How often do you make time to write only to then immediately distract yourself with other things? Do you ever find yourself working on an entirely different aspect of the project than the one you had intended? Fiddling with sentences? Checking references? Just nosing around the edges, not really getting going until it’s nearly time to stop?
Our basic solution to this is to say: when it is time to write, only write. Do not research, do not run stats, do not revise, do not track down that reference. Just write. In order for this to work well, you will need to separate writing itself from preparing to write and editing – our method addresses this too. But first, let’s talk about what we mean by ‘just write.’
With our approach, you make a conscious, committed decision to begin writing straight away. This lends an immediate focus to your time that drifting into your project doesn’t provide.
What do you actually do with this dedicated time? You have three options to move between throughout each block of writing time.
Option 1: Write It. Start writing your piece. It doesn’t matter where you start – beginning, end, middle. You know what you want to accomplish right now, so just get to it.
Option 2: Write About It. If actual ‘writing’ it isn’t working for you right now, then write about your writing. Write about what you are struggling with, whether it’s a concept you’re questioning, an argument you can’t get straight, some data that isn’t doing what you thought, some literature you’re not confident in, a fundamental uncertainty about what exactly you’re up to here, or something else. Explore the challenge, in writing.
A few things may happen in this process. You’ll find you clarify the problem and can return to Option 1 and carry on. Or, you’ll get as far as you can with the problem, realise you need to do more preparation, and decide to focus on writing a different part today instead. Or, you’ll end up spending the whole session in this mode, working through your questions and doubts, and the possible directions they lead. Or, you’ll get so frustrated you need to turn to Option 3.
Option 3: Write About How You’re Feeling About It. This is useful when stuck, frustrated, angry, dispirited, etc. It’s a chance to vent, to give voice to what you’re feeling, and also, sometimes to gain some clarity over what’s bothering you. You don’t need to shove these feelings under the rug and carry on. The things we ignore don’t go away. So, let yourself face them and write freely. Remember, it is just for you; no-one will read it!
This is a chance for you to explore what’s going on, guided by the principle that the feelings we acknowledge have less power over us – our attention can deflate them, pop them like soap bubbles drifting above the garden. With this third option, you’ll end up with something to reflect on, a realization, a fresh determination, a lightness. You may feel disappointed that your writing time was not ‘productive’ in the usual sense, but that disappointment will be balanced by a new understanding that lets you pick up and move forward tomorrow.
Working with these three options means there is no escape from writing time. You are almost tricking that part of you that wants to avoid or run away from writing by saying to it, throw all the tricks you can at me, dammit, I’m still going to write. Eventually it’ll give up, submit and let you write the thing you want to be writing.