Question: I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin.
Answer: Needing a bit of time to orient yourself at the beginning of a writing session is a normal part of the writing process. If you feel you’re spending too much time getting started and not enough time actually writing or if you feel overwhelmed when you sit down to write, change how you end your writing sessions.
The best time to plan the beginning of your next writing session is at the end of your current one. At the end of a productive writing session you’ve just spent a significant amount of time immersed in the project, and you’re acutely aware of what still needs to be accomplished. Take advantage of this and spend some time thinking about what you hope to accomplish during your next session before you close your laptop. Write down the following: 1) what you accomplished today 2) your next writing session (date, time, and length) and 3) your goals for your next session. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and reasonable. For dissertation writers, examples might include: edit the footnotes of chapter two, figure out how to articulate the connection between data set X and theorem Y, or outline the literature review section of chapter five. Write your goals down and place them in a visible spot in your physical or digital work space. Next time you sit down to write you’ll be able to jump back into the project seamlessly.
More generally, learning about how other academics write can help you develop strategies for overcoming your own writing obstacles. Check out Gradhacker and Profhacker. Both blogs frequently post tips and reflections on academic writing issues such as overcoming writer’s block page or developing a daily writing schedule.
If you need more personalized help with your writing, schedule an appointment with a graduate tutor at Notre Dame’s Writing Center.
I graduate in one week with a MA in Peace Studies from Notre Dame. The two-year program has provided amazing opportunities to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, there are things I wish I knew before coming to the program. I hope they help you in your journey as an incoming student.
- Your department or cohort is who you will spend the majority of your time with. The downside is that you do not have as many opportunities to get to know others in different departments. The upside is that you often become very close to those in your program. For an extrovert like me, I tried to overcome this by attending events for graduate students and meeting undergrads at football games and other campus-sponsored events. I also happened to have a few classes with undergrads and enjoyed conversation over coffee and lunch. Additionally, I contacted different professors, faculty, and administrators who I thought would be interesting to get to know and asked them out for coffee.
- Sometimes you will feel overwhelmed by the amount of readings, assignments, and papers you have to do. During my first semester, my professors assigned about 500-700 pages of readings each week. Remember to take a deep breath and prioritize your to-do items. Eventually you’ll develop tactics to manage your assignments.
- There are a lot of free events, lectures, activities, and food giveaways on campus. I discovered this fairly quickly upon arrival, but think it is important to share. Notre Dame brings in amazing speakers, ranging from Heads of State to activists. While you may be tempted to skip out on certain events because you have a lot of work, consider attending some of these each year. It is also a great way to meet other people and take a break from work.
- There are a lot of wonderful resources on campus-from the Rec Sports fitness facilities to the Hesburgh Library and the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures (CSLC). Take advantage of the resources they offer, from kickboxing class and Kung Fu, to foreign language support.
- Notre Dame offers a variety of funding opportunities for research and presenting at conferences. Although MA students are not eligible for the same opportunities as Ph.D. students, I was able to secure funding to present at conferences in Italy and Spain. Consider looking at the Graduate School, Nanovic Institute, Institute for Scholarship and Liberal Studies (ISLA), and your home department.
- While academics are an important part of your grad school experience, don’t forget to enjoy your time on campus. Because Notre Dame’s academic programs are rigorous, it’s easy to focus all of your attention on maintaining a high GPA. While there is nothing wrong with striving for academic excellence, remember to keep things in perspective. You will develop life-long friends, be mentored by amazing faculty, and get to spend several years at one of the foremost universities in the nation. Remember to enjoy the sun after all the snow has finally fallen, meet new friends, and grow as a person.
Enjoy your time learning, growing, and experiencing all the wonderful opportunities Notre Dame offers.