Write Now! (Again.)

Three years after Write Now! was launched, we’re back! This time around, my colleague Dr Bruce Ryan (no relation) is the project lead, as he attended many of the sessions during the first year and was keen to get it going again. I joined in on the project bit to lend my expertise and experience, and to assist in setting up the writing sessions each week.

Write Now! is a series of writing sessions supported by Edinburgh Napier University’s Research and Innovation Office. The sessions are held at our Merchiston campus in the Triangle Café to re-create the experience of writing in a coffee shop.

The sessions are held on Wednesdays from 2.30-4.30 pm. There is no obligation to join us every Wednesday. However the sessions are held at the same time each week so that participants can add the on-going events to their calendars. This will essentially block time out in advance so that they can protect this valuable time slot from being taken over by other meetings. It’s a great way to prioritise writing time.

Write Now! is for research students and academic staff who want time for concentrated writing. This time can be used to work on thesis chapters, journal or conference submissions, research grants, or other academic writing.

The sessions are self-led and participants manage their own writing processes. On arrival, participants are given a voucher for a drink and snack before they start writing. At the end of the session, they are asked to fill out brief (anonymous) progress cards noting what their writing goal was (and whether they met that goal) and the approximate number of words they wrote during the session.

Join us every Wednesday through May (and maybe into June)!
Triangle Café (downstairs at Merchiston)
2.30-4.30 pm
Free drinks and snacks
And don’t forget your laptop (or pen and paper if you’re Old Skool like that!)

My thesis: Submitted!

And with that, I have submitted my PhD thesis for examination and thesis season is over!

The last few days have been spent finishing up my thesis, all with an aim submitting on Halloween (success!). That included finishing my conclusion chapter and writing my acknowledgements page. These final days were also spent making sure that all of my references were accurate and that the fiddly little things like automatic bookmarks were rendering properly.

Once the document was finalised, I set everything up for printing. I intentionally planned it so that I was printing after office hours so that I wouldn’t have to worry about hogging the printers. After all, a thesis is a fairly long document and I needed four copies: Two for my viva examiners, one for my mock viva examiner, and one for me.

To save time, I sent the thesis to print as two separate print jobs, each with two copies. That way, I would take advantage of the two printers in the print room. It took about 30 minutes to print the four copies, and another few minutes to straighten the pages and (meticulously) fold a couple of double-sized pages for the appendices. I also included coloured cardstock in between each chapter for my own copy of the thesis. This way, I can add section tabs to the cardstock so that I can easily flip to the correct chapter when I am revising or during the viva itself.

After I finished printing, I carefully wrapped each copy in paper and called my taxi-driving landlord for a lift home, cradling my “babies” the entire way.

The next morning, I woke early and got the bus out to my university’s print shop. There, Gordon bound the documents whilst I waited. And then I took another bus to my campus where I panicked a bit (and got a bit teary) before heading upstairs to the research office to officially submit my thesis.

To be honest, submitting my thesis was quite an emotional and self-doubting experience. Although, to be honest, the entire PhD process was more emotional and self-doubting than I had expected! I won’t get into all of that today though, as I plan to share a series of posts (over time) that reflect on my experiences with the PhD process.

But yes, my thesis is done for now; it has been submitted. And that really is something to celebrate!

Of course, submitting my thesis is not the end of the PhD journey. No, there are still a few steps remaining before my PhD Dreams are realised. The first of these steps is my viva (oral defence). After that, I will be asked to make amendments to the thesis before I submit my final, hard-bound thesis. And then, finally, I will graduate.

My thesis: The full draft

With thesis season nearing its end, I am pleased to have a full draft of my thesis pulled together into the master thesis document. It has been a long road to get to this point, but I feel quite confident now that I have everything together in one place.

This draft includes all of the main body of the thesis (literature review, methods, findings, and discussion chapters) as well as the introduction and conclusion chapters. Of course, as a full draft, the document also includes everything from the title page to the last of the appendices. In fact, the only thing that is not in the document yet is the text for the acknowledgements page. And that is only missing because I don’t want anyone to see that page until after the document is submitted.

