One can imagine the cumulative sighs and groans of graduate students as they sit down to write their dissertation.  Staring at the computer screen…eyes glazing over.  A few clicks and now they have a title.  Nope don’t like it, too post-modern…DELETE.  It can be intimidating, and prior to this, a vast majority of students have only written research papers that, although lengthy, do not approach the intimidation factor of writing a book.  And that is essentially what we are doing, writing a book.  But there is one trick that I used to keep my mind sharp and my writing flow going.  Keep writing!!  Keep the flow going, and keep your mind sharp in those waning afternoon hours where the computer screen plays tricks on your eyes, and Pandora keeps asking” Are you still listening?”.

Now, I am not saying keep writing your dissertation.  Just keep writing anything.  I always liked to take a quick break, make some tea or coffee, and then settle back down and write something totally different.  I would put my books aside, and end up writing funny stories about my friends, or blogs about my hobbies or interests.  I would lean back, and let my mind wander and my fingers keep typing rhythmically.  After all, the sort of writing that you do for a dissertation is the kind where you write fragmented; meaning you write one sentence, and then stop, pore over articles or look for quotes, and then write another half a sentence before realizing you spelled “analysis” wrong again for the 131st time.  The sort of writing that I like to do is the stream of consciousness, free-writing that helps get your mind and body into a certain flow.  Writing yoga, lets call it.  This style of creative writing doesn’t have boundaries, doesn’t need citations, and won’t get offended by grammar and spelling mistakes.  It is a way to let your mind run around for a little while, after being penned up for so long in the strict confines of the dissertation-style of writing.   The great thing that I found is even while I am writing something else, my mind usually has time to rest and then refocus back on my dissertation.  Sometimes I even have an epiphany mid-sentence during my “yoga writing” session, and quickly move back to my dissertation with a fresh new idea or sentence.

In fact, this very blog that I am writing now is a product of me taking a break from my dissertation to write something else.  And even though it is about my dissertation, I am free to just flow and keep my mind in the writing mode.  You will be surprised at what you end up writing.  I ended up writing a short novel during my Master’s thesis.  And my breaks were just enough to keep me going until the end of that chapter, or that extra hour.  Oh, yea, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give this warning…Beware the Facebook, the Twitter, and the Youtube! They are the mighty wasters-of-time!

One last writing tip is a classic; writing your dissertation in 15 minutes a day.  All that this tip entails is you sitting down and writing something, anything related to your research or dissertation for fifteen minutes.  The trick here, is that once you get going, you usually don’t stop right at the fifteen minute mark, but keep going until you feel satisfied with your progress.  This keeps your head in the game longer, and when you pick it up the next time, you don’t have to have a mini-review session for yourself figuring out what you are doing or where you are in your writing.  That is one of the toughest things about this process, it is long.  But by not staying on top of things, you only prolong the agony.

Anyway, I am sure you get the idea.  Keep writing!!  Speaking of, I need to be getting back to my dissertation…I just had an idea!

[Image by Flickr user dbdbrobot and used under Creative Commons License]


8 Responses to Writing Yoga: Keeping the Flow Going

  1. Terry Brock says:

    Great advice, Chris. I remember when you managed to write a novel and a master’s thesis in under two semesters…you’ve definitely found a strategy that works well.


  2. Amy R says:

    I agree with Terry: great advice! I’ve approached dissertation-related writing fatigue similarly. In March 2011, I started a blog. It helped put the enjoyment back into a process that had gotten stale. After a few months of obsessive blogging, I suddenly wasn’t dreading my diss time so much, and I accomplished more (in maybe less time). The momentum has continued.

    I also like that you bring yoga into the mix! One of the favorite things I’ve learned with my practice (which, admittedly, needs some attention!) is not to “judge” but rather observe and appreciate. Each time I practice, my body is different, and I shouldn’t attach a value to those differences. Writing-whether it’s dissertation-related or not-is still writing. Don’t feel guilty about taking time out to switch writing gears, perhaps is the lesson to be learned?

  3. Kim says:

    Great advice. I need to get started with this. I’m always telling myself I need to do more of all types of writing, and this is a good way to do so. I am very open to the ways my academic writing and creative writing inform each other, and I think this practice will inspire that relationship even more.

  4. The best advice I’ve heard on writing is to stop your writing session in the middle of the sentence, so you have an exact place to begin the next day. It is not only consistency, but not wasting time getting started. I always end a writing session with a plan of what to write next time I sit down. Great post!

  5. […] Writing Yoga: Keeping the Flow Going at GradHacker […]

  6. Lillian says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Several of my friends participated in NaNoWriMo and as November wound down, I suggested that we band together and complete a NaTheWriMo with a goal of writing 5000 words in the month of December. The writing simply has to be research/dissertation related – could be notes for the lit review, the full citations for a bibliography….the point is to write something related to your research. So far, we’ve been pretty successful! I think we will absolutely carry this over into succeeding months. ?

  7. […] that idea to a post I read last night, entitled “Writing Yoga,” by Chris Stawski on, I began to consider how it might apply to my writing […]

  8. […] You can use morning pages, 750 words or a journal to clear your mind and write daily. Three pages every morning or 750 words help you to reflect on your progress and identify what […]

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