Slips, word sprints and eating elephants


Okay.  So.  I’ve slipped up a bit.

I haven’t blogged in a few days and I can’t quite fathom why, except that it’s been feeling a bit like there’s been a time-shortage lately.  In reality I think it’s more like an energy-shortage.

I have a few defenses that I could whip out, including illness, college work* and other creative projects**, but, as previously established, I’m not really into excuses.

But nevertheless though, I want to use this slip as a sort of regrouping opportunity.  It’s a warning sign that I’m about to fall into my old behavioural patterns, which aren’t tragically destructive or anything, but also don’t do much for me in the way of productivity.  So.  I guess it’s time to create some new patterns.

I mentioned before that, in the past, one of my major weaknesses in college has been getting started with assignments.  I’m doing better this year so far, but now that I’ve had my initial meeting with my thesis supervisor, that’s the only thing I haven’t really made a start on yet.  That’s because (a) there’s no definitive deadline and (b) the notion of writing a thesis scares the crap out of me.

So, to rectify part (a), I’m setting myself a deadline.  I want my first chapter to be written by Monday.  And to rectify part (b)…

Well.  I guess that can’t really be rectified.

But once I make a start I know it will get easier, as pointed out by the wise philosopher, one Mr Stephen King.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.  After that, things can only get better.”

-Stephen King

So tomorrow I’m going to employ a tactic used by writers all the time as they write first drafts of their manuscripts, a method used most particularly during NaNoWriMo.  Word sprints.

Lies.  These are lies.

I’m not going to employ the word sprint tactic; that is inaccurate.  I’m doing to adapt it to suit my studying needs.

If you’re a writer you’ll probably know that word sprints are when someone sets a timer for a short duration, usually ten to twenty minutes, and they use that time to write manically and feverishly.  They get out as many words as possible before the timer pronounces them finished, with the intention of boosting their word count dramatically in very little time.  The idea is to use this method to bang out the bones of a story for the first draft and then go back and edit to perfection later on.

If you’re a writer, you’ll probably also know that NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November of each year.  This is when writers all over the world set themselves personal goals in relation to their writing, all to be completed during the month of November.  Generally, participants use the standard goal of writing 50,000 words in a month, although some people tailor the rules to suit their needs.  So you can see why word sprints would come in handy.


If you’re not a writer, then just believe me when I say that the above is true.  Or Google it, whichever.

I, personally, am not a word sprinting kinda gal.  I don’t tend to rush myself when I’m writing (although maybe sometimes I should!), with the exception of these blog posts, which are generally composed in sprees of five to twenty minutes.  It’s rant-writing; you know that, we’ve been through this already.

However.  When it comes to my studies, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to set myself a series of small but time-sensitive goals which help to keep me on track.

So for instance, during my exams back in January, I decided to give myself a fixed amount of time to read up on each section that needed to be studied, often breaking it down so far as Okay, I have one minute to read this page.  Go!!  And because I heard the timer ticking away, my concentration was elevated.  I was able to shut out any external distractions because I knew I only had a minute to get this done, and then I could relax briefly as I decided what to move onto next.

With the help of my stopwatch, I remained grounded in my goals, but not overwhelmed by them.  I kicked ass in those exams, and you know what?  Now I’m legitimately and officially a student in her sixth semester of college!

Surreal and unexpected, yes.  But I’m here.

So how can this technique apply to my academics now that my assessment is all ongoing, rather than culminating in exams?

Well, I’m going to break my thesis down into bite-size, only-a-little-scary portions.  Starting, predictably, with research: a ten-minute wild good chase for information that is relevant to my first chapter, and then, no matter how ill-informed I am, I’ll have a ten-minute thought-scribbling session where I jot down everything I have to say on the subject.  And then, well, then I’ll have started and it won’t be so hard for me to come back to.

Whenever I become overwhelmed by an impending goal my mother always has this to say: “Saoirse, how do you eat an elephant?”

By now I know that the answer is “One bite at a time”.

So, I’m about to take my first bite out of this thesis.  Wish me luck.

And if any of you have your own elephants to devour, I suggest arming yourself with a timer.


*I already made reference to this assignment in a previous blog, but I have now completed the first and second drafts of my live action drama script for a short film, and I am very pleased with it.  It’s still far from perfect, but I’m getting some critiques from family and friends to help me improve it at the moment.  And if I keep feeling this good about it and if I get my lecturer’s approval, who knows?  I may even send it away to someone powerful who turns scripts into films!  Wouldn’t that be an unexpected development in my writing career?!

**My partner and I have created our own site and published our first blog, detailing the story of our D&D game.  I’m the writer and she’s the story-boarder, and together, I think we made it pretty cool, if I do say so myself.  We just have to get to work on the second post now, so there’s more fun ahead.



2 thoughts on “Slips, word sprints and eating elephants

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