Krysten Blackstone |
It is Sunday, at 20:52 (EST) and this post is due to be published in t-minus 7 hours and 8 minutes. I have been trying to figure out what to write for this post since I wrote down when it was being uploaded in my diary. Months ago.
I find writing very difficult. There. I said it. My decision to join the Pubs and Pubs committee three years ago was partly to encourage myself to write consistently about non-thesis topics throughout the PhD. My idea was that the more I wrote, the easier I would find it to start chapters, posts, reviews, etc. For the most part, it worked. Then third year happened.
I’m sure you can see where this post is going…
I love my research, and I enjoy editing and reworking things that I write, the middle stage though…well let’s just say it is not my favourite. My first drafts are always awful. So are my 10th. Writer’s block is something that I contend with on a very frequent basis. Below I’ve written down some ways I try to manage the block. The block on this post was solved only by the pressure of the deadline, I’m afraid. Idea number one: wait to the last minute, and hope inspiration hits. I probably would not recommend relying on that one too much though.
First and foremost, when writer’s block hits, it is important to remember that it is okay. I’m also fairly confident in asserting that writer’s block is inevitable. I don’t know a single grad student who hasn’t hit writer’s block at some point. I’m not suggesting you write off the writer’s block and just let it run its course but try not to beat yourself up if you have a bad day or week. It happens.
Go back to the research.
I find when I hit a block or lack inspiration, going back to the primary sources and immersing myself in soldiers’ writings helps. I do this for the first few days every time I got to a new research institution – I look at everything they have that is vaguely relevant to what I do. It helps me get back into the swing of things. Even when I’m not having a break, I think consistently going back into the research keeps my thesis grounded and me sane.
Write something you want to.
I find when I’m immersed in the research, I find writing specifically about the source in front of me is much easier than trying to think about sections of a chapter. Choose a source, any source, and write about it for a while. You probably will not keep everything you put down, but it helps restart the writing process.
Some days I find writing or editing my chapter outlines helps with more detailed writing. Seeing the whole seems to help with the individual sections.
Take a break. Take a walk. Get some chocolate?
Sometimes the only cure for writer’s block is to stop trying to work. A brief break is never a bad idea. If that doesn’t work, try taking a full day away from writing so things can even out.
Write your acknowledgements.
As with all good things, I found this advice on twitter. When writer’s block gets bad, but I need to do something, I find writing bits of my acknowledgements very helpful. I’m now nearing the end of my third year, so acknowledgements are something I will need to write soon anyway. Writing about the places and people that have helped me often helps spur a bit more thesis writing.
Write literally anything.
I’m fairly certain that my writer’s block typically has more to do with the writing itself, rather than the topic. For me, then, it helps to just write about anything. Pubs and Pubs helps a lot with that. Hopefully this post will too. I’m a bit further behind on my writing than I had hoped to be, and I want to get off on a good foot this week.
None of the suggestions above work for me 100% of the time. But that is the point, isn’t it? These solutions won’t always work alone, maybe they won’t even work in conjunction with one another. Sometimes you need to write, sometimes you need to read, sometimes you just need a break. As for me, with the help of some chocolate, I have successfully written this post. Fingers crossed my chapter writing tomorrow goes just as well.
Krysten Blackstone is the Chair of Pubs and Publications who uses this position to avoid writing the chapter(s), conference papers and fellowship applications she has due in the imminent future. Her research looks at morale in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War 1775-1783. You can find adamantly refusing to accept she is nearing the end of her third year and procrastinating further on twitter.
All photos belong to the author. Shout-out to the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, the David Library of the American Revolution and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture for making such great photo backdrops and research spaces.