Now that I have the full draft ready, I have started to flag up pages that need additional text, edits, or formatting. I also have a couple of other people looking at parts of the thesis to flag up any additional errors or omissions that need my attention.

I have two weeks until my submission deadline, which has me a bit stressed. But thanks to my amazing master thesis document, at least I know that these last two weeks will be spent on the content of my thesis, and not wasting time fiddling about with the formatting.

My next post, if all goes to plan, will be about my thesis submission. (How exciting!) But for now, it’s back to editing.

My thesis: The discussion

The last of my “big” thesis chapters has finally been added to my master thesis document and that means that thesis season is really nearing the end now! This latest chapter is probably one of the most important ones, too. As the discussion chapter, it is the one that pulls the entire thesis together. This chapter answers the big, important question: What does it all mean?

The discussion chapter took me far too long to write. And, if I am honest, it is not very good. But that’s not because I don’t know what my research means. And it’s not because I don’t know what contributions this work makes to knowledge. I know these things. I know them quite well. What I don’t know, however, is how to articulate all of these things into an academic thesis chapter.

Ultimately, my struggles with writing this chapter stem from my fear of being wrong; from my lack of academic confidence. Ultimately, my fears and lack of confidence are down to imposter syndrome.

That said, I do feel a bit more confident now that the discussion chapter is in the main thesis document. This means that I have come to a point where the draft is fairly complete and that, if I had to, I could submit it as is.

Next up, I will be pulling the rest of the document together into a complete, full draft of my entire thesis. Then I will have a few days to edit and finalise the full document for submission. It’s not long now until I can start planning for my viva!

My thesis: The findings

I am well and truly into the thick of thesis season now! In fact, I have now added an additional three chapters to my master thesis document. The new chapters are my findings chapters, one for each of my three research questions.

Chapter 4 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the first research question, “How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?” The findings in this chapter show that people use online information to present aspects of identity, rather than to build or create identity in its own right. It also highlights the fact that identity is comprised of multiple personas which are showcased in a way that highlights different aspects of an individual’s identity for different audiences. These practices are generally undertaken to manage the blurring between both individuals’ professional and private lives and their online and offline environments.

Chapter 5 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the second research question, “How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?” The findings show that participants deploy different information sharing practices based on the platform they are using and the perceived audience for that platform. This is generally viewed as a way of managing the blur between participants’ professional and private lives, with an emphasis on managing their professional reputation.

Chapter 6 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the final research question, “How do individuals evaluate the reputations of others based on the information available to them online?” This set of findings shows that the evaluation of others on the basis of online information is not an intentional practice. Further, when evaluations are made, the findings show that the participants use their own information practices as a benchmark for the evaluation of others. Interesting, it has also been shown that reputational evaluations are not static. Instead, they are often impacted by additional information that the participants have in relation to of the individual being evaluated.

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. But you will have to wait until the whole PhD is done and dusted before you can read all about it!

The next big step is to complete the discussion chapter. After that, I will finalise the introduction and conclusion and review the entire thesis in preparation for my submission. Things are starting to come together now, and I am very excited about my progress.

My thesis: The methods chapter

Figure 1 from my methods chapter: An overview of the design and implementation of my doctoral investigation

As thesis season continues, I am pleased to see some real progress on my thesis. Today’s bit of progress was adding my methods chapter (Chapter 3) to my master thesis document.

This chapter covers the determination of my methods (including a pilot study), a description of my participant sample, and details of my data collection tools. It also discusses how I coded and analysed my data and how I decided to present my findings.

I feel somewhat confident about this chapter, but I admit I am a little concerned that my examiners might want a little more detail about some of the more philosophical aspects of the methodological approaches I used. However, I think that there is a bit of overlap between the start of this chapter and the end of my literature review that might need some re-jigging once the whole document is together. And maybe once I am reading the full thesis as one document, I will feel more confident. Or, maybe, I’ll realised that the last bits of Chapter 2 (literature review) really do belong at the start of my methods chapter.

