Grad Student Workflow, Part 5

This week I will be writing about free writing. This is the fifth part of my series about my workflow as a graduate student (you can find Part 1 here). Last week, in Part 4, I gave an overview of my various steps in my writing process. Now I will break the first step down for you.

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Free Writing

This is something I strive to do every (work) day. I carve out 35-45 minutes and sit down and write. My goal is 1500 (any kind of) words. Some days I don’t quite make it to my 1500 goal because I am tired or things get too hectic for my full writing session, but I do the best I can.

I do my free writes in OmmWriter and then transfer the text over to Evernote for safe keeping.

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The great thing about this program is it is simple and quiet. I can plug in my headphones and hear ocean waves and the happy click-clack of keystrokes.

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With a quick swipe of the mouse, I can check in on my word count if I’m feeling particularly anxious. For the most part, however, I just write.

When I’m done with my 1500 words, a quick copy and paste from OmmWriter to Evernote (filed under my notebook title “Free Writes”) saves my writing. I do this quick switch for one primary reason – searchability. My goal at the end of the day is to have all my research notes, memos, writing, etc. all in one place that is easily parsed and searchable. That way, when I get to later steps in my writing (“Now where did I put that one idea about a conference paper…..”) I can throw some keywords into my Evernote and find what I need. Work done now, upfront, is work saved later when energy levels may be low, cognitive function may be impaired, and deadlines are getting anxiously near.

I find this free write process to be very freeing (haha). First, it gets rid of one reason for writer’s block – the blank page. My later writings can now have snippets of free write pasted in to get them started – no more blank page! I also find this process really helps jumpstart and solidify my thought process. I am thinking through my writing. As I go through my day, do my readings, maybe work on various projects, my brain is making all sorts of connections I might not be aware of. These free writes are one place where I find myself actually articulating for the first time and iterating on these connections.

Up next, I will talk about memos in Part 6.

Grad Student Workflow, Part 4

As mentioned in Part 1, I am discussing my various workflow tools in order to have a more pleasant and efficient grad school experience. Last week, in Part 2, I discussed my general task management and in Part 3 I discussed reading and citations. This week I will be starting my sub-series about writing.

Sources: Much of what I’ve learned about my workflow, I’ve gotten from other folks. What I’m discussing in the next few posts is an amalgamation of different work management patterns I’ve gotten from around the internet, people in the lab, or figured out for myself. I would like to give a big thanks to Hacking the Thesis.

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Writing

Over the next month I will be posting about the various steps I take in my writing. My plan is to talk about the following:

  • free writing
  • memos
  • academic paper drafts
  • writing for blogs or other “general” audience media

One book I found very helpful was Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day. The habit that I have picked up since my first read through is writing everyday. I do this by setting aside roughly 45 minutes of my day for my free writing. I aim for about 1500 words per day of this kind of writing. The next level of writing is slightly more structured memos, which usually have some kind of focus (a question I am trying to answer, or something specific I am analyzing or drafting up). Finally, the free writes and memos then feed into my rough drafts. When I know what kind of question I want to answer for a particular venue, I can start a more formal drafting process. This is also where I bring in coauthors to help with the argument, literature, and clarity.

While my main focus is my academic writing, I also change things up to give my brain a rest by writing fiction and journalling. Perhaps I will have more on this after I’ve finished this series of blog posts.