The Benefits of Shutting up and Writing

A group of very proactive PhD students in my faculty recently set up some PGR-run writing workshops, fittingly titled ‘Read it and Weep!’.  Each weekly meeting has a different theme or focus, aiming to offer peer support to PhD students from multiple disciplines in a friendly and relaxed setting.  I recently went along to one such session, which picked up on a recent trend, #shutupandwrite, which has been making its way around academic social media.  Enthusiastic and intrigued, I made my way to the meeting room

I found this particular session useful for two reasons:

1)    Shutting off from the rest of the world, even for just 1 hour, really helps you get engrossed in your work.
So this may sound silly, obvious, or even indicative of a serious lack of discipline on my part.  I came to realise just how valuable even a single hour of intense focus can be – and how much easier the writing process became when I wasn’t being distracted by the constant ping of my email inbox and the (admittedly amusing) chatter of my shared office.     

2)    I got a pretty serious reality check.  I needed to be more sensible in my expectations of what I can actually achieve in an hour.
Now I’m the first person to admit that I can be too hard on myself, not just in my academic work, but in all areas of my life.  Far too often, I set essentially unobtainable goals for myself when constructing my daily ‘to do’ lists, be that in terms of writing progress, reading lists, or even hobbies and domestic tasks.  Before the session began, I made a little list on a post-it note detailing what I hoped to accomplish.  I’ll admit that when the hour came to an end, I was woefully disappointed in myself.  But in retrospect, this was actually an incredibly valuable learning experience.  It is pretty much impossible to write 2,000 quality words in an hour, let alone also attempt to edit, restructure, and proof-read additional sections of your writing on top of this.  So, what possible good can come from setting yourself a clearly unachievable task? The answer is: NOT MUCH.  Since this workshop, I’ve been setting myself smaller and more manageable goals – and feeling much better about my writing progress as a result.

This simple session reminded me of what I had been told time and time again as an MA student when I was applying for my PhD.  The PhD is not a sprint; it is a marathon.  You have to sustain your enthusiasm, drive, and discipline over at least 3 years.  Now, halfway through my first year, I’ve come to realise that the best way to manage this is to take things more slowly, one step at a time (terrible cliché, I know).  Am I slightly embarrassed to have taken 6 months to reach this understanding? Yes.  But I’m equally glad that I now I won’t be adhering to a demoralising and exhausting writing process for the rest of my PhD journey.


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