As for the actual writing of this chapter, it was relatively enjoyable and relaxing to write. (Unlike my literature review chapter!) I think that’s because the methods chapter is about me. Or, rather, it’s about the work that I did and the decisions that I made. Sure, some bits were a bit more challenging. But most of the chapter is a narrative that outlines what I did – or did not do – and my reasoning for those things. Because I was writing about things I knew quite well (my own actions) I wasn’t faced with the fear of getting it wrong or misinterpreting someone else’s work.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be getting my three findings chapters ready to drop into the main thesis document. I will also be writing up my discussion chapter which is feeling a bit overwhelming at the moment. But it does feel good to see more progress being made – especially as I have to send a full draft of the entire thesis to my supervisors in 11 days’ time! (Yikes!)

My thesis: The literature review

As of today, I have 19 days remaining to complete a full draft of my PhD thesis for my supervisors’ final review and comments (and 41 days to submit for examination). And that means that it is time I start populating my PhD “master document” with content.

And so, today was spent copying my literature review document across to the first draft of my full thesis document. This is the first chunk of main-body content to be added to the main document and I am quite excited about this tiny milestone. (Starting with Chapter 2 seems a bit odd, but I will be writing the introduction, which is Chapter 1, at the end.)

The process of copying the literature review was fairly straightforward, especially as each chapter draft has been created using the same document styles as the master document. This means that I was able to copy things over without worrying about formatting. (But I still went through the process of checking the formatting. Just in case.)

The literature review is divided into four sections. The first three sections review literature related to (1) citation analysis and academic reputation; (2) online information and reputation from across a range of academic and non-academic sources; and (3) alternative means of building academic reputations (such as social media). The final section is a theoretical framework that has been developed for my doctoral study, based on the similarities and differences between citation practices and similar practices deployed in social media.

At 10,925 words, it is on the shorter side of PhD thesis literature reviews. I feel that this is in part due to the interdisciplinary nature of the review. The way everything came together meant that the literature review would have needed to be really, really long (too long) or rather brief. Because of the stress this chapter has caused me over the years, I decided that I would stick with brief and hope for the best.

My sincere hope is that I have done a decent job on my literature review and that there are only minor corrections to be made to it. Of course, when I think forward to post-viva corrections, this is the chapter that keeps coming to mind. Some of that is historical (and slightly hysterical) self-doubt that lingers from a negative experience with another academic. But some of that is due to a more rational fear that I’ve just missed something – either because I was unaware of a whole body of literature or because I missed a few newly published items that should be included.

Looking back over the process, I think I have learned more about how not to do a literature review, rather than how to actually complete one! But knowing what not to do will certainly make things easier for my next (much smaller!) literature review.

To be fair, I have learned several “best practices” to carry forward into my post-PhD research career. I have learned better ways to search for literature, but also better ways of keeping track of what I’ve read, along with improved note-taking techniques. (This theory will be tested in the New Year when I begin working on a small research project about social media proxies for adults with dementia.) I hope that as my experience and confidence increases, I will be able to help others in their quest to conduct a thorough literature review. But I really do need to learn more myself before I try to teach the art of it all to others!

It feels quite good to have a solid chunk of content in my main thesis draft, and I can’t wait to add more content. But for now, I must concentrate on creating a first full draft of my discussion chapter. And that, I am fearful to say, is looking to be almost as frustrating as the literature review chapter. (Although there haven’t been any tears yet, which is a happy thing!)

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of my thesis progress!

My thesis: The master document

As thesis season continues, my thesis is finally starting to fall into place. Yes, everything is starting to come together and I am quite excited about that. This post is about how I plan to pull the full document together with the use of a master document, or a thesis template.

As a planner, I began thinking about the end of my PhD from the very beginning. That is also when I started thinking about the master document for my thesis. I knew that I would spend an inordinate amount of time faffing about with the aesthetic layout of my final document, so I decided it would be best to get most of my formatting determined long before I started working on my final document.

It was that decision that led me to use my university’s thesis guidelines for all of my PhD-based work (see pages 41-42), allowing me to “test” my chosen formats. That means that all of my drafts and reports were written using the approved font sizes, spacing, and margins. At the same time, I experimented with different section heading and table styles, as well as document header and footer text. (Thankfully, the guidelines ditched the rule for Arial fonts, so I was able to pick a selection of serif and sans serif fonts that fit with my views of aesthetics.)

