Friday, June 22, 2012

Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines.

About ten days ago I decided to use a part of my diary (a bright green Leuchtturm1917, A5 size page a week style, in case anyone is interested) I've never bothered to make use of before: the page at the front which lists all the months and days of the year, and which does not have enough space to do anything but circle the relevant date. Before now this has seemed a bit pointless to me - I'm likely to forget what is important about the circled date - but then I realised that working towards a big, scarey, PhD endgame deadline without any general, easily accessible, overview of what I needed to do by when was going to make things, well, scarey. And stress inducing. So for the first time I made use of those little numbers at the front of the diary and circled the relevant numbers for chapter deadlines in red (Diamine Passion Red cartridge), supervision meetings are circled in Noodler's Navy - I am sure at different points new colours denoting different things will emerge, but these are the important things for the time being. I now know what I am working towards on a month to month basis - in my head I already knew this, but putting it on paper has made it clearer and also more immovable, making me create a structure - I am trying to do this but it does not always work.

While I was trying to instigate a better working regime and structure for writing the final three chapters of my thesis, The Guardian Books section online ran this blog post: Write or Die: can a $5 app cure writer's block? I'm not sure about the concept of 'writer's block' being an inability to actually put one word after another. For me it is usually not a writing block, but a thinking block. Next week I am attending a PhD Writing Retreat for two days - run by a department called Thinking Writing - I'm looking forward to it, but the idea of it is also making me cringe slightly inside (the 'retreat' bit is mostly causing the cringing I think - it simultaneously sounds a bit 'hippy' and a bit like I am running away from something), and I'm worrying about having to write in a room full of other people. I usually write in a room on my own (Mrs Woolf was right, but inflation means £500 a year doesn't really make it very far these days). Is it going to be weird typing sat next to someone? And what about all that thinking happening in one room? Whether or not it will be a successful two days remains to be seen, but I am hoping it will give me the impetus to finish the first draft a little bit early, allowing me some days off and some sleep, which I really do need, not because I am working through the night (this may yet happen), but because I am just tired.

What the writing retreat has done already (by way of a little exercise I have to do before I attend) is make me think about my process for thinking and writing. Thinking back to the last two 'big' projects I have done - my undergraduate dissertation and my MA dissertation, neither of which are anywhere near the length of the PhD thesis, although the MA was about the length of one thesis chapter - I realise the way in which I work now is very different to how I was working on those projects. I wrote the bulk (7000 words approximately) of the first draft of my undergrad project in a crazy burst of binge writing one night - I can't remember how many hours but I recall tinkering with it for most of the day, then having dinner and going back to it at around 8pm or thereabouts - by 5.30am the following morning I could hear the birds singing outside and was hitting the save button for the last time that night. I crawled into bed and woke about five hours later. I can still remember the elated feeling when I woke up and have yet to recapture it. I can also remember the look my supervisor gave me the following day when we stood over the department printer: the look told me I was crazy, but understood that I had needed to go through this process, even though the final deadline was some weeks away. My MA dissertation was written in about 14 days after life derailed the project massively. When I finished it I didn't feel anything except for relief and exhaustion. The only reason I finished that project was because I had to, and I managed to find an amazing archive which gave me huge amounts of material to work with, but mostly because of a remarkable and supportive supervisor. I'm lucky to have both these supervisors as my PhD supervisors now.

My process at the moment seems to be that I spend the morning writing slowly, if at all, and then having a productive afternoon. But, the key thing is I have to spend the morning working slowly at the chapter, because I if get side-tracked and spend the morning doing something else, the afternoon is wasted. I think - and hope - that this is because I spend the morning 'thinking' about the writing, but not getting much done, giving me space to write better in the afternoon. If I do not give myself the space to do the thinking in the morning, the writing in the afternoon does not happen, or is minimal, because there is no thought to support it.

Of course there is always The Fear. I've written some good work in the past when I've had The Fear; but is is debilitating, and I am tired enough as it is without Fear induced collapse occurring. So for now I am going to be content with achieving 600-1000 words a day.

I confront The Fear head on when it arrives in December. Which it will.

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