Writing About Writing

Royal_TypewriterI’ve always enjoyed writing, but have always been a “stream-of-consciousness” kind of writer. I’ll sit down with an open word processor document, type, and just go with the flow and see were it takes me. A quick spell-check follows and away it goes.

When I wrote my MA thesis (in Hawaiian), I sat down and wrote out each chapter in long marathon sessions. Of course there was a lot of editing, tweaking and additions along the way, but the gist of the chapters and overall structure of the final product was very much like the first drafts. My supervisors were somewhat confounded by my tactics, but happy with the results.

I learned very early that those tactics were not going to cut it at the Ph.d. level, and that I needed to be much more organized and disciplined in my writing. I was given three abstract subjects to write about by one of my supervisors, and about four weeks to crank out 5,000 word essays on each. I got nowhere the first week, only wrote about 500 words, which means I had to write close to 5,000 words per week in order to meet my deadline of this coming Tuesday. With two full days and part of another to go, I have about 1,300 words to go on my final essay.

One of tools that I found very useful was RefWorks, a bibliography management package that stores your references on the web, helps you insert them into your document, and processes your Word document with all citations in the format of your choice (the music department here mandates the Harvard style). It takes some work to get all of the citations in there, but you can import the book and journal article data straight from many library databases. It saves a lot of time and helps assure you have the right information in there. I took a quick look at my RefWorks database tonight and found I have 121 references. I only had 20 when we arrived in Dunedin in January, which means I’ve read in whole or in part just over 100 books and academic papers since we got here. Absolutely amazing.

I also joined an online group of other researchers who are in various stages of their graduate-level writing, and it’s been a big help as well. I realized how much more productive it is to write for shorter, multiple spurts every day than writing in a marathon session a few days a week, and simply reading in between writing days. I also have figured out that it is important to budget some fun time, both alone and with the family to retain my sanity. In retrospect, I used a brute-force method to get through the MA program back home, and need to learn to work smarter, not harder for the Ph.d. And I think with the right tools and attitude I’m getting there.

And having Scott here is going to keep me on my toes as far as blogging more frequently and posting more substance. It’s nice to have him around.

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