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Just write

August 13, 2012

I’m back! Heavens almighty, praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I have returned!

Last week I finally finished and handed in my thesis and in two days, I’ll get to defend it. Or, like my second reader said, I’ll “have a conversation” about my thesis. I don’t know which term frightens me more, to be honest, defense or conversation. I’m quite good when I’m on the defensive (though sometimes perhaps a little, what shall we call it, fierce).

My thesis is done, my application to graduate filled out, ready and waiting, my brain so prepared to put all of this behind me. But before I do that, I just wanted to give you a final word of advice, in the addition to the advice I already gave a few months ago (and which I still stand behind).

FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING HOLY (AND UNHOLY), START WRITING. 

Research is safe. Research allows you to believe you’re being productive. Research makes you think you’re getting somewhere. And research most certainly needs to be done. But – and this is key – it’s not a stage which precedes writing and is completely finished before you start the next activity. It will keep going. As long as you are writing, you will be researching.

For a good while, I was afraid to start writing. It was both a fear of putting my thoughts on paper and a fear of my advisor reading my unfinished, haphazard thoughts. He might have criticism I already knew about. He might think I was stupid for not presenting him with a complete argument straight away. Maybe my ideas were utterly useless. But if that were true, surely you wouldn’t be where you are today. As a friend once advised:

LOVE YOUR IDEAS.

BELIEVE IN YOUR THOUGHTS.

YOU DESERVE TO BE WHERE YOU ARE.

YOU ARE THE REASON YOU ACHIEVED THOSE GOALS.

LOVE YOUR IDEAS, DAMMIT.

Exactly.

Doubts probably won’t go away. Research most certainly won’t go away. Writing will be waiting for you, patiently, ruthlessly, relentlessly. So you might as well start, even if you’re afraid, even if you think it won’t be good enough. This goes for academic writing as much as for other types. Any big writing project you have to start won’t diminish in size the longer you wait. It’s not ice; it won’t melt away as summer progresses. And the fact of the matter is, more time to write equals more time to edit equals higher quality writing in the end. Anyone who has ever handed in a piece of writing under the pressure of a deadline only to discover typos and mix-ups that were so clear as soon as the stress left their body can attest to this. And they know they should start writing.

You need time, a lot of time, to tighten your writing, to find better words, to decide which arguments are actually crucial, to sift out typos, before you can produce something you’re truly happy with. And even then, it probably won’t be perfect. I went through more editing cycles than I care to (or can) count, yet when I started preparing for my defense (that is, after I submitted my thesis) the typos suddenly started jumping off the page. I’d edited these sections for months. I’d printed my thesis and read the entire thing aloud to myself for a whole day to sift out those things you wouldn’t spot just by reading it silently on a screen, and still errors remained.  You need time to take a step back, to relax, before you come back to your writing one last time. So you need to start writing.

The thing is, you won’t truly know where you’re going until you start writing it down. Though you might be plagued by self-doubt, you will also be delighted by those AHA moments which only happen after seeing your ideas on paper and realizing how well they all fit together. Please. I beg of you. Don’t deny yourself the chance of many AHA moments and many, countless, cycles of editing. Start writing.

(And if, like me, you’re a fan of Friday Night Lights (and if you’re not, you really should give it a go), you might want to look to Academic Coach Taylor for helpful yet stern writing motivation. When I was in the home stretch, I actually printed out my favorite ones and made of “wall of motivation” to get me to the finish line:

Clockwise: “Clear thesis, strong analysis, can’t lose,” “Never use more theory than you need,” “Just focus” and “You thought this was going to be fun?” Also, yes, on the left a cross-stitched line from “Deor’s Lament.” What can I say? I have strange interests.)

 

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