What to do with that mountain of notes all over your bedroom floor

Are you a student working on longer piece of work? (say a 5,000 word essay or a dissertation) Have you already done quite a bit of reading? Do you have an outline or plan to work with? This is for you! However, some of the techniques below may work for those who need to write shorter pieces of work as well. The following are tried and tested methods and what I find really works for me (believe me, I have tried a lot of different techniques). The techniques below are about getting that first draft down on paper so make sure you leave plenty of time for re writing and editing afterwards.
So, my top tips for increasing writing productivity are:

1) Write first
This is the number one most important piece of advice I have found. For me, my most productive time is in the morning, so as soon as I sit down at my desk (with a strong coffee), I start to write. This is before I have breakfast, before I get dressed, and certainly before I check email, facebook or twitter. Once the creative juices start to flow and I can see some words on the pages, these other options won’t seem nearly as enticing and I can have a shower and sit down to enjoy my breakfast with a glow of 500 words behind me.

2) Set achievable targets
Instead of thinking ‘I have to finish a 10,000 word essay by the end of the month’, I work out the number of sections I want to include in the essay and then divide this by the time available. Then I set myself a absolute deadline for each section and don’t miss a single one, even if it means a serious lack of sleep the night before. This way of working is easier to sustain for short periods of time and you will really start to see progress in your work. Then, once you have all your sections, you can go back and perfect them later.

3) ‘Park on a downhill’
This piece of advice from Joan Bolker is especially useful if you know you won’t be able to return to the same piece of work for a few days. I have a document which I update at the end of every session telling me what I did last and what I need to do next. In this way I can start working in the middle of a piece of writing. Parking on a downhill means I don’t need to read through from the beginning of an piece of work every time I sit down, a process which can easily take a few hours of each session.

4) Tackle small tasks as you go
Have a list of small mind numbing tasks that need doing, so that when you are brain dead there is still something you can do, even if it is finding references, formatting the document or numbering tables.

5) Write often
A little each day is the best way to work. Even on those days when you feel you really can’t write, you will be able to write something. Just tell yourself you need to write 500 or 1000 words or for 1 hour or whatever it may be, and the rest of the day is your own. Often, once you start, you will find you want to carry on, as each word gets you closer to the target.

6) Don’t polish and write
Leave making your writing into a masterpiece until you have got your first draft. For example, don’t write the transitions between paragraphs until the end of your essay. For such a long piece of work, it is probable that you will want to move things around. Once you have decided what goes where, then you can work on perfecting those transitions between main ideas.

For some great blog posts on writing productivity (or when it is appropriate to write quickly) see the following:

Explorations of Style: A Blog about Academic Writing

The Thesis Whisperer


3 thoughts on “What to do with that mountain of notes all over your bedroom floor

  1. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!
    Very helpful info particularly the last part 🙂
    I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a
    long time. Thank you and good luck.

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