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Is there any way to write in shorter time bursts???

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I am freaking out right now,someone please talk me down...

My MA thesis is delayed for lots of valid reasons, but also because - and I've just realized this - I never have those big solid blocks of time to write that I always envision in my head for writing the thesis. I envision full days spent writing and reading, and in my experience do very well when I have that...so I've just been waiting for it to make any real headway. The time never comes. 

For a variety of reasons, most of which will not be changing (mainly supplemental employment and lifelong health condition requiring regular appointments), I never get more than at best a 2-hour chunk of uncommitted time during any given day. Usually I get 1-hour chunks or less. When I was in my 20s I burnt myself out... pulling late nights and early mornings, skipping meals or eating on the go, insane caffeine intake, ignoring body needs... for about 10 years straight. And now, even if I can get myself to stay awake til, say, the 'late' hour of 10pm, my brain is mostly non-functional in terms of academic writing. Same with getting up before 630am. 

One of the things I do have control over is building a skill, namely the skill of writing in shorter chunks. Here is where I'm asking for help!

Usually it takes me about an hour to sort of get myself warmed up to the materials again, get it figured out where I was in processing data and/or writing, and get my materials selected for that session and my workspace all set up with computer and the right books or articles. It's all sort of a ritual to get me in the right headspace to begin writing. 

(Also we don't have reliable desk or shelf or office space in my program so I'm often setting up and tearing down my workspaces. This issue is resolved starting this school year.)

So, how do YOU get yourself into writing mode, quickly and efficiently?

How do you manage your time as related to getting writing done?

How do you write anything good in an hour or less???

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I would suggest creating outlines first. If you have a specific outline and clear notes on your source papers, it can be a lot easier to cut down the amount of prep time you have. When I was writing my MA thesis, I had all the articles grouped by topics and annotated so that I knew where I wanted to use them. Taking the time to do a detailed outline of each section, including possible sources, can make a huge difference. Also, sometimes it's best to just start writing. Things can be edited later on. If you at least get some ideas down, that can make huge headway. 

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Unfortuantely, it came with practice. 

I can recommend learning your work by heart and work on it and make notes in the mean time. Helps a lot. Tbh, I don't understand why you don't know your work (roughly) by heart by now. The work begins in the head and ends on the paper. So maybe I "write" in my head and then write it down. 

I can never sit with one thing for more than two hours straight, it gets inefficient after this mark. 

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5 hours ago, Marlene5 said:

Tbh, I don't understand why you don't know your work (roughly) by heart by now. The work begins in the head and ends on the paper. So maybe I "write" in my head and then write it down. 

Every one has a different process and that process can change over time.

Unless you're an exceptionally skilled writer who makes a living from your craft, I would strongly suggest that you do your best and not lord over members of this BB asking for support.

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19 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Every one has a different process and that process can change over time.

Unless you're an exceptionally skilled writer who makes a living from your craft, I would strongly suggest that you do your best and not lord over members of this BB asking for support.

Don't overinterpret. 

Assuming bad intentions on the part of others isn't going to make you friends.

Edited by Marlene5

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I second the advice about outlining. Usually I read my sources and take notes and make an annotated bibliography. Then I made a rough outline of what I want to say and copy and paste the quotes I want to use and put them in the outline. Then I start to write, and check off each section of the outline as I finish. 

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1 hour ago, Marlene5 said:

Don't overinterpret. 

Assuming bad intentions on the part of others isn't going to make you friends.

What intention should be inferred from your judgement?  

You wrote. "Tbh, I don't understand why you don't know your work (roughly) by heart by now." You are articulating an expectation of someone and passing judgement for not meeting it.

 

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I don't have the energy to quarrel over one word with you. You're reading too much into this. Giving someone who is trying to be helpful innmany threads a minus as their first point is just mean of you. Go to hell. I might not be the most "polished" in manners but at least I'm not mean to people like you are. 

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29 minutes ago, Marlene5 said:

Go to hell.

It would be generally appreciated if you kept personal invective to a minimum. Sigaba has made what seems to me to be a fair critique to your original posting. That's not to say I agree with it, but it's not out of left field.

