- Writing Audit (Word document)
It took me a long time to realise that I couldn’t simply sit at my desk and expect academic writing to emerge from my head. I’d sit there frowning at the screen and wonder why nothing was happening. Just as we wouldn’t expect to compete in the 110m hurdles without warming up, it’s the same with writing. We need to ease ourselves into it gradually. We can do this by creating a startup routine.
The steps of your startup routine will depend very much on your personal preferences, but here’s what it might include:
- Make a cup of tea, or beverage of your choice — some people like to use a special writing mug.
- Get comfortable — if you’re not sitting comfortably, you’re likely to develop aches and pains and this will put you off writing.
- Switch off the internet — make sure you’ve downloaded everything you need in advance so you don’t disappear down any rabbit holes.
- Do 5 minutes’ freewriting — this gets you warmed up, clears your head, and helps get those synapses firing. If you’re unfamiliar with freewriting, you just write continuously with stopping to edit. You’re writing without putting any pressure on yourself to produce anything that sounds academic.
- Tackle an ‘easy’ tomato — when I say ‘easy’, it could also be ‘exciting’ or a least marginally more attractive than all the other tomatoes. The aim is to give yourself a quick-win that gets you motivated.
Adding a shutdown routine helps you ease out of writing mode and also prepare for your next session. Again, the exact steps depend on your personal preference, but here’s what it might include:
- Use bullet points to quickly jot down any ideas — this gets them out of your head and removes the fear of forgetting them. You’ll also have a clear structure for tomorrow.
- Make a quick note of what you want to do tomorrow — e.g. I want to finish the introduction to Chapter 2, then check the references. Again, you won’t need to spend time tomorrow trying to remember what you’d intended to do.
- Do 5 minutes’ freewriting — this helps you reflect on your session and come out of academic mode. You might use some additional prompts, such as “What went well today?” or “Is there anything I could try tomorrow to make my writing session more productive?”
- Tidy your workspace — clearing the clutter might make your desk seem more inviting tomorrow. If your desk also happens to be a dining table or in your bedroom, it also means you’re not distracted by the sight of your writing materials when you want to relax.
- Update your progress chart or writing audit — this gives you visible evidence of progress, and it’s very satisfying.
A writing audit helps you move through the different drafts and sections of your thesis and also shows you exactly where you are. You might notice that the stages in this example correspond to the Writing and Revision Cycle. At a glance, you can see what you’ve done and what’s left to do. You can download a template below and adapt it to suit your thesis. You might only need 2,000 words for your methodology, but unless you’ve given this some thought, you could accidentally end up with five times as much — that’s a lot of wasted effort that could be deployed elsewhere.
Tracking your word count makes sense when you’re in the intensive writing phase. At later stages of the Writing and Revision Cycle, it’s no longer meaningful. Indeed, you might be deleting words. You’ll need a better measure. Perhaps you’re now aiming to reduce the word count? Track this instead. Note where you are now and what you’re aiming for.
As ever, always trust the evidence, not your emotions.