Pacing vs. Sprinting

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the reasons I love Scrivener is that it assists you in formulating writing goals. You input your target word count, due date, and how many days per week you want to write, and the software takes care of the rest. My project targets window currently looks like this (I’ve yet to write anything today obviously):

One of the entertaining things about this feature is that it will automatically recalculate your daily word goal if you write too little one day or too much the next day. Last Friday, I had a tremendously productive writing day – I surpassed my word goal by three times. I giggled with delight as I opened the window the next day and saw that my feat of strength had shaved off 8 words per day off my daily word goal.

Nice, right?

In a way, it is nice, but I’ve begun to realize lately that (for me) the benefits of a steady pace far outweigh those of occasional sprints. The occasional sprint is of course a nice way to make you feel as if you’re really plowing through your material. It makes you think that you are getting somewhere. However, the occasional sprint can also leave you fatigued and without much steam for your next writing session.

I imagine that most people do not sit down to write their dissertations having already done all the research. True, you know a general direction for your project, and you might have already collected the requisite pieces, but you are likely going to assemble them along the way. You read, you take notes, you outline, and then you write. Failure to strike a balance between these four things can I think lead to a certain level of despair. On the one hand, if all you do is read and take notes, then you will feel as if your research is not really taking you anywhere. Yet, without reading, you can only outline and write so much. On the other hand, if you write too much without making sure your research and outlining are keeping up, then you reach the dreaded writer’s block.

The feeling of not having anything to say is indeed a nasty feeling, especially when you’re talking about your dissertation. Balancing your research and writing in such a way that you always have something to write on is a skill we would all do well to learn, and maintaining a steady pace in your writing is I think the first step.

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