500 words a day

ImageMy supervisor has set me a challenge. OK, so not so much a challenge, but I see it as a challenge.

He asked me what time of the day I felt I did my best writing. I said after lunch. So he said, OK, I want you to sit down at 1pm and stay there until you write 500 words, or until 4pm, whichever comes first. As soon as you write 500 words, you stop. If you haven’t written 500 words by 4pm, you stop. Before that time and after that time, you can do whatever you want. He said I should only do that Monday to Friday. I should take the weekends off.

It is amazing how much pressure this simple little plan has taken off me, AND how much more I am writing. In the beginning, I was pretty slack with my flexible (not 1-4pm) time. Doing a bit of baking, some furniture rearranging, some napping. But then I found I was starting to use my flexi time to clarify research questions that came up as I was writing. So, the writing was leading the research, not the other way around, which seems to be more time efficient. I also use the time for reading, arranging my notes and other admin type tasks, but I am not rigid with that time.

Some days, I get my 500 words done in the first hour and then it is hard stop writing. But I do, and I come back to it the next day with a few more ideas. I have also been resisting the urge to edit, until I at least have the stories to a complete draft stage. I will take a week out to edit, without writing, as they are such different processes, I think they need a bit of separation.

I should note that, at the moment, I am working on my creative chapters, not my theoretical ones, but I am confident that this system will work with them as well. I work in a similar way with both parts, making notes on ideas as they come to me, or as I research them and then using those notes to trigger the writing.

It seems like a good method so far, but I’ll let you know in a few months.

If there is anyone with any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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7 Responses to 500 words a day

  1. Rosie Mead says:

    I think this sounds likes realistic challenge, love the idea of the writing leading the research. Will try this myself, 500 words a day sounds do-able, although still wonder if I’m being naive thinking I can fit this around a young child!

    • Yes, it is a challenge fitting this in with a family.
      I have taken a few leave of absences and plan to take a few more, just so I can spend a day here and there with the kids and not feel guilty about neglecting my thesis.
      At my uni, you can take up to 12 months LOA without any special reasons, so I have been taking it in 4 week blocks, just to stretch the time I have out.
      If you are on a scholarship, it freezes for that time, so it can be a bit financially challenging.
      As for the 500 words a day, it is definitely do-able, but I find it works best with the creative work, and I now try and do the theory in bigger blocks, like a boot camp type situation.
      Good luck.

  2. Rosie Mead says:

    Reblogged this on Diary of a Working Mummy and commented:
    Sounds do-able, I’m going to try it out!

  3. Penny says:

    Oh my. That’s why I cannot work freelance. You have flexible schedule, some home stuff to do and I always ended up with doing all work right before the deadline. I never had guts to keep up with some daily amount of job.
    I found these – http://www.writemypapers.org/examples-and-samples/how-to-write-a-good-thesis.html tips recently and I think you’ve inspired me to do something with myself.

    • Hi Penny,
      A lot has changed since this post, and I think it is time I write again about all the ways I have been working.
      It is definitely productive to write a bit everyday, but not always practical, and I have gone weeks without writing a thing. So don’t be discouraged if you are not an everyday writer.
      I recently took part in a boot camp style weekend and wrote 6,000 words (one girl wrote 25,000), which has given me a new perspective on what I am capable of.
      In the beginning, 80,000-100,000 words seems massive, but chipping away at it, bit by bit, all of a sudden it starts to seem more manageable.
      Good luck!
      Lisa

  4. Janvi says:

    Hey there! I’m an occasionally-triumphing, occasionally-despairing PhD student like you and was very happy to come across your blog. Although I am a third year student, I am currently writing chunks of different chapters. Writing is hard and easy at the same time however I greatly relate to your method. I found that writing my “stories”, in my case – transcriptions to my many ethnographic interviews – a lot easier to articulate. However what sticks is the theoretical part. Yes, even now! I find myself shrouded with self-doubt and procrastinating a lot more when I reference and write. I wonder if I’m too far behind in my progress but the truth is – and what I cannot emphasize enough – that the two methods need to come together. Your stories and theoretical part are parts of a whole, they don’t live in separate spaces and they need to coalesce. You will soon realize, as you write more and more, that the more you try to converge the two writing processes, the faster it will be for you to comprehend the central narrative of your dissertation. As for writing 500 words a day, it’s definitely a start. I try to come back to that, every time I take a break from writing, usually after a full weekend. All the best! I will watch this blog for more progress. Good wishes and strength to you.

    • Thanks Janvi,

      It is nice to get confirmation that I am not alone in the PhD writing quagmire.

      What I probably should have said is that the 500 words a day are just those fresh shiny new words that you write for a story. I write a more than that every day, when you take into account the time I spend editing my work, or note taking or writing presentations, etc.

      These 500 words take place in a space separate to those, where it is just about letting the ideas out onto the page, in whatever form they take.

      Some days it is actually fun.

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