I know myself, or I’m pretty sure I do. I have an understanding of my own patterns and what I do, and where I go wrong. And my issue seems to be a simple one – or rather there are many things but for simplicity’s sake and for the sake of a ripple effect – let’s focus on simple thing.
Don’t hesitate, don’t procrastinate, don’t dawdle, don’t beat around the bush – just begin. My problem has never been not working harding enough, but not giving projects enough time, and that’s usually because I didn’t start early enough. Had I given it enough time, I could’ve done better, which is something that hits me only when I realise that time is running out, or that despite the fact that we are running out of time, this is not such a bad job – and I wonder how it would’ve looked like had I given it more time.
So where is the focus? – on the 5 daily, and sitting down researching and writing. In the latter, don’t go to Washington Post, twitter, youtube, amazon, read another book to get you going about this one, just begin. Just type.
But hang on – that’s not quite true. Start with a plan – ask yourself, where are you?, where are you going? How does this relate to where you want to go? For it’s almost a rule, that my work tends to be better the later I give it in. This is where the frustrations start creeping in. If my work is less frustrating when I hand it in later, perhaps its better to hand things later. But I get frustrated when I start later, that if I only had given it more time it would’ve been better.
But, aha! That doesn’t quite capture it. For when I start later, I ask myself more cutting questions, what does the piece want of me, how much can I realistically produce in the time given, and how to make a robust and ready piece given that time needed – especially the research. Having thought of all that, what are the components I need and then assign myself a keystone text for each section which I build all my reading around. And note it helps if I have either read up on it before, or don’t have a lot of reading to do, or there is not much reading I can afford to do.
So how does that square with my efforts of starting earlier.
Firstly there are occasions, when I’m stuck. Then I seek clarity before starting. This is an easy fix – the more quicker I start tackling what exactly is what is unclear the quicker I can get to unpicking the knot. And noticeable, its also about asking around, seeking help, researching when I get stuck with something. But the problem with the delay of beginning is the insistence on a clarity prior to the beginning of the project, and usually clarity comes through only when doing the project.
Secondly, and this is crops up exactly when I do start earlier, part of the problem is that I stop asking those cutting questions. The thinking goes; given that I have more time I should; aim for something more ambitious, produce something original, read more and make it more robust, and what is it that I want from the piece. (And especially with that last one is something requiring more thought – but let’s leave it for now). Those are very different questions from the ones I ask where time is huffing and puffing at me. So it seems I have to ask the same questions and this requires some discipline – a discipline which is easier to maintain with deadlines scratching my eyes out than without – and so the time expended is given on reading a bit more supplementary reading (rather than keystone texts), and editing. Seems simple enough, start early and begin planning or start early and tick off the components of the plan.
But what about that last bit, the bit about ‘what do I want from writing the piece’. There are different kinds of pieces, and I have to acknowledge that where I get stuck is usually the parts where I have to contribute something from myself, rather than use others as my foil. I still find it difficult to express my thinking as opposed to me saying this and that, because I don’t agree with others – which of course is where many ideas naturally emerge from. But to write my own voice without by proxies, is still someting I’m not sure about.
But perhaps you’re not giving yourself enough credence. With some pieces you do need original thought, and others you don’t. Or rather there is a degree of variance between them dependent on the pieces. The fact is the more I write, the more I become experienced in writing different kinds of pieces, pieces that do different things. So the best thing is slowly go up in both length and complexity and originality of pieces, and yet acknowledge where exactly it’s not required. Perhaps start finding your own voice with low stakes pieces that are shorter, rather than high-stakes pieces with deadlines that tend to be longer – i.e. phd chapters. Write articles or chapters that are smaller and more low-stakes – i.e won’t be kicked out of the programme with these ones. And another (obvious!) thing, ask for help. The editors want this as well, have more experience, and are usually willing to help.
Ok. There’s a lot here. I need to digest. But even to process this – I can shelve some of it. More importantly I need to begin, and start planning.
With that I bid my readers, adieu and peace.