Do the Write Thing

Occasionally when I’m shirking my duties I start doing random Google searches using search terms to the effect of “How to survive grad school,” and “PhD success rates,” and “Avoiding madness during PhD program.” Sometimes I actually conduct searches for job openings, but that usually just depresses and overwhelms me, so then I revert back to the comforting kind of you-can-do-it advice that you see on black-bordered posters in office buildings. Tonight I found a blog post by a professor at the University of Utah, and it struck me. Here’s what he has to say about writing.

“Generally, grad students don’t arrive with the ability to communicate well. This is a skill that they forge in grad school. The sooner acquired, the better.

Unfortunately, the only way to get better at writing is to do a lot of it. 10,000 hours is the magical number folks throw around to become an expert at something. You’ll never even get close to 10,000 hours of writing by writing papers [for your classes, I believe he means].

Assuming negligible practice writing for public consumption before graduate school, if you take six years to get through grad school, you can hit 10,000 hours by writing about 5 hours a day. (Toward the end of a Ph.D., it’s not uncommon to break 12 hours of writing in a day.)

That’s why I recommend that new students start a blog. Even if no one else reads it, start one. You don’t even have to write about your research. Practicing the act of writing is all that matters.”

As a second year doctoral student, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should be writing. Ideally, I’m writing manuscripts for publication. They might be theoretical, they might be analyses of research, they might be ruminations on methodology. Doesn’t matter. But best case scenario, I’m pumping out drafts and submitting them to journals and conferences.

The second-best case scenario is that, if I’m not getting polished manuscripts together, at least I’m doing personal written explorations of my topic. I’m writing “around” my ideas, so that better ideas form and solidify. Of course, to supplement my exploratory writing I’m also spending “10 to 15 hours a week” in the library, doing independent research on my topic (the quotation marks are thanks to my adviser who indicated that, if I’m not engaging in such copious amounts of extracurricular research, then… well, I’m not quite measuring up).

The reality? I’m struggling to get out of the lower tiers of the hierarchy of needs. Daily survival is the name of the game. Taking 9-10 credits, teaching 3, and working part-time in an administrative office (the latter two duties pay for the first), I find it difficult to even cook DINNER on a regular basis. Some days, I literally run out of my apartment and don’t stop until I get home: run to the bus, run to class, run to a meeting, run to class. The thought of writing for hours a day just, ya know, for it’s own sake, seems… laughable.

But I guess I must have intuited the necessity of putting words together whenever I can find a small pocket of time. I did create this blog, didn’t I? It might even be a bit relaxing, taking a break from work just to write about whatever (don’t tell my alter-ego, Productive Megan I said that, though– she already thinks I’m such a slacker).

Ok. 1 down. 9,999 to go.


2 thoughts on “Do the Write Thing

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