You need to write, and you know it. Whether it is your thesis or a paper, you need to start writing. And you had better start yesterday. So, why didn’t you start already? Well, because we (together with our brain) are really good in finding excuses a pretences to avoid tasks we don’t like; academic writing certainly is one of those for many scientists. Yesterday’s workshop (Turbocharge your Writing!) presented by Hugh Kearns (@ithinkwellHugh) at the University of Manchester told us why that is and what we can do about it.
There can be many reasons why we don’t want to write right now. We might not feel ready to write just yet. But when are we actually ready? One more paper to read? One more reference to hunt down? One more experiment and the world will be much clearer to us? If we go down this alley we might never be ready to write and only an approaching deadline will finally push us.
Sometimes we don’t write because we want to have everything clearly structured in our mind first. However, if we are honest, what we do is usually quite complex and more complicated than what we can handle in our brains alone. Only when we write it down we can see what is clear to us and what is not, which pieces fit together and which not. This is like practicing your talk silently or talking aloud. Only the latter will really show you what you have understood clearly enough that you can freely talk about it. So, you can use writing as a guide to the things you do not know right now. That way, writing can lead your (literature) research or your experiments later on.
There are many lies we tell ourselves to avoid writing, but in the end these are just thoughts, not facts. What we can do to overcome these thoughts is to just start writing. Whether it is pen and paper or laptop and keyboard, writing time means to just write. And here comes my biggest biggest eye opener: writing is not editing. Changing the format, correcting grammar, finding a reference, exchanging words with ones that seem to fit better, restructuring, all of this is editing. But, and this is what Hugh Kearns stressed several times: writing is to write new words and not to change the ones that are already there.
I just tried to follow his recommendations. I set aside my ‘two golden hours’ in the morning to just get different things written (discussion of a paper, this blog post, and a mind map for an essay), tried not to edit anything, and just ‘nailed my feed to the ground’ and kept writing. I’m excited to see whether this is really going to work on the long run. So far, it felt great.