Milestones

I’ve been thinking lots this month about the importance of getting words onto the page when it comes to my thesis, and all the many problems that poses.

November, as anyone with writer friends will know, is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when people across the world aim to write a 50,000 word novel (or first draft of a novel) in just 30 days. Successfully completely NaNoWriMo is fairly heroic, and I’m not the first person to have thought about parallels with thesis writing and novel writing. Some livejournal-ers have already discussed starting a NaReWriMo (National Research Writing Month).

I’ve also recently come across 750 words – another online community which encourages people to sign up and write 750 words a day – without thinking too much about editing those words. This is another great idea and I can certainly see the benefit of producing 22,500 words by the end of a month.

However, the issue with academic writing is that for the most part it is about quality and not quantity. If I wrote 22500 words in a month it would take an age to follow up the ideas, pick out the ideas worth pursuing and then work more on them. It is more important to produce words that really get down to the issue you are meant to be responding to – making the words count rather than obsessing over the actual word count. The only problem – 5000 quality words do not make a thesis.

And, as we hurtle towards the end of term here in Oxford I’ve been setting myself a target to write up 1000 words a day of the chapter I’m working on. Given how mind-meltingly difficult some of the concepts I’m trying to explain are, this is no mean feat and I find myself having to take regular breaks and often work until 10pm at night.

I’m finding the problem with milestones like this is that the reality of academic writing involves cutting ideas that you thought were working but soon glaringly aren’t. Keeping them in for the sake of word count vanity is clearly not wise, but cutting them out feels like a step back.

Isolated research also means that when you do meet the target, there is no one there to celebrate with you. Which is why at the end of your day, I recommend visiting Freelance Thanks – for all the empty praise you need (even if it isn’t really aimed at researchers..).

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