So yesterday was one of THOSE days. One of those days which involved hours spent hunched over a laptop, countless cups of coffee, and intense feelings of frustration and self-loathing as my chapter flat-out refused to be tidied up/generally improved. Essentially, a day during which the long hours spent attempting to write fail to yield anything even remotely meaningful or significant.
I hear from fellow postgrad students (both those setting out on their PhD journeys and those further along the road) that there will always be days like this. You just have to take a step back (take the time, and you'll be fine), turn your attention to another project, go for a walk, etc., etc., etc. However, this is not particularly helpful when you're on a tight schedule (a self-inflicted tight schedule because you were the one who allowed your chapter to snowball out of control in such spectacular fashion) and have hit a metaphorical writers' wall.
Before I finally threw in the towel in the dusky hours of the evening, I did a couple of things in a desperate bid to set myself up for a better writing day today. Not yet sure whether any of these will be entirely helpful (I mean, I'm writing this rather than turning my attention to the chapter with the looming deadline, but at least I'm writing SOMETHING instead of just staring at a blank screen...).
1) I left myself some breadcrumbs:
No, I didn't make a mess in the kitchen. I left a nice trail of things to jog my memory for when I returned to by screen this morning-one of the few occasions when 'Present Elaine' can thank 'Past Elaine' for doiong something helpful. My secondary supervisor (Dr. Alexei Zadorozhny) once told me that the key to maintaining momentum when writing over a long period of time is to never call it a day at the end of a sentence. Over the course of this year, I've found this to be an incredibly valuable piece of advice. Rather than having to find the inner strength to start a new stream of consciousness every morning (I'm not a morning person, so finding any sort of inner strength for this sort of thing is an uphill struggle), you simply have to pick up from wherever you left off. With this in mind, I ploughed through my chapter, identified some key areas for future tweaking, and left some sort of mediocre half-sentence to come back to. And hey. I actually have some ideas for these sections, so maybe all hope is not lost!
2) I set the scene for another day's work:
I'm one of those people who believes that a motivational Spotify playlist can work WONDERS. A suitably glorious thesis soundtrack not only gets the heart pumping (I work on the assumption that a motivated body = a motivated mind N.B. this does not apply to the issue of going to the gym), but also gives the impression that you are doing something much more epic and exciting than scouring for lost commas, tidying footnotes, and making sure that spell check hasn't butchered any of your Latin quotations.
At the moment, when I find myself in need of some suitably epic music, I turn to Wagner, Dvorak, Shostakovich, and of course, the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks.
3) I had a nose through Donald Trump's Twitter feed:
No, I haven't lost the plot. Well, maybe I have and I just don't know it yet... I'd like to stress that I am most certainly NOT a supporter of the latest POTUS, who seems to be yet another reason to despair at the state of humanity (I mean, I'm pretty sure I have an expired pot noodle in the back of my cupboard who has more going on in the IQ department than he does...). HOWEVER, in dark hours of PhD despair, you will seek encouragement, motivation, and the will to carry on in the strangest of places. Put it this way: if someone who speaks like an underdeveloped 9 year old child (who uses great words such as 'bigly' and 'covfefe', and is a firm believer that climate change is a conspiracy invented by the Chinese) and regularly turns to Twitter to throw a tantrum about their coverage in the mainstream media (#SAD) can somehow become the leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth, then pretty much anything is possible.
You CAN finish your chapter.
Just a few musings...
Elaine Over & Out.
P.S. The title of this post is taken from a song by the late Nick Drake, 'Things Behind the Sun', from his 1972 album, 'Pink Moon'. I've found it can be pretty calming. Check it out: spotify:track:7bIpR4tyHFgGLkue8fPLjL