Sometimes it’s difficult to focus. We live in a time with many (digital) distractions that we can use with the click of a mouse. And if we can resist that, there’s always some laundry, groceries or cleaning to do. And it’s not just that: sometimes wanting to do things right can be debilitating: where to start if you want to avoid making mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard, I always meet my deadlines, and always get things done, but it can take a lot of willpower and motivation to do so and to stay on track. And I don’t mind doing that, because I’m passionate about my work, what I want to achieve with it, and about my future career, but it’s still difficult, especially when working on something for which you are the sole project manager: a PhD. And to add to that: FROM HOME. ALONE.
The last 3.5 years, or perhaps 4.5 years if you include my research masters, have been a true test of ‘how badly I want this to succeed’. A PhD, especially when working from home a lot, is a true test of commitment, grit and perseverance. And I don’t want to talk myself up or anything, because I still have much to learn, but I haven’t done too badly, I think, having submitted my thesis after 3 years and 5 months (and a few days). I have yet to learn about what my examiners think of it, but I hope they’ll enjoy it, in a weird way, because the topic of my thesis is quite sad, and disheartening at times: writing about unemployment and welfare to work policies usually comes with those kinds of feelings. I’m proud of what I have written so far, and hope they will help me make it the best it can be, as there is always room for improvement. But, I’m dwelling.
The writing was tough. I love writing. I spend much time online, on forums, message boards, I try to blog semi-regularly, and I think the written word has so much potential, perhaps because it is separate from facial expressions and intonation, and you have to make the words speak for themselves. But sometimes this love for writing isn’t enough. As any (aspiring) academic will know, writing for work is a lot more difficult than writing for leisure or fun. And not being sure about your project or where it will lead you, especially in the earlier stages of the project, might cause writers’ block, writing anxiety and basically mute you. This only gets worse when it’s just you, in your home office, living room, or even café if you prefer to work outside the house. Getting over that anxiety or fear, and just start writing is difficult, even though the best advice is ‘to just write as much as you can, just start writing’, it’s still difficult to follow that advice, mentally, I’ve found, even if you love writing.
That’s where the twitter phenomenon of Shut up and Write Tuesdays comes in, or @SUWTUK (there’s also an American version, @SUWTues) with hashtags #SUWTUK or #DIYSUWT. This initiative wants to help academics, or writers in general, by encouraging a non-scary writing habit, by asking no more of you than two pomodoro sessions (25 minutes of writing, 5 minute break) of you each Tuesday between 10 and 11am. It’s a small start, and if that feels OK, and you think “hey, this shutting up kind of works“, a whole world of shutting up will be opened for you. The support is genuine and no-nonsense. It’s not just about ‘shutting up’ in the literal sense, of not talking and get writing, but for me, especially, it is about shutting up excuses, self-doubt and anything else that keeps you from writing and becoming your best academic self. Just stop thinking about everything that can go wrong, and do it. You’re not alone! It might sometimes feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but #SUWT is there to tell you that you are good enough to be where you are: you’re smart!
There even is a twitter message group (just ask the @SUWTUK account or myself (@gabywolferink) to be added) that has become a second home to me in the final year of my PhD, and I will continue to live and work there for as long as I can. The group consists of people in various stages of their academic careers, from fresh PhD students to working academics, and living all across the globe. On most days there will be people doing their work, regularly asking to see if others are there to ‘officially’ join. The 5 minute breaks are always too short, but yet also create an amazing community of support and friendliness. We all respect each other, provide and ask for help when needed, and, of course, there’s a lot of fun and banter going round as well.
#SUWT is the best thing, perhaps, that happened to me in my PhD career in terms of writing. It has taken away a lot of writing anxiety that from time to time consumed me and stopped me from just getting ideas out on paper. It’s the good kind of ‘guilt’ you’re feeling when you know that your #SUWT friends are indeed writing, and you’re watching yet another episode of Californication on Netflix. How could you do that to them???
So if you’re struggling, just join in on a Tuesday for that one hour to give it a try. It’s only 2×25 minutes of writing. How bad can it be? What can go wrong? Exactly: nothing! Come to the dark side. We have