How many words are you supposed to write everyday?
How long should each chapter be?
How can I possibly fit all this in only 80,000 words?
I like to tally word counts. It makes me feel like I am doing something useful when I am avoiding writing.
I just worked out that I have written more than 40,000 words this year; and that is just the stuff I have submitted or presented. I have thrown away at least that again.
Here are the pluses and minuses of this maths:
– Minus – I can probably only use about 10,000 words of what I have written so far in my final thesis (and even that still need serious editing). For those playing at home, that leaves 70,000+ still to write.
– Plus – I should feel happy that I am capable of writing so much in a year, but I tend to judge my work by the finished product not by all the steps it took to get there.
– Plus/Minus – I now know how easy/hard it is to write this much.
When I am in writing mode, I average between 500 and 2000 words a day. For the theoretical writing, this varies depending on whether what I am writing is research heavy or not; if there is a lot of fact checking involved as I write. For the creative, it depends mostly on my mood and the ‘creative flow’. Remember, this is only on the days I am writing. Which is, maximum, 3 days a week. The rest of the time I am working, sleeping, eating, etc, as well as, reading and note taking.
That doesn’t sound so bad. When I do a bit more maths and work out it means I could potentially write between 1500 and 6000 words a week, multiplied by, say, 45 weeks (when you take out leave and other distractions), which means I could write anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000 words a year. I don’t get any where near that latter figure. Why?
Well, I can do all the maths I want and it won’t change the fact that for every word I write, I delete at least 2/3rds. Not surprisingly, I am a writer, I think as I write. I use writing to clarify my research to myself. So, a large portion of my theoretical writing is not useful to a finished thesis. Also, writing is really hard. Have you ever spent a whole day going back to one sentence that just isn’t right, exactly? – then you know what I mean.
What is the take away message here? I think the maths, while fun, is a distraction.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are not where the maths tells you should be. I don’t know how much I should be writing each day, but I should write as much as I can, as often as I can, even if that is just a few words a day. I think my chapters should be as long as they need to be to make my argument – even though this may mean some structural adjustments later on. And how will I fit all this into 80,000 words? – not sure yet, but I’ve got a much better idea than I did a year ago.
For some other perspectives on thesis writing see: Why writing from day one is nuts.
Or another post from the Thesis Whisperer, this time on how to write 1000 words a day…