My advisor is NOT reading over my shoulder

Considering that my advisor is half a continent away, it would be difficult for him to be reading my thesis as I type it.  And, even if we were in the same place, I am certain that he has more important things to do than stand at my shoulder and make comments about every sentence that shows up on my computer screen.

And yet…I must think someone is standing at my shoulder while I type because I am having some difficulty getting the words to flow from my mind to the computer screen.  Somewhere (maybe in one of the comments here?) I read you need to give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.  I thought I had done that, but it’s still tough going.  So, I’m going to do it here.

Mrs Whatsit, I give you permission to write a crappy first draft.  Your committee won’t see it.  Your advisor won’t see it.  The blog definitely will not see it (hard to stay anonymous when your thesis is out there for the world to see).  Your husband will not see it.  Your lab BFF will not see it.  Nobody will see it but you.  You can write as many awkward sentences as you need to in order to get the whole story on the computer.  It doesn’t have to be perfect now.   It doesn’t have to be close to perfect.  In fact, it could sound absolutely awful.  Just write.

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7 thoughts on “My advisor is NOT reading over my shoulder

  1. Great idea! I used this when I wrote my MSc, and have used it ever since…even with my blog! I always just write what’s in my head, and then go back and edit it to sound better if need be.

    Good luck, and hope you’re able to take some time to relax this holiday season too!

  2. Yes! definitely do this! It really helped me write my thesis, too. I would say even if you can’t figure out a crappy way to say something, put in a placeholder like: “TALK ABOUT JONES EXPERIMENT HERE” so you remember what might work best there.
    Just try to get words on the screen, don’t worry about anything else!

    good luck!

  3. Amen to that. I’m sort of doing the same with my first draft — placeholders, brackets around things I know I want to come back to, just whatever keeps me putting one word in front of the other. Good luck!

  4. I wholeheartedly recommend writing the worst first draft you possibly can. Tackle the easiest chapters first, and within those chapters start with the easiest sections. If you’re writing and something seems too hard, skip it. If you don’t know how to begin a section, just type “Introductory Paragraph” in another color (so you can easily find the things you’ve skipped) and dive into whatever you want to be talking about. If you can’t wrap up the section, don’t. Just put a note that you need a conclusion, and move on to the next thing. If writing figure captions is hard, skip it for now. If the literature review is daunting, leave it for later. If inserting references into your text takes time and disrupts the flow of your writing, just put in empty brackets (like this: []) and insert the numbers later.

    This might seem like you’re leaving all the hard stuff for the end. But when you’ve done the easy stuff, the hard stuff won’t be so hard. There will be less to do, first of all, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed. But also you’ll have organized your thoughts more. Writing an introduction is easier when you know what you’re introducing. Finding references is never fun, but it’s not the same kind of hard as writing so there’s no reason to do them both at once. Making yourself do the worst bits is easier when you know how many of them there are and where they fit in with everything else.

  5. This is a great method. I think I wrote about this a little bit some time ago. I read about it in Writing Your Dissertation 15 Minutes at a Time. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy!

    I also keep a freewriting document to accompany a project if I’m having troubling figuring out what I need to write about. There I write out my concerns about why I’m having trouble writing. Then when I come back to the project the next time, I have at least some kind of thoughts about it already written, even if it’s not actually ‘real’ wrtiting.

  6. A favorite trick of mine to get the words flowing is called a timed freewrite. I set an egg timer for ten minutes and type continuously for ten minutes without stopping at all. If you can’t think of anything to type, you type “i don’t know what to write, i don’t know what to write…” over and over again until you come up with something better.

    A related trick is to do a themed timed freewrite. Give yourself a topic from your thesis and just freewrite on this continuously until the timer goes off. Whatever blather is in your head, incoherent sentences, slang and all, put it down on the page.

    The totally open freewrite is for when you are really stuck and having trouble getting yourself to write at all. The themed freewrite is most helpful when you just have too many thoughts pulling you in various directions and you need to focus.

    Also along these lines, I try not to write in the thesis document itself. I keep a journal in an online journal software. I do my drafting in this, and then copy and paste anything usable into the document. This is helpful because it feels less official to write in my journal, and thus I feel more free to write junk. Also, the journal has a full screen mode for typing, which is surprisingly awesome. I use viJournal lite, it is free.

  7. This happens to me too. I try to write about my work but then I get so scared that people will think that what I’m writing is stupid. What works for me is that I keep a journal and I talk to myself about what I was trying to say. It is easier for me to tell my ideas to myself than “to those who will be reading this”. More than once, I’ve been able to copy and paste out of my journal, because once I get rid of the fear I am actually a creative and articulate writer!

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