You’ll be writing until there’s no need to write anymore, until you’ve covered your topic sufficiently and the questions are answered. Will it be 60 pages, 90, 150? Just depends. When you get started and throughout, don’t worry about the page count, just write. If you stare at the numbers, they just stare back, so better to ignore if possible.
Inevitably, there are writing struggles. Some days are just easier than others and some days the words flow effortlessly. Here are some quotes that helped me maintain perspective and keep writing even if I had just put my head on my desk and cried from fatigue (yes this really happened).
- The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway
Well, he got that right. It does not have to be perfect and trust me it isn’t. So stop agonizing over the punctuation or the best synonym or the word that you’ve used three times in one paragraph, just keep the words flowing. There is always time for editing, but first you need to have something to edit.
- It’s just words on paper. ~Adrienne Gonzales, Ph.D., Associate Director, DU Center for World Languages and Cultures
Sometimes you just need a little perspective. We’re probably not saving the world with our research, but hopefully we are adding something meaningful to society and knowledge. This friendly reminder was the mantra I recited every time I sat down to work. Don’t take yourself too seriously and just get some ideas on paper. Again, there’s always time to edit.
- If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all. ~Ann Tyler
A few days after I defended my thesis, I met a gentleman at a conference who had completed a Ph.D. he told me that every day he scheduled to write from 9-11 p.m. (Same as me!) He said that no matter what, he sat down to write at 9 p.m. and did his best to try to write something, anything. If after 15 or 20 minutes he was coming up short, he stopped for the night and started again at 9 p.m. the next day. I swear this works. I watched my so doing spelling and writing homework and the first six-word sentence was arduous—but it gave way to sentence number two that was longer and eventually to sentence number four that 37 words long! It wasn’t the best sentence (he said recess four times), but he gained some momentum and once he got writing he was beaming from ear to ear.The colleague I met and I both have kiddos, so 9–11 p.m. worked for us, but really this refers back to organizing. Maybe you work best at 5 a.m. and you like four-hour blocs. That’s great, too. The point is schedule your writing time—it’s a date with yourself and your diploma.
- The biggest part of it is editing. It takes longer to edit one episode than to shoot it and write it. ~Larry David
Larry David, the producer of and other brain behind Seinfeld, was talking about TV, but the same holds true for any writing. Great prose, narrative, poetry, and journal articles all have one thing in common – editing and lots of it. If your advisor or committee members keep suggesting edits, edits and more edits this is good news. They could be telling you to start over or that you are way off the mark. One day I told my editor, “there was just so much editing, I couldn’t have completed this without you.” Her reply: “You gave me something great to start with.” When she handed me pages covered in ink and handwritten notes, I never felt that my draft had been great – but it’s all perspective. You’ve got to start somewhere, so realize that editing may very well take more time than writing the initial draft.
- The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer. ~Zadie Smith
I love this quote, except that you can’t really stop being the writer of your own work. The most valuable gift I received was an advisor who provided lots of edits. At first her notes seemed soul crushing, but eventually I came to value her perspective. The voice in my head—my writer’s voice—can justify a lot of what I’ve written, to my own detriment. If you have an outside editor that is best. If not, set your work aside for days or even a week before trying to edit it. The time provides distance and you’ll be more likely to critique and edit your own work effectively.
- People think that writing is writing, but actually writing is editing. Otherwise, you’re just taking notes. ~Chris Abani
You’d never turn your notes in for your term paper. Well, maybe you have, but let’s pretend you didn’t admit that. You’d never turn in notes to your thesis or dissertation committee, right? So, one last perspective, that first draft you wrote—it is shit. Hemingway was right. But those are just your notes. The real writing starts with editing. So get out your red pen, track changes or a crayon if you prefer and have at it. Make those notes bleed and before you know it you’ll have become a writer.
In the end, your thesis or dissertation should be easy to follow, even for a novice in your field. It’s never going to be perfect—I’m not suggesting that anyone fall into the perfectionism trap, but do your best and know that writing that first draft is just the beginning. Embrace editing as a crucial part of the writing process, don’t take any comments personally and keep your eye on the prize—your diploma.
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Maria Kuntz is the Marketing and Events Manager at University Career Services at DU. She just defended her Master’s thesis, How the Greek Press Constructed the “Greek Economic Crisis,” and graduates in June 2016 with a master’s degree in International and Intercultural Communication from Media, Film & Journalism Studies and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She’s been working in marketing, communications, community relations and development for nearly 14 years and began working at University of Denver in August 2010.