you do, everything you have to say, everything you feel passionate about, won’t get written, and your field needs your contribution. It’s not the end of the world when things aren’t working, it just means you’ve got to think of another way to get things done. Avoidance is not the answer. As a lecturer once told me, you need to schedule in breaks. I scoffed at them when they said that because, when you’re working and studying, who has time for breaks??? I have now learned that breaks are part of the writing process. If things are seeming muddled in your head, go do something else. Most the time you will find when you get back to it, you’re writing is more awesome than you would have thought. If not, you’re still writing, and GETTING THINGS DONE! Remind yourself why you’re studying, why you’re doing what you’re doing. Remind yourself of why you love your topic (if you chose a topic you don’t love, question why it is you’re doing postgrad, because you shouldn’t be doing something you don’t love, that’s just going to do your head in). Anyway, I hope this post is helpful to others, it’s been extremely cathartic to write and am feeling excited as hell to finish this first, completely imperfect and that’s ok, draft of my first chapter off.