Here is what they don’t tell you in doctoral programs: writing is hard.
For almost 3 years I have been taking 900-level courses on quantitative and qualitative research methods, national and international education systems, curriculum design, faculty personnel, higher education historical developments, and other advanced content classes. Before that, I worked on my master’s degree in Educational Leadership.
In spite of the fact that both masters and doctoral coursework entails much scholarly writing, there was no discussion about the actual process of writing. In fact, I didn’t hear that ‘writing is hard’ from any of my professors until I got to Dissertation Seminar I class (!). My professor in dissertation seminar recommended some books on… Guess what? Yes, the process of writing!!
Although my PhD program has been going tremendously well-thanks to my professor and advisors, I wish I would have read these books on the process of writing earlier.
Reading books on the process of writing would have alleviated much of my anxiety by helping me understand that everyone struggles with writing- even the most seasoned of academics!
Now I am constantly on the look out for tips on productivity (especially as a writer!). As part of my reading goal this winter break, I just finished the Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel last night. And before I go any further, my recommendation to you is: get this book. Get it NOW. Especially if you are in a doctoral program. You’ll thank me later.
The main premise of this book is how to become a prolific writer and actually finish that book, thesis or dissertation.
The Clockwork Muse is a great read- brief, clear, and to the point. It gives the reader sound advice on how to weed through your calendar and pinpoint days that you actually can dedicate to writing; how to identify one’s energy levels and choose writing tasks accordingly; how to make the final draft flow by rewriting multiple drafts of one’s manuscript; and how to break the manuscript into manageable ‘bite size’ chunks.
As with any book, there will be parts you won’t relate to, and that’s ok! However, the Clockwork Muse has so much to offer, I highly recommend it to anyone who aspires to become a prolific, self disciplined writer.
Here are some takeaways from the book that I see myself using:
1. Evaluating your calendar to determine days and times that you will NOT be able to write.
Up until now, I scheduled my writing sessions into my calendar without considering whether I will be able to write or not. And, you guessed it, more often then not, I was not able to write. I will now employ a different strategy. I will look at my weekly calendar, and identify days and time when I will NOT be able to write due to a. my teaching job, b. family and friends time, and c. time for my wellbeing and self care (i.e. yoga). Once I have that, then I will schedule my writing time. This way I will keep my priorities in order (yes, dissertation is important but so is my husband), and will not feel guilty that I am doing something else while I ‘should’ be writing.
2. Keeping my writing sessions frequent.
I am not sure whether I can write every day, but maybe I can swing writing every other day. Frequent writing sessions minimize recall and organization time. I know that if I only write on Sundays, it will take me at least 30 minutes to get organized and to recall where I was last time.
3. Do not wait for inspiration. Sit down and start writing/reading/revising [whether you feel like it or not].
This one is major for me. So many times I didn’t feel particularly inspired but then after I seated myself in front of my computer and opened my draft and set my timer [another good strategy]-I worked and got things done. The Clockwork Muse reiterates that “only those who develop a certain amount of self-discipline actually end up completing theses, dissertation, and books” (Zerubavel, 2001, p. 98).