Once I had a style that I liked (and that rendered nicely when printed in grayscale) I developed my master document. This document has all of the top-level chapter headings (along with appropriate section breaks) and document headers that match. Within each chapter, I have placeholders for the sections that belong there. The master document includes all of the “fluff” pages, too: The title page, abstract, acknowledgements, various tables of content, and appendices.

Early versions of this document included several “notes to self” with reminders and explanations about the purpose of each section. For example, under the “methods” heading was a reminder that the section needed to justify everything I did (or didn’t do) in the process of determining my methods and collecting my data. These early versions also included content and links related to the process of writing up a thesis so that I could reflect on the best practices developed by others.

In the most recent versions (before the final) the document was stripped of these “helpful” reminders and links. In their place, I began entering notes about the estimated word count for each chapter as well as details related to the timeline for completion. The final (?) version of the document received the rank of master a few weeks ago.

One of the useful things about this process is that the master document has become an outline for the final thesis. I can look at that document to see how the whole thesis flows, including the structure for each individual chapter.

Of course, the most useful things about this document is the time it will save when I pull the entire thesis together over the next few weeks. Because I know how fiddly document numbering can get when you muck about with the styles, I thought it was best to get everything into a shell this way (including section headings) so that I can do a simple copy-and-paste from my draft chapters into (a copy of) the master document. The document has placeholders for my “perfect” table layouts and notes about some of the little glitches that sometimes happen when text is copied over.

The plan now is to start populating a document based on this template. To do that, I will save a copy of the master file that I can title “full-thesis-draft.v1”. Then, once each chapter is fully drafted with no (obvious) major edits required, I will copy it into this document. At that time, I will ensure that all of the in-document cross-references are where they’re meant to be.

Once the full “v1” document is populated, I will be able to give it a full review before sending a full, complete draft of my thesis to my supervisors. (My versioning system means that it might be v2 or v3 before they see it though.)

If all goes well, there will be very little (or, hopefully, no) additional formatting required. However, I am sure that I will find something to change once I see the full document. But that’s where styles come in. A wee tweak to a style will cascade across the document.

I am really excited to start filling in this document. And that excitement is growing as my deadline looms nearer. The best thing about that excitement is that it is making me feel very motivated to write, write, write! And so, I had best get back to writing, writing, writing!

And for those who are counting, I have 54 days until my submission deadline – and 32 days until I need to have a full draft to my supervisors for their feedbacks. It’s not long now!! (I am so excited!!!)

Thesis season: September update

As thesis season continues, I am starting to feel more and more confident that I will manage to complete my thesis without (too terribly much) stress. And as September begins, I am excited (and nervous) about the next 61 days. (Yikes! Only 61 days to finish writing. How scary!)

My progress in August was steady, though slow. I worked on my three findings chapters and my methods and literature review chapters. Sadly, none of those chapters are completely completed, but they are fully drafted and are just seeking edits at this time.

The highlights for August were getting all of the main content for my findings chapters completed and knocking out a near-final version of my literature review. I also enjoyed a successful (final!) research progress review at the end of the month.

However, August wasn’t as amazing as I wanted it to be. I didn’t manage to complete the visualisation of the data and I didn’t manage to complete my literature review and methods chapters. Although I am pleased to say that they are all in fairly decent shape and only need a bit of editing. Thankfully, I know what I need to do for each of those chapters and will add that work to my “easy work” list. That list is a variety of tasks that I can do in the evenings when my brain needs a rest, but my motivation levels are still pushing me to get something done.

My plans for September are fairly ambitious, but I am confident that I will manage them without too much agony. I am including a few late nights in my work plans, which will include taxis home as my local bus stops running at 6.30pm. However, I will be doing some teaching again this term which will give me the extra money to pay for the taxis. (Yay!)

