Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Focus on Your Writing: Making Yourself and Your Writing Process More Visible

Here's something from the conversations going on in our dissertation wiki.

Someone so rightly said that other people's needs and demands are more real - and certainly more urgent - than our own slow burning fuse called the dissertation. The danger of all these external demands that are urgent and time-sensitive is that our more internally driven dissertation that is important becomes less urgent and falls out of time. Suddenly it's 4 weeks and we have not done very much at all for our dissertation! And yet of course we all know that our dissertation is also time-sensitive and urgent in a deeper way; we need to complete it so we can get done and move on to shape the rest of our lives. So ... balancing our internally driven dissertation against external demands becomes a critical skill. Four powerful principles for doing this are
  1. MAKE YOUR GOALS AND PROGRESS VISIBLE TO YOURSELF AND IF POSSIBLE TO OTHERS
  2. GIVE MORE MENTAL BANDWIDTH TO YOUR WRITING JOURNEY
  3. CELEBRATE YOUR MILESTONES NO MATTER HOW SMALL
  4. MAKE THE DISSERTATION WRITING PART OF YOUR VISIBLE IDENTITY
 Here is a way to work with a physical schedule or journey map for your writing process:
  • Put up a timeline with milestones marked in for tasks that need to be completed (essentially, these are Gantt charts).I make mine of large sheets of butcher paper and pin it up on a wall in my room.
  • You can also set up your milestones using post-its so that you can move them around on your timeline - this helps you re-set goals and tasks.
  • Check off milestones you reach - use a bright colour, give yourself stickers. Whatever ... as long as you make this clearly visible and celebratory. And as Mary has found out, giving yourself rewards for reaching milestones also makes this process fun.
  • Write notes to yourself on the timeline - motivational ones, reminders, things to think about. Interact with your timeline.
  • I also find I am more connected to my work if I stick on occasional images I cut out from magazines, or doodle on it while I am communing with it. Doing this is one way of making sure my mind is constantly connected to my timeline or journey map. I have found I am so much better at balancing my time against all the external demands on me, simply because my journey is uppermost and most exciting of all the things I am involved in.
  • Tell people about your timeline; talk about the task you are currently working on. We often remain very silent about the work we're doing for our dissertation - it's too far in the background. Pull it forward a little - find occasions to speak casually about the thing you are writing about now, your goal of getting 30 pages done by the weekend etc. Make this as much a part of your social/professional identity as everything else about you. I've found that this has increased the support I get from others.
For those who are happier keeping track electronically, you can do the same using Excel to make a planning chart (called Gantt chart in project management circles). Here are some links to explore if you're interested:

Youtube video on making one using Excel - click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW_wGSFavTc

A web-based project management tool. Check out SmartSheet at www.smartsheet.com. I've used this for other projects and it's a super easy way to set tasks, start and end dates, add sub tasks and make changes as needed. But it works best for those who like having their timelines and schedules on line.

25 comments:

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