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back on topic;

I'm currently reading 'How to Write a Lot' by Paul J. Silvia - it's a bit over 100 pages, so it's not a long read. You can get it on Amazon. It was recommended by quite some faculty I've worked with over the years (you may ask if someone has a copy). Although I personally don't have a lot of problems with writing a lot, it is helpful in many other ways and gives valuable tips on how to 'plan' writing and so on.

Writing time is not just actual writing. You want to also spend time 'planning' your writing. you wanna spend some time on the outline and order of your arguments, set goals on what you wanna do on a day, etc. I do have a 'writing schedule' for a given month/week usually. For me, creating an outline first also helps me with remembering what I'm actually doing. I usually block out 3x 4 hours in a given week to work on writing (usually the afternoons I don't have class/other responsibilities; although it's also occasionally mornings - but I make sure I have at least 8 hrs per week fully focussed on writing) to write. I've also done 2 hours after lunch each day, but my current schedule doesn't allow me to do so. Sometimes I don't need this much time, but then I'll just use it to read things I'm interested in that are maybe not directly relevant to a paper I'm working on, but could be helfpul in the future. When I'm having writing sessions, people that work with me know that I will not be checking my email regularly during those hours (i.e., the 8 hrs that I'm devoted to writing) - if at all, but there are other ways to contac tme for important things. 

I usually start by going quickly over what I wrote the previous session, weeding out any 'very wonky' sentences in the process and it helps me to remember what I was working on, although this step is not always needed. Then I just start writing. Sometimes I may just write the general outline of the paper; I add references later because I know what info I want to include. I often add more information and so on later, but I write a general body with all the arguments and the like first and put things like (xxxx) as a reference if I'm not sure who and what (sometimes I remember). I personally find it easier to just flow on like that than constantly move back and forth between checking references and writing - also because I already know my outline. When the general body of the intro is finished, I will usually start adding references and more information if I come across missing information (I find it personally easier to just 'add' an extra sentence with relevant info). I can also spend a session working on a lit review and taking notes on relevant information in a doc and use that for writing my outline later on. I also usually pre-write my methods and results , so I don't forget any analyses and just sorta fill in the blanks and outcomes (i.e., As can be seen in Table x , there was a *** between variable X and variable Y, *stats*/ Blabla was assessed using Scale X (alpha/Mean/SD)). After doing that I move on to the discussion because you need the results for that. But I do dot down some things I want to mention or go over while writing other sections. I generally work with keywords or short sentences to remind myself what the outline is/should be. Note that this order is not fixed. Some people also prefer to write methods and results first, and the intro later. It also depends on whether I'm collaborating with someone and so on - that's why planning and having an outline is so helpful.

Because I have regular writing time, I also do not really have rituals to get into writing except getting a big coffee. My ritual is literally just closing all my other browsers (except EndNote maybe), make sure I have coffee, put on my headphones (I usually just listen to some jazz radio station on youtube - that's the other browser I'll have open) and just go. I usually will have a pop-up for my uni-email account, although I sometimes disable that too if I really want to focus on something difficult. Because your ritual takes about an hour, you may figure a way to use time from the ritual for actual writing - I'm not saying all, but just slowly get faster in the writing itself. If you plan your writing in advance (such as what you want to do, have an outline, etc.) it may save you some time later on. I also know people who keep a writing log (spend the last 5- 10 min of their session writing down what they did and goals for the next day), similar to how people keep a datalog where you summarize what you did with your data (you want to do that too).

As for writing anything 'good' - I wouldn't necessarily focus too much on the output itself. Sometimes I can spend a whole session just writing a poorly, but it is easier to edit something than just write it from scratch. If you plan your text well (like flow, order of arguments, etc.), I think it will also make it easier to write something 'good'. Don't be discouraged by the fact that you may spend quite some time outlining your paper, because it will help you in the end for sure! Writing is not the actual amount of words you wrote down in a given time; it involves a lot more.