Here’s my plan for September:

  • Create a full “primary draft” of my discussion chapter. This means that I will have that chapter written to completion (based on content), but the draft will (likely) need further edits for language and grammar.
  • Complete all visualisations for my three findings chapters. This work will happen in dribs and drabs as my brain needs a break from the “extreme” thinking that is needed for the discussion chapter.
  • Complete all edits for my literature review and methods chapters. As above, this work will largely take place as a break from the discussion chapter.
  • Finish all appendices needed for my literature review and methods chapters. These are largely complete at this time, but I need to do some formatting. As with the other edits, this will be done as and when my brain needs a break.
  • Draw up a final completion plan for October. Yikes! That document might be a bit scary, especially if September doesn’t go as planned. But if all goes well, the plan will be largely focused on writing up my introduction and conclusion chapters and making edits to my discussion chapter. I will also give myself plenty of time to do all the fiddly little things like formatting the full document.

 

Yes, September is going to be crazy! But I am feeling quite confident about it and I am sure that it will be a productive month.

Thesis season: August update

With August now upon us, I am aware that there are only three months remaining for “thesis season”. And that is a scary realisation when I stop to think about how much work I have yet to do. And so, the next three months will be spent writing, writing, writing… and writing a bit more.

I am pleased to say that my July thesis goals were (largely) met. And that means that I have now (mostly) completed drafts of five chapters. These are the methods chapter, three separate findings chapters, and my literature review (submitted to my supervisors for their comments last night).

Today and the first half of Friday will be dedicated to making updates to my findings chapters, ahead of Friday afternoon’s meeting with my supervisors to go over my literature review. Then the rest of August will be spent making edits to the chapters I already have drafted whilst making notes to develop the structural outline for my discussion chapter. I expect that to be a very challenging chapter to write and will dedicate much of September to completing it.

So, what do my thesis plans look like for August?

In a nutshell, it looks like a lot of time in front of computer screens and very little time enjoying the great outdoors! More specifically, August will be spent making edits and notes for September’s work.

In August, I will:

  • Make updates to my literature review. This will include incorporating edits, comments, and suggestions from my supervisors as well as adding new literature sources where relevant.
  • Review my findings chapters. This will be done with consideration to my literature review so that I can ensure that I have not missed out on literature that should have been included.
  • Make notes for my discussion chapter. This will be done in conjunction with the review of my findings chapters. These notes will help to form the narrative structure for my discussion chapter, which I will write in September.
  • Prepare for my next (and final!) progress review meeting. This should be fairly straightforward and will include sharing an update on the progress of each of my thesis chapters and a plan for completion. (There will be about two months left to submit by this time.)
  • Work on updates to my methods chapter and appendices. This work is fairly simple (as compared to the literature review, at least). Because of that, it will be done in between other work as a “treat” when my brain needs a bit of a break.

 

And, as always, I will be attempting to take care of my physical, mental, and emotional health. This will include my (sometimes faltering) healthy eating habits, regular 5K runs, a minimum daily step goal, and a bit of “me” time each week. (All easier said than done!)

There is much work to do, but I am feeling quite confident about it. (For now.) Stay tuned for a September thesis season update!

Thesis season

Wow! It is the 1st of July already. And that means that my PhD thesis is due in just four months’ time. Yikes! Of course, that means that the next four months will be all about my thesis. Thesis, thesis, thesis. And writing, writing, writing. And, most likely, stressing, stressing, stressing.

But I am looking forward to cracking down and getting things done. And as I have no other obligations in my diary (other than teaching starting in September) I have no excuses for not PhDing my days away.

Thesis season is the final stretch of my thesis writing. During this time, I will finish writing some chapters, edits others, and start writing a couple of vital chapters. And, of course, I will need to put it all together into one sensible narrative for examination.

The structure is (fairly) straight-forward and simple, with 8 chapters for the main body of the thesis. These are the introduction, a literature review including the theoretical framework, the methodology, three separate findings chapters, a discussion, and a conclusion. There will also be several other bits before and after the main body for references, an abstract, tables of contents, and various appendices.

Much of the work has already been done, it’s just a matter of writing it all up in thesis form and the literature review, methodology, and findings chapters are in various stages of completeness. The biggest challenge (and a vital part of the thesis!) will be writing up the discussion chapter. Unlike other sections of the thesis, this doesn’t already exist in another format so I will have to start from scratch. (Though I do have several little notes that I’ve written that will help with that process.)

So, what’s up next?

