PG Writing Group 13/02/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm
How many times have you thought you have everything crystal clear in your head only to find when you finally get the time and inspiration to start writing that there are gaps in your logic, you need further evidence to support your claims, or at worst, what made sense in your head makes absolutely no sense whatsoever on paper. If you have experienced this, you may have learnt the hard way that thinking and writing go hand-in-hand. As Rockquemore in her article Writing IS Thinking explains, the idea that ‘writing is what happens AFTER [you] have read everything there is to read, clearly and thoroughly worked out the idea in [your] head, and have large blocks of time to empty the fully-developed idea onto the page (or the computer)’ is highly problematic. It is an unproductive approach to thesis writing that often creates high levels of anxiety.
Regular, short writing sessions have been shown to be more productive. In my experience, students are only able to maximise the benefits of regular writing sessions if they rethink what they consider writing to be. To get the most from these sessions, you need to be able to embrace the idea of writing as thinking, remember that your first drafts are for you and no-one else, and appreciate that what counts as writing in these sessions can be broad (such as free writing, outlining, drafting, revising field notes or lab notes, making notes on new research ideas).
Last week we described the free-writing process as a way of kick staring a writing session, particularly when faced with writer’s block. This week we will discuss some add-ons, variations and alternatives to free-writing. We will discuss:
- Invisible free-writing – For those of you who prefer the screen to paper. Start by turning off your spell checker and grammar checker – squiggly coloured lines can be very distracting. Then turn down the contrast on your screen so you can’t see your text. Write continuously for a set period of time and when you’re done turn the contrast setting of your screen back to normal. A similar effect can be obtained by changing your text colour to white. If typing but seeing nothing stresses you – try a grey text colour or a small font – enough to be unreadable but provide you with evidence that your typing is actually producing text of some form.
- Nutshelling – Using prewriting techniques such as free-writing generates text that is much less formed and less coherent than usual. To make any sense of this free-writing you also need to develop revision techniques. Nutshelling is derived from the journalistic approach to writing which produces a first paragraph that summarises the most important parts of an article in a ‘nutshell’. You can use nutshelling in academic writing to distill freewriting into 1,2 or 3 short sentences. This nutshell statement can then form the basis of more directed writing or can loop back into another round of freewriting to allow you to further develop your thinking on a topic.
- Brainstorming and/or mindmapping– Useful for getting your thoughts onto the page unencumbered by any form of structure. After choosing a word, sentence or sentence fragment, spend a preset period of time listing and/or mapping words or phrases that come into mind. You can begin your writing session by organising some or all of the material you have written down.
- If you’re wondering what the image associated with this post is, it is a web application called Write or Die. For those of you who are struggling with the free writing concept & are easily distracted, you might want to buy this ‘unusual’ app. You set the parameters and the consequences for your writing session.
- For further details of prewriting techniques and examples see York Universities ‘Unconscious’ Pre-Writing Strategies
- If you want to explore invisible writing in more detail see Marcus’s paper on Invisible Writing With a Computer: New Sources and Resources.
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