I saw an interesting little programme on BBC1 this morning, on just after the Breakfast News: 'What I'd really like to do'. Each day, the presenter Adrian Chiles has tried his hand at one of ten dream jobs compiled from a poll commissioned by the BBC, from being a doctor to a professional footballer. Today's featured career was writing. In his task to write a picture book for children, he took advice from a diverse range of publishing professionals, illustrators, journalists and authors (though Jeffrey Archer was at pains to say that he was, in fact, a 'storyteller' - yeah, that's one way of putting it mate!).

It was reassuring to find out that most of the novelists and journalists interviewed had problems getting started on a piece of writing and needed the motivation of deadlines to get anything done. Frederick Forsyth, apparently, types at least ten pages of A4 everyday before his leaves his desk. That sounds like an awful lot, though I guess writing fiction is a very different kettle of fish to producing a PhD thesis. But I like the idea of setting targets, or at the very least getting into some sort of routine when I'm trying to write. But there are just so many distractions! I think I'm doing well if I manage about three-four hours work a day. Is that too little? Or, just about normal?


Ceri said…
As a fiction writer in my spare time (when I have some!) I wanted to comment that its not actually that different from writing a PhD although the intention is different! I think you still need to research (which some writers would benefit from doing more of) and you need to on some levels understand the experiences that your characters are going through, which takes a different kind of research for sure but it is similar to really knowing your PhD subject inside out. Its the difference for me between good and bad writing if you feel that the author has really put time and effort in and has something to say about the human condition or such like.

I agree with the need for discipline but I personally find it hard to do this as it is not like you can conjure up the 'creativity' for writing for 8 hours a day, sometimes the inspiration comes in the night or during a walk - its not 'on tap'! So I just fit the PhD in when I can and hope something coherent comes out :)
That's true. I find I produce my best writing in short bursts of intense work, with days and sometimes weeks in between! Though I find the application of a deadline really helps to focus my mind.

I did a Creative Writing course a few years back - it should have taken a year, it took more like three and a half (but that was mostly because my tutor disappeared off the face of the planet halfway through - it was very bizarre). I found writing to order very hard. But having said that, the more I tried to write the better I got. It's definitely a skill you can really hone and develop with a bit of effort (even if initial attempts are pretty poor).

Incidentally, I watched a programme on BBC4 last night about H. Rider Haggard. He wrote 68 novels in total. One of them only took six weeks - with no revisions! Okay, so his oeuvre was fairly formulaeic, but what I wouldn't give to be able to keep up that sort of output (I'm talking about quantity, not subject matter here - obviously ;)).
Mary said…
With less than 12 months until I have to submit my thesis I've really started trying to think about making the writing process as painless as possible. Essentially what this boils down to is spending the first two hours of every day writing, with a goal of producing about 2,500 words a week (not a huge amount after all). I have to confess that so far I've only managed a week, but it seems to be working so far. The rest of the day is then spent reading, going over my fieldwork notes, fielding emails and all the other stuff PhD student do. I started this after both my supervisor and my Mum (who wrote her own PhD between 5 and 7am before her two young children got up...) recommended this approach. I'd never have considered before - I wrote my MA disseration is one long slog - but it's definitely worth a try. Sometimes forcing yourself (in short bursts) is the best way to get over the block. Good luck!
Thanks Mary - great to have your input. I guess the only solution to my increasing writing anxiety is just to sit down and write, however painful it is. I know that, once I get going, I do enjoy it really. :) As much as I'd like to, I don't know if I could stick to a routine day-in, day-out though. Like Ceri, inspiration does tend to strike at the most inopportune moments but certainly NEVER when I'm actually sitting at my desk! I don't know about you, but I find the process of writing a blog very useful - even though my postings are rarely very considered or to be fair, rarely any good. But it is a good warm-up for the more serious business of thesis writing. I'm in my second year now. I too am trying (trying!!) to avoid writing it all up at the end. I wrote a 15,000 word chapter in November - it was a hard slog, but worth it. Although I know it'll need loads more revision and probably won't take the same form by the time it gets into my thesis proper, knowing that I have a substantial number of words written has really helped to allay some of the worry.

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