Hello there, dissertator!

Do you find yourself continually revising and reworking sections of your writing to the point when you feel like you just can’t move forward?

The late New Yorker writer James Thurber advised that a first draft should be a “purge” of what you want to express, a literal pouring out of what you know without much regard paid to form or coherence. Real writing, Thurber believed, lay in subsequent drafts carefully revised for narrative, argument, coherence and style. Quality writing was a result of the rewriting process, basically.

This freestyle form of writing and rewriting is great in theory, but it’s hard to shake that pursuit of perfection from the very beginning. And with word processing now being our primary writing method, the amount of freedom to change and manipulate words around has never been easier.

As Julian Lucas writes in The New Yorker:
“Each time I open a draft, I seem to lose my bearings, scrolling from top to bottom and alighting on far-flung sentences at random. I find and replace, write and rewrite; the word processing program made fiddling easy….and finishing next to impossible.”

In other words, Lucas writes, the very convenient cut-and-paste tools we choose to write with may be getting in our way, providing a continual temptation to alter our work. Writing apps like Word, Google Docs or Pages can seduce us into endlessly revising for the perfect word or sentence or paragraph before we are able to move on.

There are alternative apps to write with that don’t offer up the same editing seductions, such as the minimalist word processor iA Writer (read review here), which essentially provides a white page with a custom mono-spaced font and little else other than bold-face or italics. Its main feature is “focus mode” that vertically centres the sentence or paragraph being written and greys out everything else.

By using iA Writer, you might find (as Lucas did) that your anxieties about how much has yet to be written, cut, revised, or restructured evaporate by just having the current working section visible onscreen. It’s simple to understand how this program can help facilitate an expanse of writing that demands extended focus, such as a dissertation.

If you don’t want to go the iA Writer route, there are other strategies that can help, such as changing the cosmetics of any word processing program you’re using. While it may seem inconsequential, many writers contend that font choice produces a particular tone or response – one you will know intimately as you proceed with your dissertation.

Author R.E. Hawley offers the following advice in his article in Write It In Garamond:
“Creative output of any kind depends upon a steady stream of tiny self-delusions. A different font helps me believe in my own words.”

I wrote this blog using Regular Helvetica Neue which, like Times font is a good, simple workhorse of a font. It’s no-frills. It does its job. It doesn’t distract. It’s just there.

But perhaps your eye needs more pleasure and inspiration: a change of font may do just that and oddly, subtly move your output forward. It’s the pleasure principal.

So go ahead: try various fonts. Experiment with different types of word processing programs. Write out notes freehand just to keep in touch with our most basic form of putting pen to paper. Go offline for a few hours and watch your work output increase exponentially. The mechanics of writing matter.

Any creative output depends upon the right conditions, inspiration and focus. Make it your mission to use whatever trick in the book you can to make your writing process more appealing to yourself and distraction-free. Dissertation completion is in sight!