There are days when it feels easy to put into words my ideas on the political landscape of Tudor England and its relation to architecture. However, there are also days when I cannot write a sentence that makes any sense at all as hard as I try. Over the years in graduate school, I have tried many different techniques, tricks, and tips for staying focused and motivated while writing. Some have worked, and others have not, but I have realized how easy it is to be distracted while writing.
When I decided to write an honors thesis, the advice I received from everyone was to write things up as you go. The common wisdom was to write things up as soon as you have a result, rather than waiting five months and writing everything up at the last minute. I wanted to do an honors thesis to explore more math, but unfortunately for me, the thesis also required a lot of writing. Having heard the thesis writing horror stories and knowing the extent to which I hate writing (ironic that I’m writing this post, I know), I was determined to follow their advice to try and minimize the pain of the writing experience.
I remember reading my professor’s comments on a paper I’d written in one of my first graduate seminars at Carolina. The paper excited me because it was a topic that interested me, and I believed that my excitement would also factor into producing a well-written, deeply riveting original argument. I was wrong. When I read my professor’s comments, which were few, the words that stood out most were on the last page. Scribbled around some other notes that mentioned the promise of my idea, the professor had written, “This is almost unintelligible.” Reading this comment took a heavy toll on me even though I thought I could shake off the unhelpful criticism.
What makes me a unique writer? This is a question I ask myself often. As an identical twin, saying that I have gone through a bit of an identity crisis is an understatement. I am constantly confronted with the reality of my own uniquenesses, or the lack thereof, especially when it comes to writing.
Since I’ve been forced to live in a quarantined world, it’s been real easy to spend all day sitting. It was a sudden adjustment for me; I used to try and either walk to or from campus every weekday, which made sure I got time outside. I realized I missed walking like this, so after about two weeks of being locked in the house, I started to make movement a part of my working routine. Since I spend a lot of time working on writing projects, this push to start walking has ended up becoming a pivotal step in how I approach my writing.
At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I wanted to use tech to help me write more efficiently. When I took notes for my research, I didn’t have a system that helped me organize which quotations or information went with which source. My overall disorganization made transitioning from research to writing a bit of a pain. I could never cite quickly. That all changed when I found my dynamic duo: TheBrain and Zotero.
I find word choice to be one of the trickiest parts of academic writing. Even if I’ve used a dictionary or thesaurus to make sure that I’m using a word correctly, there’s still the chance that my reader will find it odd if I use a word that’s uncommon in academic writing or that has an implication I’m unaware of.
It was late one night in December, and, with what seemed like hundreds of other people, I was in the library. I had been working on a paper about the U.S. intelligence community for weeks—reading articles, finding book chapters, and typing page after page of notes—and my head was spinning.