I was on Twitter a few months ago when I saw a tweet that really stuck a chord with me. It said, “The more you write, the harder it gets.” Normally, you’d think the opposite – the more you do something, the easier it gets. But I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. The more you do serious writing, the harder it becomes. It’s something those of us completing PhD dissertations consistently struggle to cope with during the writing process.
This probably goes without saying, but writing a PhD is hard. There’s numerous reasons for that, but one of them is crafting solid prose that both gets your argument across and is engaging at the same time. Just because you’re doing academic writing doesn’t mean you can shy away from crisp, engaging prose that draws your reader to your words. In fact, I think academic writing calls for it even more.
Everyone has a different writing process when completing their PhD chapters. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. For me, I like to start writing straight from the beginning and ploughing on through. Some people like to start in the middle of their chapters and work outwards, but that style doesn’t work for me. I’ve got to start right at the beginning and work my way through to the end. I do this because it helps me organize the flow of my chapters. If I started somewhere in the middle, I think I’d lose that flow.
Some folks like to plot out the structure of their chapters before they start writing them, but I’m not one of those people either. Of course I have an idea of how things are going to look, but between starting a draft and finishing it, I find that shifts a handful of times. I’ve found in that past that when I outline a piece of writing, I get inflexible about it and stick to the outline, even if I realize later it needs to change. Without something like an outline, I’m much more flexible and loose with my writing, which I find helps it substantively improve.
Another thing I like to do as I write is my footnotes. I don’t think most folks do that because they think it will disrupt their work flow, but I find it very difficult to go back and do all my citations at the end. Most of the reason is because I’d have trouble keeping track of what needs to be cited and where it needs to happen in the chapter. By doing it along the way, it’s much easier for me to stay organized.
As I complete this post, I’m in the midst of writing another PhD chapter. With every one I do, it gets more difficult, but honestly, that’s part of the fun. It makes it that much more satisfying to complete those drafts and improve my writing skills.