Okay, so that might sound a bit dramatic to those of you who don’t spend extended amounts of their day banging their heads against a keyboard.
Today’s post is inspired by this awesome article by Helen Sword, How Academics Survive the Writing Grind, which has a load of tips and completely destroys the unhelpful and damaging “myths surrounding academic writing”, especially “the fallacy of effortless productivity”.
That writing is the easiest part of a thesis. That once you’ve decided you have enough research to be getting on with, you should be able to neatly and quickly organise your thoughts on paper. Which really dismisses the hours and hours of effort, editing, redrafting, thesaurus-searching, dictionary-skimming, reference-checking that really go into writing up a thesis.
Sword quotes an academic as saying: When I’m really going, I just fly. It’s what they call “flow.” I love it. But I know that I’m going to have to go back later and take a third of the prose out.
Whilst another admits:
It’s mostly pain, let’s be honest about it. It’s gruelling. Torture is too strong a word. But it’s hard. It’s draining.”
There’s truth to both. On a good day when all the stars align, you’re going to produce those polished, articulate sentences you long for. And another day, you will TRY AND TRY to string sentences together and it will sound clumsy and awkward and you’ll despair at the fact you’re doing a thesis and yet the most intrinsic part feels so difficult for you. Maybe you weren’t meant to do a PhD? Maybe you’re just not a talented writer like your peers? You’ll wonder why it doesn’t come naturally to you, like it does to others.
Psychologist Carol Dweck distinguishes between people with “a fixed mindset,” who believe that talent is a finite commodity, and those with a “growth mindset,” who believe that our innate talents can and should be stretched, challenged, and changed. For fixed-mindset people, Dweck explains, “effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.” For growth-mindset people, on the other hand, “effort is what makes you smart or talented.” Writers with a fixed mindset are likely to resist learning new skills, whereas those with a growth mindset never stop seeking out new ways of developing and testing the limits of their craft.
I loved this concept, it reminded me that putting in effort isn’t a sign of how inept I am. It’s a sign of dedication to perfecting a craft. And I should value my perseverance, as I’ve done in the past.
To conclude, I just want to direct you to “Patter: academic writing and other eccentricities” ran by Pat Thomson. This site is amazing and full of advice on writing, supervisors, viva’s and just generally getting through a PhD.