Have something to say
If you’re a budding researcher, working long hours on your thesis, you’ve probably heard the advice ‘write early and often’ from many sources. I can understand the logic of this advice: writing skills need to be used and developed through regular practice. However, there needs to be a clear purpose behind your writing, and clear and informative content within it; the ‘write early and often’ mantra presupposes you have something (or enough of something) to write about. Occasionally, writer’s block can be a sign that you need more material, and more ideas to write about.
In the early days of writing my PhD in music history, I would write early, and write often, but then found myself wandering in circles. I was in the arts, I was in a qualitative discipline, and surely this was the best path to follow for getting my thesis done. However it wasn’t until I adopted a more scientific mindset, where I collected ‘data’ first for much longer period, and gave myself time to really reflect, take notes and then write, that I made substantial progress. One book in particular helped me to develop this mindset of focusing a substantial amount of time on information gathering: ‘Destination Dissertation: A Traveller’s Guide to a Done Dissertation’ by Sonja Foss.* This book breaks the thesis down into a number of steps, and the hours required to complete them. While I did not stick exactly to the number of hours recommended for each step, it was an incredibly useful reference against which to measure my progress, and it helped me to build my own spreadsheets for tracking progress and managing the project that is a PhD.
How does the ‘have something to say first’ idea translate over into the more casual world of blogging and writing short articles? I can only answer for myself here: part of having something to say comes through living life and venturing into new experiences with a learning mindset. I have gained a lot through reading the blogs of others, on things as diverse as academia, writing, parenting and cooking; and there comes a point where you realise you might have something to add to the conversation. Your own vantage point, shored up by your own mix of particular experiences, is a valid and unique one.
When you reach the point where you do have something to say, that's when the regular writing really comes into play (for me anyway). Write notes, write ideas, use software, use pen and paper and keep track of all the ideas you have. Everyday if you can. There comes a point in both academic and blog writing where limits do need to be set, and you need to stop looking for information, and start writing, but it may not be as soon as you think!
*Please note: this is an affiliate link, which means that I may receive a portion of any sale made through said link.
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