Ten things I learned this week about writing my PhD

Here are ten things I’ve learnt about myself and how I write. I’ve probably learnt them over a few years, but this week I’ve put them into words.

  • I cannot work whilst listening to music.
  • I cannot concentrate very well if I have not had breakfast.
  • Writing will always take longer than I expect.
  • Sometimes you should just admit that you need a stapler.
  • Formatting my documents with wide margins and writing in size 10 Times, with 1.5 line spacing seems to help me focus on writing better, rather than more. I guess I’m pretty superficial.
  • When I am confused by the structure of my writing it’s helpful to start a new document and copy any bits of writing I particularly like, rather than try to force it.
  • Sometimes I’m shy of writing emails. Drafting them at half past five one day, then reading through and send them the next morning seems to take the edge off of it.
  • The pomodoro technique of 25 minutes concentration at a time helps me to focus.
  • Don’t do the same thing every 5 minute break. Twitter is nice but sometimes it’s better to move around. Similarly do not get yourself a cup of tea or glass of water every time. It just won’t work.
  • Happily there doesn’t seem to be a productivity lapse if I write whilst wearing my pyjamas.

Feel free to add more in the comments, I’m really nosy and love this sort of thing

2 thoughts on “Ten things I learned this week about writing my PhD

  1. HI Ellie

    Good stuff…

    I find that changing the text colour of paragraphs I’m unsure of from black to blue seems helpful.

    I always listen to music, but it has to be emotionally disengaging, i.e bad music

    I never use Times, it makes your writing look workaday and a bit squished. I like Cambria or sometime I go crazy and use any old font

    I like to play piano or guitar every so often, say every hour. It seems to loosen up my brain a bit.

    It seems better to write any old guff than sit staring at the screen as even bad writing seems to generate new thoughts


    1. Thanks for writing these down here John, I’ve been thinking about them, and how they will be useful to me. I think I’ll adopt the paragraph text colour system straight away, I think it’s an excellent idea. It sounds like it must be quite freeing, allowing you to note where you’re unsatisfied and move on, knowing you can easily return later.

      I liked your point about playing an instrument, that sounds like a really refreshing activity. I wish I could listen to music whilst I work, but even really bad music (and I have a lot of it) seems far too engaging. Perhaps using of different typefaces from time to time helps. I shall have to investigate Cambria, I know what you mean about Times looking squished.

      Your last point rang especially true. It often takes me several drafts to write something good enough, and I find that the thoughts seem to come through the process of re-writing as much as writing.

      Thanks again for putting these into a comment here, it’s always nice to get a blog comment and your points have been really good to read.

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