Writing Up: Bad Habits

Last night, I sent off my complete first draft of my thesis to my supervisors. I'd like to say that it's all downhill from here, but I know that's not true. Mostly because I have not done anything all day, and that is just one of the bad habits I have that I will have to battle from now until I am done (or possibly until the end of my life, but that doesn't seem feasible right now). I've been having lots of conversations with people about writing and study habits, so I thought I would summarise some of my faults here:

1. I am a fitful writer. By this I mean both that I work in fits and starts and that I have fits in relation to writing. Unlike some better-disciplined individuals in the PhD community, I cannot work on a schedule; I have to work when inspiration strikes, and/or I have no other distractions that allow me to procrastinate. This means that I spend days in a television-and-internet-fuelled stupor, eventually emerging on the other side of a night-long panic attack to pound away at my keyboard. Let me tell you right now: panic is not a good long-term motivator. And the frustration that arises out of being someone with a short attention span being made to concentrate on something big for a long time is also not fun. Flailing ensues, and that does not inspire confidence in onlookers.

2. My brain works faster than my writing. In between each sentence (sometimes each word) I could put a whole paragraph explaining the logic and flow that I otherwise tend to skip because it's obvious to me, but not to anyone else. I resent having to go back and elaborate on my succinct, beautiful phrases. If my thesis was a haiku, that would be ideal - sadly, it is not.

3. I am a people-pleaser. I can't actually come out and say what I really mean, because then someone might call me out on it and disagree with me, and I want us all to just get along!! I am a conflict-averse writer, and therefore I often don't get to the point. I hide behind quotations, and have actually been asked to take my "opinions out of brackets"; those of you who know me in real life will probably laugh at the improbability of this, but it is true. While I am painfully forthright in real life, I can't do it in my writing.

4. I am addicted to the internet. There, I said it. If there is Facebook to check, Tumblr to refresh, emails to write, shows to download - I will do it, even if I am in a really productive stretch. Note how I am blogging right now instead of revising my thesis!

5. I compare myself to other people. This is a destructive tendency. When I read the work of other authors on my subject, I despair because they seem to say everything I want to write. When I see other PhD students in the department, I agonize over how meaningful their research is, and how successful they are at going to conferences/getting published/finding relevant work experience/being friends with academics/dressing stylishly/having the right social background/etc etc etc etc ad nauseam. I am corroded by my own insecurity, and it is paralysing, because I lose faith in my own ability and project. When well-meaning individuals ask me what my plans are for after the PhD, I mutter something about McDonalds. This cannot be allowed to continue.

6. I can't say no. Again, those who know me in real life are clutching their pearls in horror and disbelief, but I take on way too much, so that in addition to the unproductive hours (of sleep, eating, procrastination, etc) I more-or-less plan for, I say yes to massive projects that require time and effort. Worst of all, I do this when I am most stressed, so that I end up not paying much attention and triple-booking myself. However, this is probably going to serve me well in "real life", as conventional success comes to the most involved.

I could go on, but it already sounds like I am fishing for compliments. Instead, I will turn it over to you in the comments: what are your PhD-related faults and how (if at all) do you work to overcome them?


Ceri said…
Reading your list I found many of them recognisable! There is potentially a naughty little voice in all of us I think who tells us that they are 'not good enough' to do a PhD. Some people may be lucky not to have this. Also the thing about a PhD is that it is (excuse my language) bloody hard work!! It is not surprising that it is difficult and our brains rebel occasionally (or a lot) in order to get away from the horrible mental torture we are imposing on it.
That said, my worst habit from writing up was not giving myself enough time to have a break from writing. I made myself ill from forcing myself to sit at the computer for hours on end writing and writing. And for the most part my best ideas, the time when the random and fragmented thoughts came together in an estactic moment of clarity was when I was having a break. In the shower, at the shops, having a walk - whatever. It gave my addled brain time to release itself and actually make sense of the ideas I was pounding into it. If I learnt anything from writing up it is that I should have started writing up sooner and so allowed myself more time for breaks.

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