I’ve just finished my first draft of my first essay for my PhD. I feel quite proud. Not necessarily of the work itself, which I will probably drown in red ink tomorrow, but of successfully meeting my self-set deadline. The essay is due in at the end of February, but my incredibly wise supervisor wanted to look at it a month before that. So, I decided that I would aim to get it done before the Christmas break so I could choke down some turkey before tackling a second draft.
I am a part-time student, so finding a balance needs some degree of dedication and no little loss of social life. During my masters last year (which was also done part-time), I made some rules for myself to help drive through:
1. Plan, plan, plan. If I had a weekend visiting my sister, when would I make up the work?
2. Allow more time than you think. Sickness, tiredness, social life, just plain procrastination all eats away at unconsidered trifles of time. Don’t say I can get it done in three weeks, say I will get it done in four. Make an achievable deadline and don’t treat it as flexible.
3. Set daily limits that you can achieve. On working days, I told myself I needed to read at least four papers or write 200 words. Non-working days were 10 papers or 500 words.
4. Bribe yourself. From little things like finish reading this paper and you can have a cup of tea and a biscuit, to a new book or ball of yarn for every 1000 words or a couple of days off when a draft is completed. Whatever works for you.
5. Talk to people. Don’t hole up and convince yourself that you are the only person going through this and no-one will understand (we’re not teenagers). My Dad is a life-saver for bouncing ideas around, editing suggestions and so many other things. People help. Going to that voluntary lecture or writing group might seem like it’s taking time away from writing, but a change is often inspirational.
6. Don’t eat crap. Literally and figuratively – junk food is not going to help long term. Eat a proper meal and exercise and keep brain and body happy.
7. Enjoy it. You started this because it interested and enthused you. It’s still fascinating, still important. Don’t get so bogged down that you forget how exciting your research and writing is.
Relating to several of these is the academic spin-off of nanomo (committing to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November), acwrimo. Be your own cheerleader and set deadlines which you then tell people about, therefore making it seem much more solid. If you haven’t already, learn how you work best – in the mornings with baroque music playing, in the afternoon in silence or during the midnight hours with synth-pop howling soullessly.
I can do this and if I can anyone can!