"Write for twenty minutes a day", said the Guru. (for those of you who have read some previous posts, The Guru is not the same person as The God. Both are, however, prominent figures on the Graduate School Research Training programme. Note also: there are several Gurus, but only one God. In the course of this blog, it is possible I will refer to a 'Guru no. 2'.)
"Write for twenty minutes a day". We are at a training course on Creative Writing. Not the kind of Creative Writing you are thinking of, mind. Not the gratuitous, self-indulgent, pretentious writing of short stories and 'novels', mind, which is what my fingers itch to do. Rather, it was about the gratuitous, pretentious, self-indulgent writing of PhD theses.
I am on this training course to pick up any tips I can, from The Guru, on the subject of how to write, how to be better at it; how to get rid of that horrible feeling of 'I can't write', and how to take pleasure in academic writing.
Twenty minutes a day. What an amazing idea! I have heard all sorts of advice on how to keep the writing flowing, so that it does not feel like a huge, momentous thing you must make yourself do, but so that it feels like it's a natural part of the research process. People have said: write 1000 words a day. Write 500 words a day. Write between 8 am and 1 pm. Now, finally, a new rule: write for 20 minutes a day.
When The Guru opened his mouth and began to speak - 'Write for...' - my brain started to supply possible ends of the sentence: five hours? one hour? - and was pleasantly shocked and surprised to hear: twenty minutes a day. I thought, I love this man. Finally, a manageable target to make you feel good about yourself.
Write for twenty minutes a day. Write about your PhD plan, or about your next chapter, or about your schedule that day. When you have nothing to write, spend the twenty minutes writing: I have nothing to write. basically, he was saying: make friends with the keyboard, get used to thinking in writing; get used to putting words on paper. All of a sudden, keeping this blog does not seem quite so gratuitous.
The Guru asked us all to introduce ourselves, and then made us talk about why we are on this course and what we hope to gain from it. When it was my turn, I decided I might as well be honest.
"I hate writing", I proferred. The Guru seemed taken aback, but pleased.
"Few people would admit this", he said. "Don't hate writing. Love it. Then see what happens."
I liked him.