Dead Men Tell No Tales

I’ve embarked on an apparently long, arduous journey on a dark, twisted road. Or at least, that’s how most people describe a phd. It seems to be a very ‘down in the trenches together’ kind of thing, with lots of shuddering, a lot of ‘don’t go this way’ scenes from horror films, and then the few that say ‘it’s not as scary as it seems.’

But all this being said, I just did my first major writing assignment. 10,000 words on certain parallels and I won’t bore you with details but it involves the College of Physicians and the print industry in 17th century London. And slogging through piles of notes, secondary source texts, it got me thinking about everyone’s process. Because mine usually looks something like this:


It should be noted (for parental benefit) that this is during the editing process, when my pages are printed out. If I’m writing, there IS a word document open with that infernal blinking cursor judging me and my words. But I do like to have a film or video playing, one that I’ve seen dozens of times before. When I’m writing, it’s white noise. When I need a quick break it’s a bit of visual stimulation without the time warp properties of Tumblr. However, this is only when I’m actually physically writing. Prior to writing, I am a massive planner, from the starting point of the thought map to increasingly detailed outlines. When I’m planning I can’t have any distractions: maybe a bit of music, but usually not. Instead, I’m going on walks or pacing around my room talking to myself, trying to force the thoughts in my head to get in line and on to paper.

Research, on the other hand, requires music. Music blocks out everything else, so that I can focus on the task at hand. Otherwise, I’m distracted by the man in the plaid jacket that sneezes into his striped hankie or the woman at the desk that chews her gum entirely too loudly. Music blocks all this nonsense and prevents the day from being a total waste, provided I arrive at the library AT opening. But having a productive day’s research is a totally different topic.

I’m well aware that my process is very different from others. Most people can’t handle noise, require total focus and concentration. But I suppose my point is that the environment that creates total focus and concentration is different for everyone.

I’m just glad mine means I can watch Lord of the Rings at the same time.


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