A PhD is often inspired by a particular vision–either your own passion project or a passion project of a more senior researcher. When you pitched the thesis to funders and your faculty, the project was going to be a sweeping, world-changing, life-changing research idea that would proceed without any hitches. And then you have to deal with real life.
If you have ever been to one of my workshops in the last decade, you will probably have done this warm up. In fact, if you came to a multi-day writing retreat I ran, you would have done this at the beginning of each day. It is the most powerful, most flexible, simplest tool in my writing tool box.
“Deadline juice” is a term I just made up when talking to a student the other day, but it’s pretty apt. It describes the eustress response to an upcoming deadline—a healthy (yes short term appropriate stress responses are healthy!) jolt of adrenaline when your energy is up, your focus is up, your speed is up.
There is another intermediate stage of editing, which is typically called ‘line edits’ in creative writing. This is the edit that is all about style and grace, about flow, about clarity and voice. In other words, this the edit that is absolutely not essential and many academic writers don’t bother with it. It’s a ‘nice to have’, a cherry on the cake, which is why I haven’t written about it before.
If you have ever learned the piano, you may have had to do ‘five finger exercises’—little pieces that are less about their musical value, and more about making you use all five fingers on your hands, to improve your technique. They are warm-ups, strengthening and skill-building exercises. They are part of the invisible part of performing music—I have never seen a concert performance of these exercises, but I’m also certain that every concert pianist I have ever paid to listen to, has done hours and hours of them in their time.
When I was part of the La Trobe RED team, and we were running our Accelerated Completion Programme for late-stage PhD candidates, we got people to do a thing we called a ‘writing audit’, where you counted up what was in all the sections of your PhD, and then worked out what was still missing. It could be scary, or a massive relief, but either way it gave you a sense of where you actually were.
In other words, yes add to your word count and update your EndNote library. But also take time to mull things over or let things mature. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Do your front burner and your back burner work to sustainably, excellently, elegantly, enjoyably create writing that will wow your readers.