My July tasks (in order of deadlines) will be to complete drafts of (1) my methods chapter, (2) all three findings chapters, and (3) my literature review. That’s not to say that they will be finished at that point, just that they will be fully drafted. I expect that I will be making further edits and improvements to them in August.

Thesis season is bound to be stressful, so I will need to ensure that I am taking good care of my physical, mental, and emotional health during this time. To do that, I am continuing my healthy eating routine and will be sure to bring my own lunches to the office most days. This way, I am sure to be getting all of the nutrients I need without the financial burden of eating in the canteen. I am also working to keep fit by running several 5Ks each week and getting off the bus a mile or two before my stop so that I can get some walking in before I get to my desk. And, of course, I am trying to build in some “me” time each week. (Though I have always struggled with making “me” a priority, so that one will be a challenge.)

I will aim to do monthly thesis season updates, so stay tuned for August when I hope to announce that some of these chapters are near completion!

But for now… it’s back to the thesis.

PhDing on holidays

A bit of PhDing whilst I wait for my flights… along with a glass of my traditional pre-holiday fizz!

I am on my holidays in America just now, and I’ve brought my PhD along for the journey. It is something that I’ve done with great hesitation because I know that I won’t get as much done as I’ve told myself I will… but I also hesitated because I should be taking advantage of my holidays as a chance to have a break and live that whole “work-life balance” thing I’m always talking about.

But I am running short on time, so I can’t really afford to take time off. So I need to at least pretend that I will get a bit of work done whilst I’m away.

And so, I am hoping to do some PhDing on my holidays.

Of course, that makes me question (once again) the toxic environment of “all work no play” that many PhD students find themselves in—myself included. And it makes me realise that prior to starting my PhD, I was really good about taking personal time and rarely bringing my work home with me. (Well, other than on “work from home” days. But then I stopped working when the “day” was done.)

My darling Godson is getting in on the PhDing action!

What has changed? Why do I feel the need to work all the time as a PhD student? And why do I feel so very guilty when I am not working on my PhD?

Sadly, that is a long blog post for another time. (Trust me, it is in draft mode now. I shall save it for a longer musing once I’m done with my PhD though.)

Instead, I will just use these last lines to say that I am on holiday. And that I’ve brought my PhD with me. And I know I will get some work done on it. But I also know that I won’t get as much done as I’d hoped. Because I am here to visit my family and I didn’t fly 6,000 miles just so that they could watch me write my thesis!

A month of writing with #WriteSaidFeb

As my thesis submission deadline looms, I am finding myself more and more anxious about my writing progress. And, to be honest, a bit afraid that I will miss the mark! After all, there are just three months left, so I don’t have time to waste!

To help keep me motivated, my fellow PhDer and friend, Iris Buunk, and I have decided to dedicate the whole of February to writing. Yes, February will be one big, long Write Now! session for the both of us.

However, Iris is no longer based on campus, so we have to do our writing sessions from a distance. To do that, we decided to start a virtual writing group, using Twitter to help us stay motivated. And since virtual communities make it easy for everyone else to join in, we’re going to attempt a massive, month-long, virtual Write Now! session. (We like to aim high!)

The writing month will allow people to share their process with others at the end of a Twitter hashtag (#WriteSaidFeb). The hope is that people will use the hashtag:

  • To share their daily/weekly/monthly writing goals
  • As a way of creating some (personal) accountability for their writing goals
  • To seek and share motivation with others
  • To ask for help/advice on writing
  • To seek and share support when the writing process is overwhelming (or non-productive)
  • To celebrate daily/weekly/monthly writing successes (no matter how small)

 

February is a short month, but with a bit of motivation, we can write just as many words (and hopefully more!) than a long month would allow.

My own goals are to have (at least) 40,000 words “in chapter form” by the end of the month. That doesn’t mean that I will write 40,000 new words, but rather I will have that many words ready for my supervisors’ comments ahead of my final submission in April.

I will also be working on the final submission of a journal article (it is very close!) and a grant application that is due next month.

Whilst those are my big goals for the month, I will be breaking them down into smaller chunks to tackle each day. I will share my daily goals on Twitter and hope that others do the same.

