When less means more

Originally published on March 17, 2013

I don’t know about other people, but I tend to write a lot. Even at some stages of my masters degree, when I had plenty of time in my hands, after reading an assignment that we were meant to think about, but not particularly go overboard about it, I would write. I would read, then sit down and write for a couple of hours, with some pertinent interruptions. I would look back at the document and it would say two or three thousand words. I always felt great about it, so I kept doing it. I mean, you look at them and they are so many words that you get to put together that it seems that’s got to be good.

At the beginning, I tried that technique when facing the first months of my PhD. “Just sit down and write”, I would tell myself. The truth is, I never had the chance. I never had time to sit slowly and with a clear mind and go “I am going to freewrite until I’m mentally done”. The other thing is that, at the times that I attempted to do my freewrite, my brain or body were not ready to cooperate. Early in the morning, or after a crashing day, or a game,… certainly they were not the best hours, but these are sometimes the only hours I have.

After a while I realised that if I really wanted to write something good, I would have to rethink my time schedules. So after accommodating time for work and rest, I would write continuously at other times when I was fresher. I had this attitude until two weeks ago. I realised that what I was writing was not good at all. Or it was, perhaps for undergrad or masters level. But not for my PhD. The word “original” or “distinct” was thrown at my last meeting, and I realised that all I was doing was commenting on other people’s work, without really doing my own. My PhD lacked a perspective, an approach, and a point of view. In literature research, those are far more necessary than they might be elsewhere.

So I went from writing a lot to writing very little. The submission date for my first piece of work ahead of my Annual Progress Review is in a month. And just now, I noticed that my approach was completely wrong. Too eclectic, too repetitive, to sum up, too undergrad perhaps. I spent an entire month stuck in the wrong idea. Being too shallow and too eclectic about things.

I know now that probably this won’t be the last version – I shall only hope that this version lasts until I submit and present my work at the APR. After that, I can change everything all over again. If I hadn’t lost that entire month of work into doing something wrong, then perhaps I would have never seen that I was making a mistake.

I guess I’m just gonna have to get used to the fact that writing 500 words is okay provided they say something. Odd, yet that’s life.