phd problems

On the importance of writing consistently

Writing consistently hides a multitude of sins. You would be surprised. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do in graduate school is to write every day for at least 15 minutes. This is not a new idea. There is a great book out there called Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes A Day, and this sounds totally laughable. And….. it is. You can’t write your dissertation if you really only spend 15 minutes a day working on it. But the magic is in the “a day” part - writing every day (every weekday, at least) makes it easier to write every day. That sounds cyclical, but what happens is that when you force yourself to sit down and write for 15 minutes, even if all you write is half a sentence, the next day will be easier. And the day after that will be easier. 

This doesn’t mean you won’t struggle. You will. But the magic is in those 15 minutes. Just like Kimmy Schmidt declares that she can do anything for 10 seconds, you can write for 15 minutes. You can. It doesn’t have to be good writing. It doesn’t have to be fast writing. Just write. Do it. 

After a while, push yourself a bit. Do 2 sessions of 15 minutes each. Then expand those 15 minute sessions to 20 minutes. Keep expanding. Then, on those hard days, those days where you can’t do it, fall back on your “at least 15 minutes” plan. 

So when you hit this point, of writing every weekday for at least 15 minutes, you will still have your ups and downs. Days where the words won’t come, where you spend 45 minutes staring at the page and manage to get 3 sentences out. The beauty of consistency is that you will also have days where you write 3 pages in those 45 minutes. If you’re writing every day, whether you have a good day or a bad day doesn’t matter. They will balance each other out, and over time you will have more good days and the bad days won’t matter as much. 

Do you think you’re lazy? Are you a big procrastinator? Writing for 15 minutes a day is something even the laziest procrastinator can do - I should know, because I used to think of myself as a lazy procrastinator. Just showing up every day and putting words on paper, no matter how bad, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, will, over time, conquer any real or perceived laziness and overcome procrastination. 

You can do this. I promise. Just give me 15 minutes a day to start. 

An innocent, pure, and well balanced soul: “What is it like being a grad student?”

Me, squinting bloodshot eyes over the rim of a thrice reheated coffee: “Well… ‪today’s dinner is saltines and starbursts - which I suppose is an improvement over last week’s coffee and beef jerky.‬ I was in the shower for a full thirty seconds this morning before I realized I was still wearing my pajamas. And I was proud of making time for breakfast until my partner texted me that I’d put the box of cereal back in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard when I was done. The notification sound for my emails is rage inducing and my advisor is, unequivocally, the ruler of my universe. I regard him with the appropriate devotion, terror, and bewildered anger. I have no neutral feelings towards gradschool but instead wildly oscillate between being apathetic, incandescently happy, and savagely bitter.”

*what I actually say* “It’s good.”

What the grad student says: I’m fine.

What the grad student means: I’ve been working for 10 hours straight and I can barely think at this point much less describe to you with any clarity the unbelievable stress being placed on me by this narcissist-laden demoralizing hell-scape that has become my life. Please don’t burden me further by requiring me to now interact with you on a human level while I’m trying to remember the 10,000 things I have to do before tomorrow.