Don’t Break Up With Your Writing

In order to produce a thesis of 40,000 or 80,000 words, you have to be in a long-term relationship with writing. This isn’t a brief fling, in which you write intensively over a week or two; and it’s not an on-off love affair with intermittent periods of productivity. Writing something as substantial as a thesis requires long-term commitment. You’ve gotta be there for your thesis week in, week out.

Which is why I was delighted to read a great line by Dr Rebecca Schuman in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Returning to an abandoned piece of research without sufficiently dealing with what made you retreat in the first place is like getting back together with an ex without discussing what led to the breakup.”

It’s true. When you stop writing, that’s often a sign that something is wrong in the relationship. Happy and inspired writers keep going. Blocked or frustrated writers stop. We can kid ourselves that we’re ‘taking a break’ from writing, but all too often, a break leads to a break-up. I know this from painful personal experience. If I decide to take a break from writing because it’s too hard and I’m stuck, I will never ever finish. The half-finished novel I ‘took a break’ from writing in 2007 will attest to that.

However, sometimes you’ve got to press pause. If you need to deal with a personal problem, or family issue, or your attention is otherwise diverted from writing, it’s important to leave your writing well-loved to give yourself the best chance of going back and finishing.

It is possible to manage any writing breaks strategically. Power through a difficult passage before you take a break, instead of imagining that you’ll do it afterwards. Of course, it’s likely that you’ll come back refreshed with some better solutions. But you’ll be building on something, not nothing.

Another good tip is to leave your writing mid-sentence. Instead of finding a natural break – say, the end of a paragraph or chapter – take your break in the middle of a

Ah, see what I did there? When I come back to writing the above piece of text, I already know that my first word will be ‘sentence.’ Leaving in the middle gives you an easy way to get your fingers moving at the keyboard the second you return to work.

It can also be helpful to leave yourself instructions for the next section you want to write. Sketch out an outline for the next chapter, and write (half of) the opening sentence. That way, you’ll have a starting point.

If you can leave your writing in a good space, it’s easy to come back to it with open arms. That way, a little break from writing is like a holiday away from a loving spouse. It can be healthy for the relationship, but you’ll be excited to reunite.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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