 

As for other tips;

- try to figure out what good times for writing are for you. I'm not very functional the first 1 - 2 hrs in the office, so I try to use that time for other tasks such as replying to emails, downloading papers, reading easy things, and meetings if possible. I do find the first 1-2 hrs good for editing too, so if I have a morning writing session, I usually use it for editing and data analyses (i.e., fill in the blanks in my methods/results).

- Let other people know you have certain time scheduled for writing and don't care about what they think of that. 

- Make realistic and attainable goals and stick to that. It could be goals as 'write an outline of the intro', 'write 500 words', 'finish analysis X', etc. You'll figure out over time what is attainable for you.

- Be cautious not to just spent your writing time 'worrying' about writing, deadlines, etc. Actually use it to do things.

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On 8/21/2018 at 9:54 AM, Psygeek said:

 

- Be cautious not to just spent your writing time 'worrying' about writing, deadlines, etc. Actually use it to do things.

...precisely what i'm doing right now!

well, maybe this counts for something - i am on my way to improving!

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Yes, if you want to use the chunks of time you have productively, you have to prepare. You can use the shorter chunks you have to prepare for the longer chunks.

One thing I had to convince myself of was to just write. Sentences are just a collection of words; paragraphs are made up of sentences. Even if you have a 30 minute span of time, how much can you write? Even if you can only write one paragraph, that's one less paragraph you have to go to your goal. Persisting in writing even small amounts is so important - set aside some time to write almost every day, even if it's only a short period. Set yourself realistic goals. I used Scrivener to write my dissertation in pieces, and Scrivener does easy word counts at the bottom of each section. Give yourself a couple of diagnostic sections to see how much you can realistically write in X period of time (realizing that there's a difference between theoretical writing, like a literature review, and things like methods). Then assign yourself goals at the beginning of each session. So maybe your goal for a 30 minute session is about 100 words. Believe it or not...that's about one-third to a bit less than one-half a double-spaced page (Times New Roman, 12 pt-font, depends on the length of the words).

I outlined my entire dissertation from the beginning...and broke the entire thing up into 2-3 page chunks. Once I did that, the task seemed FAR more surmountable. (I also picked that tip up from a book.) I worked backwards from when I wanted to be finished and assigned myself specific sections to be working on on specific weeks/days, with deadlines. I communicated this timeline to my advisor for some external accountability (he didn't give a fig when I finished, lol, but it felt more accountable to me). Of course, this timeline and outline shifted and changed over time, but it at least gave me a roadmap and an overarching goal.

I also realized that some of the writing rituals I committed myself to were actually, in truth, procrastination techniques. Figure out what you absolutely have to do to get started writing - I mean, the bare minimum that you can go with. Try writing exercises in different areas, without ideal conditions. How do you do? See, you didn't die. Since you have to change workspaces often, one thing you may want to do is pack a bag with the bare essentials you need to write. Try to purchase or download books/articles electronically and enter them into a reference manager, so you can be as mobile as possible. I wrote a significant chunk of my dissertation at a coffee shop around the corner from my apartment, just for variety. (I wrote probably like less than 5% of it in the graduate student workspace.)

One of the most valuable things I learned was from the book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, by Joan Bolker. (The title is not meant to be taken literally.) She talks about "parking on the downhill slope" - which means when you stop, make it easy for yourself to get going again. Set aside 5-10 minutes at the end of each writing session to write yourself some messy notes about what you're thinking right then, where you were planning to go with a thought, what article you need to read or reference, or whatever else is helpful to help yourself get going. That way, next time you sit down to write, you don't have to waste 20 minutes trying to remember what the hell you were writing about last time.

When it comes to data analysis and processing - document, document, document! Comment all through those syntax files! Literally, every time you run an analysis, write a short comment about what you were doing with that line of code. If you use a GUI system (like SPSS) just start a notes file in a program like Evernote or OneNote and comment what you're doing. That's the way to "park on the downhill slope" with data analysis. That way, next time you start up you can just glance at your notes/comments and remember where you where and what you were doing. I also took the time (~5 min at the end of each analysis section) to write to myself about what I was planning to try/do next, so that when future me sat down I didn't waste time trying to figure out what the hell I was doing and what this code was for!

