Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If you must leave, make sure you leave in the middle of a sentence

Here's a trick I learned many years ago when writing my PhD thesis: don't leave off work on a piece of writing without knowing exactly where it's going. If you're writing in sections, don't stop at the end of one; make the transition, work through the segue, write the first sentence of the next bit, or better still half of the first sentence of the next bit, and jot down a few notes or keywords to remind you where it's going next. Then you can leap up with impunity to escape out into the garden, kill a few caterpillars, pull up a few soursobs, get a little sun on your face.

Otherwise you'll just sit there staring at it for twenty minutes after you sit back down to it, as I've just been forcibly reminded. Given how long ago I learned this lesson, I can't believe that I could have forgotten it even just the once.

13 comments:

Stephanie Trigg said...

Oh, absolutely. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I

Anonymous said...

Hemingway said something similar in A Moveable Feast and I think it very good advice. Indeed I liked the writing advice he gave in AMF --a book I heard, he did not want published.

(Caroline)--(now living under a rock using community internet connection)

Mindy said...

I always find that inspiration hits when I'm gardening, but departs the minute I walk back into the house and I can never remember what it was that sounded so good out in the garden.

Pavlov's Cat said...

S, LOL!

Elisabeth said...

For me it happens under the shower, inspiration that is.

Mark Bahnisch said...

That's very good advice! Precisely what I did tonight when I was running out of steam and the risotto and wine glass were calling... did a little bit of editing, then set up the next bit by writing the segue and a few extra very rough sentences...

Lefty E said...

Excellent reminder Pav. That's the single most important thing to remember about writing anything of length; and only now do I recall learning the same trick (sadly, 2/3rds into the thesis, and not earlier...)

The other one is daily word minimums - not so high they intimidate, and not so small they dont constitute demonstrable, night-off-justifying progress. I used 750 myself.

cristy said...

Oh this is so true. Sadly I find that I am not the master of my own time. A little bundle of munchkiness comes hurtling into the study mid-way through the day and after her nap and then whatever I was writing must be immediately stopped - sometimes for over a week. I have spent hours (even days) staring at my writing trying to work out what I was up to last...

That's why I write mini-plans and bullet points of my main ideas in text edit documents now - it is the only way that I know of to get myself back on track when I find myself totally lost.

cristy said...

Shorter me: Don't get pregnant while writing your thesis.

Armagnac Daddy said...

This brought back a fascinating anecdote I once heard while I was backpacking in Indonesia, where

Armagnac Daddy said...

Oh damn.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yeah, see, I told you to make notes!

Zoe said...

Just left a few notes in pink on something I'm working on. Wish someone had told me this years ago. And I agree with Lefty E - 750 words is a very realistic figure; 1000 is far too intimidating!