Whatever your writing goals are, I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Right. It is time to stop blogging now so that I can start writing. Because #WriteSaidFeb means I have to!

2018: 300(ish) days to go

Welcome to 2018—the year that I am finally, really, really going to finish my PhD. And this is getting serious now. In fact, there are now only about 300 days remaining for me to submit my thesis—or I cannot submit at all. And so, the pressure is well and truly on!

When I started my PhD four years ago, I had great hopes that I would finish in three years and that it would be a positive experience. But (for a variety of reasons) it has been a struggle that has found me making one excuse after another for why it has taken me so long. To be fair, some of the excuses were quite valid and I probably should have suspended my studies for a couple of months a couple of times because of them.

But it’s too late now and there is no more time for excuses—valid or otherwise.

So I now have about 300 days to write an 80,000-word PhD thesis. Thankfully, some of those words are written. And I have no other responsibilities at the moment, so I don’t have to take time out of my writing.

And that means that the first four months of 2018 will be writing, writing, writing, and more writing. (And editing.)

I will try a bit harder to update my PhD blog as I go, but I have to prioritise that writing so I can’t make any promises.

Anyhow. Happy New Year to all of you!

The Doctor will be with you shortly…

Writer’s block? Write, now!

For more than a month now, I have been suffering from severe writer’s block. I haven’t been able to write my thesis. I haven’t been able to update my PhD blog. And I haven’t been able to write on my personal blog. In fact, it has been so bad that I haven’t even been able to reply to personal letters to my family and friends. (Yes, I write “real” letters!) I don’t know exactly what prompted my block, but I think it was caused by a lot of little things working together to become one great big thing.

However, before my block, I signed up for a three-day non-residential writing retreat hosted by my university’s Research and Innovation Office (RIO) that took place last week. The event, Write Now!, was held off campus to allow for a much-needed change of scenery—which I always find helpful.

And, thankfully, on the Friday before the retreat, one of my supervisors came by to check in on my progress. When explained my extreme writer’s block, he helped me to re-work a couple of things and to re-think my mindset. (And he checked back with me later that same day, which helped. A lot!) That chat helped to better set me up for the writing retreat.

When I first signed up for the writing retreat, I told myself that a 1,000-word goal would be achievable each day. However, I had to amend that to 500 because of my block. My reasoning was that if I tried to go from 0 to 1,000 straight out of the gate, I would become even more frustrated. So I chose a more manageable goal so that I could feel a bit of success at the end of the retreat.

In the end, I wrote 1,713 words (daily counts were: 539, 651, and 523).

That doesn’t seem like much for what should have been an intensive writing session. However, it is more than treble the words I managed in the month prior.

We marked our successes each day by hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree. Small baubles for 500 words, large baubles for 1,000 words, and golden snowflakes for 2,000 words. It was encouraging for me to see more baubles added as the hours and days went by. (Though I wish I could have added more than I did!)

In total, there were about 20 people at the retreat from across the university. And between us, we managed to write 40,000 words. Though it should be noted that some writers were editing documents, rather than bulking them out, which means that some people were working on negative word counts. (Which makes me think we should have had additional ornaments for reaching our daily goals—which would have included editing pages. I think I’ll mention that to the RIO team for next time…)

I am still feeling a bit blocked, but I am pleased to say that the retreat has helped me to see my way forward. It was also a good reminder that when your goal is total words, you can always switch to another section or chapter when you’re feeling blocked. Even if that is not the chapter you were meant to be working on that day. Words are words!

With the Christmas holidays (nearly) upon us, I am aware that I will not be spending full days at my computer—especially as two of my nieces are coming to Scotland to spend the holidays with me! However, I am going to aim for 250 words a day minimum with a stretch goal of 500 per day for my holiday average. (My nieces are 21 and 23, so if I plan to write when they’re Facebooking their friends, I should have plenty of time!)

Anyhow, as my thesis writing time is tick, tick, ticking away, I will need to work really hard at finding my motivation and overcoming this block. But I am confident that I will manage to pull it off. I just need to remember that writing needs to be prioritised and that, when I am blocked, I just need to suck it up and write, now!