Build Your Writing Skills

Writing well requires full mental engagement and it's hard work. It's no wonder that some graduate students become distracted or procrastinate when writing! Here are some simple writing practices you can use to help you focus and finish:

  • Set a writing time. Set a timer for just 15–30 minutes and write. When the time is up, give yourself a reward so you associate positive feelings with writing. After you establish a writing routine, you can amount of time you spend writing.
  • A to-do list can help you focus. If you have a hard time sitting down to write because other tasks pop up in your head, jot down the distraction on a pad of paper and return to your writing. When you’re done with your writing for the day, you can take care of all the things.
  • Eliminate some distractions. You write for a few minutes and then—while you pause to think of how to best word something—you check your email or double-check a reference online. If this sounds familiar, eliminate that distraction. Use internet-blocking software if necessary, or write somewhere you don't have wireless access.
  • Mitigate other distractions. When your distractions are internal a to-do list can help, but external distractions are also a force to be reckoned with. If you work from home you might be tempted to start a load of laundry or get a snack during a lull? Prepare for those distractions ahead of time. Remember that you have down time scheduled for doing chores. Close the door, power down your phone, and focus.

Be realistic about what you can do and don’t try to take too big a bite out of a project. Break large projects down into smaller parts that you can easily see through to completion. For example, don’t set the goal, “I’ll write five pages today,” if it normally takes you two hours to write a well-composed page. Rather, break the five pages into smaller tasks: Outlining the section, writing a paragraph, or checking citations. By breaking down your tasks into smaller pieces, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment. Alternatively, if you set too lofty a goal and subsequently don’t achieve it, you’ll feel defeated and be more likely to procrastinate.

With a little practice you'll be able to focus on the individual tasks necessary for completing your graduate school goal: completing your degree.