Another tip I used a lot is to save editing/revising for dedicated editing/revising days/sessions. If you're a procrastinator or a perfectionist, the temptation might be strong to edit/revise as you write, or to start editing/revising at the beginning of your session. If you do that, you'll look up 2 hours later and realize you've not written anything new. I put a banner above my workspace that say "JUST WRITE" to remind me to stop constantly editing and to just write. Even if I felt like I was vomiting out nonsense, a lot of the time I was able to take that "trash" and edit/revise it to something better later, when I had dedicated editing time. (Honestly, I wrote a significant portion of my dissertation with a glass of wine nearby. The buzz from the wine helped inhibit my natural perfectionistic tendencies and I was able to write more. Now, I often had to do revisions in the mornings :D but at least I had some words on the paper!)

Recommended books:

How to Write a Lot by Paul Silva (someone else recommended it; it's awesome)

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, by Joan Bolker (again, not meant to be taken literally, but there are lots of practical tips)

Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less (their timelines are, IMO, unrealistic. But the tips and skills are useful)

Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation, by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters (They have this recommended activity that involves slips of papers. I thought the method was stupid, but I basically did the activity electronically and that was decently helpful.)

The Craft of Research, by Booth, Colomb, Williams, Bizup, & Fitzgerald. Now in its 4th edition. Excellent resource!

 

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On 8/31/2018 at 5:20 PM, juilletmercredi said:

Yes, if you want to use the chunks of time you have productively, you have to prepare. You can use the shorter chunks you have to prepare for the longer chunks.

...Try writing exercises in different areas, without ideal conditions. How do you do? See, you didn't die... 

 "parking on the downhill slope" - which means when you stop, make it easy for yourself to get going again. Set aside 5-10 minutes at the end of each writing session to write yourself some messy notes about what you're thinking right then, where you were planning to go with a thought, what article you need to read or reference, or whatever else is helpful to help yourself get going. That way, next time you sit down to write, you don't have to waste 20 minutes trying to remember what the hell you were writing about last time...

When it comes to data analysis and processing - document, document, document! I also took the time (~5 min at the end of each analysis section) to write to myself about what I was planning to try/do next, so that when future me sat down I didn't waste time trying to figure out what the hell I was doing and what this code was for!...

...I put a banner above my workspace that say "JUST WRITE" to remind me to stop constantly editing and to just write. Even if I felt like I was vomiting out nonsense, a lot of the time I was able to take that "trash" and edit/revise it to something better later, when I had dedicated editing time. (Honestly, I wrote a significant portion of my dissertation with a glass of wine nearby. The buzz from the wine helped inhibit my natural perfectionistic tendencies and I was able to write more. Now, I often had to do revisions in the mornings :D but at least I had some words on the paper!)...

...

How to Write a Lot by Paul Silva (someone else recommended it; it's awesome)

 

All super helpful advice, thank you!

The above chunks made me laugh and/or were the biggest aha moments for me. 

As to the book above, I got it, and it makes me laugh out loud about every other page. 

Some gems:

I imagine people who say they can't find time to write "roaming through their schedules like naturalists in search of Time To Write, that most elusive and secretive of creatures..." (12)

"Struggling writers who 'wait for inspiration' should get off their high horse and join the unwashed masses of real academic writers..." (26)

My favorite:

"Complaining is an academic's birthright. The art of complaining develops early, when undergraduates complain about their professors, their textbooks, an the cosmic unfairness of 9am Friday classes. In graduate school, complaining approaches professional levels---students are aggrieved by the tediousness of their graduate advisors, and the omnipresent half-written dissertation. And, of course, professional faculty raise complaining to a refined, elegant art, particularly when provosts or parking permits are involved." :D :D :D 

---

And don't worry, I've done my scheduled writing time for the week :) 

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yeah, Paul Silva ftw. They're handing it out here to students haha. It's confrontational a little bit (the complaining part), but he's totally right.

As for the writing itself; I've found 'How to publish high quality research' by Balliet, Joireman & van Lange useful for help on what should go in each section. But it may also be very specific to Psych.

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