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Project: First Draft

Have you finished a draft yet?” asked my second supervisor. It’s a question I’ve heard (and largely ignored) from many different people over the last two and a half years, but now the timing and questioner are a bit more significant. “You do know that it takes about six months to go from first full draft to submission, right?

I didn’t know that, but it carries an ominous ring of truth. It’s August. I want to finish in February. I haven’t written much in the way of thesis work, yet – my time keeps getting eaten up by posters, papers, conferences, travel, and other work. But it’s time to buckle down and write.

This has always been the intended time for doing it: it’s a month until I start the final round of interviews for my project, and I’ve just arrived back in the country from ICWSM (which I’ll write about soon, I promise!). I have the time set aside, and I think it will take me about five weeks to get a draft together – obviously missing a lot of analysis and the entire final stage of fieldwork, but showing enough direction and ideas to explain exactly where I think the project is going. The target is about 70,000 words, with the completed thesis needing to fit into 90,000.

To do that, I need to write. A lot. Almost 3,000 words per working day, on average, if I am going to take some days off to spend time with Louise (and our new cat, who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored). That will take a lot more structure and discipline than I’ve managed so far – I’m a multi-multi-tasker at heart, and focussing on a single job of this size is something new to me.

Here are the basics, which I’ll be refining as I find what works and what doesn’t:

Structured time. I need to do a lot of different things each day, so I want to make sure that everything has its place in the schedule. Writing time is for writing – not for re-reading articles, looking for extra references, dabbling in new theories, etc. Those things are important, but they need to be done after the words are on the page. I’m planning to write in short bursts, with time for following up material planned for when my writing brain is dead.

Early starts. I can get in to the uni at 8am each day. My department mostly teaches in the evening (JD and MBA subjects), so it’s a ghost town before 10am. That gives me a good environment for working in. I’m more of a late-night person by nature, but have been much more productive in the early starts I’ve had lately – perhaps that eight-hour jetlag is good for something after all.

Regular breaks. The quickest way of burning out on a big project is to avoid taking breaks. Writing something this big is more like a marathon than a sprint, so keeping to a sustainable pace is important. Also, I need to be able to go home at a reasonable hour, and see family and friends on weekends. Where other commitments steal time from my schedule there will be a few late nights, but those need to stay in the minority.

Wish me luck! If you want to see how I get on, I’ll be tagging my writing entries over the next few weeks with “first draft.” I’ll make time for blogging as I go, as I’m sure this will be useful to look back on later.

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