Friday, 22 November 2013

Memoirs of part-time study (and a few words of encouragement too) - Mary Davies Turner

We end our series on part-time study with a guest blogger – Dr Mary Davies Turner, Study Support Tutor with Student Services. Mary offers study skills support for students at UWTSD Swansea, so if you need a bit of extra help with planning or writing your assignments, or if you’re baffled by referencing, it might be a good idea to get in touch with her! Mary’s contact details can be found on Student Services’ Academic Skills Support website along with all sorts of useful tips and guides. Well worth a look! Here’s Mary with some really useful advice to help you manage your academic work:

Mary Davies Turner

Writing tips and strategies for the part-time research student
If you’re a part-time research student, the chances are you’ve commitments outside college – family, work – that eat into your time and make it difficult for you to find sustained periods for study. That was my own experience, during my Phd, and is still, when I am struggling to find time and space to write my research papers. One of the problems you may have is that you have long breaks between writing, when the thread of continuity is broken and your mind, occupied with other pressing things that belong to daily life, has left your studies on the back burner. There are things you can do to help.
Date your writing so that you know what is current and if you are working on several drafts, put a note, ‘Current’, or ‘Use this one’ alongside the date.
Don’t ever break off from your writing without leaving signposts to where you are going next. At the time, your ideas for your next section are all clear in your mind and you are sure you will remember and pick them up again when you return to your writing. So often, that doesn’t happen. So, leave yourself directions – notes, a quick outline of your structure, main ideas – for when you return.
Have a notebook with you wherever you go. That is your connection to your work. In here you can make quick notes, jot down thoughts and you can do what Peter Elbow calls ‘bits of writing’ – a quick sentence, or two.
Peter Elbow, a Professor of English and Director of the writing programme at the University of Massachusetts, is the man who came up with the idea of Freewriting. He developed this writing strategy as a way of getting over his own writer’s block and to help his students get over theirs. But it is not only useful and helpful for that problem. Freewriting is a way of writing something substantial, and often meaningful, and nearly always useful, in a short time. So popular is his technique, that in recent years it’s ‘gone viral’ around the world and spawned conferences dedicated to his approach. Peter himself describes it as:
“The most effective way I know to improve your writing.”(Elbow, 1998, 3) Here’s how you do it:
Write on paper
Write for 10 minutes 
Write in sentences – whatever comes into your mind.
Let yourself go off on tangents
Don’t stop
The crucial rule here is ‘Don’t stop’. So what do you do if you can’t think of anything to say? You can write, ‘I can’t think what to say’ as many times as it takes until you get going; you can repeat the last sentence – one word repeats are not allowed. You must write in sentences.
The beauty of this technique is that it makes you keep going. So often, we start a piece of writing and we hit a block and we stop. When you freewrite, you are not allowed to do that. You have to keep going and that pushing through is something, the more you do it, the more you will be able to take into your structured writing. Don’t worry about going off on tangents – see where they will lead you. After you have completed your ten minutes, read over your piece. Somewhere in there you will find a thought, a nugget of an idea which you can take and develop.
Let me know how you get on!

Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers, 19998, Oxford: OUP

1 comment:

  1. Howard the Serial Writer27 November 2013 at 14:03

    Dear Dr Mary, my problem is not getting started - it's how to STOP writing!!
    I'm writing when I should be drawing, I'm writing about drawing when I should be drawing, I'm even writing to you when I should be drawing! Help, please?