I am really jealous of people who can breast crawl. They can swim much faster and with less effort than I can. I can only swim using the breaststroke. As a child, I was very allergic to chlorine so I couldn’t join any swimming lessons. I never learned how to swim more elegantly.
Many PhD students are writing in the same manner as I swim: without having the knowledge of the writing process. They try to incorporate at least 4 things: making clear what they think, formulating perfect sentences, making sure the references are accurate and satisfying their supervisor.
Why would that be a problem?
By doing everything at the same time, you are slowing down your writing process. You can compare it to swimming without swimming lessons. You will improve, but you could improve faster. Much faster even.
How do ‘breast crawl’ writers write? They write in phases: they start with a detailed structure, then they write the first draft and finally they revise. It is all very zen: they focus on the phase they need to work on and the rest is left alone.
What does this mean for you?
Ensure you achieve the most in the structural phase by having a clear understanding of what you would like to write before you start. Free writing is definitely a great help for this. Free writing will help you to organize your thoughts, will stimulate creativity and will clarify your views on your PhD.
How does free writing work?
Simple: set a timer for a maximum of 15 minutes and start writing. Without any interruption. With pen and paper, so by hand. If you don’t know what to write anymore, then write that down. If you are thinking: this is bull****, just jot it down. The only thing you need to do is to continue to write.
The thoughts in your head seem clear and structured. Once you start to write you will find out that things aren’t as logic as it seems. So by continuing to write, you will structure your thoughts. The free writing will allow you to discover that perhaps you need to read some more on a certain subject, that you probably should discuss another item with someone or maybe that you can finally start your initial structure.
I can hear you saying that you have a completely different way of writing.
Chances are big that actually, you will have different ideas about writing. Because we don’t learn the writing process in school, we will develop our own methods. These methods will for sure take you from the beginning of your texts till the end, but are you certain it is the most productive way?
Research shows – and I also notice this in my writing courses – that you can limit your writing time by investing in structure. You will also have better texts.
What to do now?
Start to free write! Practice it every day for 15 minutes, even if you don’t need to write an article or chapter. You will notice how clarity will increase. Do you have trouble scheduling 15 minutes a day in your program? Then it is time to learn how to plan!