How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)

Recently I Tweeted a link to an article called “How to write 1000 words a day for your blog” which I thought had some good productivity tips for thesis writers. @webnemesis wrote back: ” would like to see someone write a blog post on how to write 1000 words of substance for yr dissertation every day”. Of course I answered: “Challenge? Accepted!”

When I was nearing the end of my PhD, I added up the number of words I had to write and divided them by the number of days of study leave I had left. Then I freaked out and had to have a little lie down. According to my calculations I had to write 60,000 words in 3 months.

After a  cup of tea (with maybe just a whiff of scotch in it) I contemplated this problem and made a PLAN, which was cobbled together from all the advice books on writing I used in my workshops with doctoral students. A case of eating my own cooking if you will.  This PLAN worked for me and I share it with you here.

The PLAN works best closer to completion, when you have absorbed a lot of information about your topic and have thought about it for awhile. The basic premise is: “there is no such thing as writing, only rewriting” and that half the struggle of a thesis is to get stuff out of your head and onto the page in order to start the rewriting process.

Step one: spend less time at your desk

Now close that Facebook window and listen to Auntie Thesis Whisperer for a moment. The secret to writing at least 1000 words a day is to give yourself a limited time frame in which to do it.

What’s that I hear you say? “Are you crazy Inger??”.

Well, as I’ve said before, just because Mr or Ms Bottom is paying a trip to Chair Town it does not always follow that productive work is being done. If you give yourself the whole day to write, you will spend the whole day writing and, in the process, drive yourself bat shit crazy.

One of my supervisors once said “Doing a thesis is like mucking out a stable”. His point was that you have to tackle it one wheel barrow load of shit at a time – if you stay in the stable too long, the stink will kill you. So dedicate less than a quarter of the day to making some new text and then take a break and return  later to clean it up. This sounds counter intuitive, but trust me – it works.

Step Two: remember the two hour rule

I think most people only have about two really good, creative writing hours in a day – two hours in which new ‘substantive’ ideas will make their way onto the page. Most of us are in the best frame of mind for this after breakfast and before lunch – whatever time of the day that happens to be for you. So writing new stuff should be almost the first thing you do when you sit down to your desk. Personally I find it hard to resist the siren call of the email, but if I am on deadline I do an emergency scan then close it until lunch time.

Step Four: start in the middle

When I am on deadline and need to generate words I don’t even attempt to write introductions, conclusions or important transitions. As Howard Becker in his excellent “Writing for Social Scientists” said: “How can I introduce it if I haven’t written it yet?”.This attitude is echoed in “Helping Doctoral Students to Write” , where Kamler and Thomson recommend that thesis writers think about their work in terms of ‘chunks’ rather than chapters.

A chunk can be anything up to two pages long – the text between each subheading if you like. No doubt you have some scrappy notes which you can transcribe or cut into a new file as a ‘seed’. Once you have planted the seed, just start adding on words around and over it – this builds a chunk. Don’t worry about where it fits yet – that’s a rewriting problem.

Step Four: Write as fast as you can, not as well as you can

This advice also comes from Becker, who points out that thinking happens during writing. The surest way to slow the process is to worry too much about whether your thinking is any good.So give yourself permission to write badly. If you can’t think of a word use another/equivalent/filler words: don’t slow down and start to think too much.

Do this ‘free writing’ in bursts of about 10 to 15 minutes. When you need a rest, review and fiddle with the text – maybe plant a new seed – then move on to another burst. It’s likely you will produce more than 1000 words if you do this for two hours – in fact I usually did around 3000. It’s grueling and bad for your back and shoulders, which is why the two hour time limit is important.

Step Five: leave it to rest… then re-write

Because you are writing without judgment, most of the words you generate in step four will be crap. Carving off the excess crap in the editing process will reveal the 1000 words of beautiful substantive text you are after. But take a break  before you attempt this, or you wont have the necessary perspective. Go and have a coffee with a friend, walk the dog, watch some TV – whatever takes you away from your desk for a couple of hours. Then come back – maybe after dinner – and start sifting through, massaging and editing.

Be strategic about this editing – some parts will be easier than others. But do try to pull some ‘finished words’ – even if it’s only a paragraph – back into your draft each day. This gives you a sense of achievement which is important for morale.

So that’s how I wrote 60,000 words in three months. When I present this method in seminars it invariably horrifies those people who like to write line by perfect line. I’m sympathetic to the reasons people like to write that way, but it seems to me that they suffer a lot more pain than perhaps they need to. I’d love to hear your views on this and any tricks you have to share.

Related Posts

Reading like  mongrel

How to write a lot

A thesis workout schedule

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209 thoughts on “How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)

  1. lizit says:

    Looks like you might have got your timing on the ball for me on this 🙂

    Agreed with my supervisors today that I should aim on putting a first complete draft together over the next month or two or three. I’ve got the seeds, so looks like I need to start letting them grow.

  2. M-H says:

    I am about to send this to Someone I Know who is struggling with his line-by-perfect-line approach. It is such excellent, pragmatic advice.

    Chunking is what I do too – for the first draft, anyway. It frees me from the need to think about the big picture, which is just too much to think about while you’re trying to get some detail onto the screen..

  3. jasondowns says:

    @Thesiswhisperer you have made my day. I’ve done the same calculations but don’t have the studyleave, so it’s vital to me that the words get out of my head onto the #scrivener cards. The “project target” function in scriv is awesome for motivation. I love it when the bar finally turns green and the little message pops up to tell me that I’ve hit my session target. The trick for me is to Do. It. Every. Day. otherwise knowing that you have to catch up can be a killer.

    Great post!

  4. clamorousvoice says:

    I discovered Thesis Whisperer yesterday. I’m obsessed. I’m going round recommending it to everyone like some sort of born-again cult fanatic. This post might be my favourite so far!

      • MrsH says:

        Hi Inger – I wanted to say thanks and that I am a big fan of Thesis Whisperer too. I hate to sound like a drama queen (moi?) but feel quite isolated, invisible and out of the loop as a full-time remote candidate.
        I not only learn from your posts I feel like I’m not so alone 🙂

      • Yasmine says:

        Thank you so much… I was on the verge of depression as I exactly have the same (3 month) deadline and didn’t write a single word… I’m truly motivated and starting off with new hope!!
        May Allah reward you with all good 🙂

    • Mofidul Shumon Islam (@shumonuwf) says:

      100% agree with you. Sometimes, you have to become a “born-again cult fanatic” to get things done. I have been postponing writing my dissertation to become knowledgeable and become better in writing. But all you gotta do is start writing. Thesis-whisperer energized me.

  5. Kylie says:

    I totally get this way of working. It’s me all over. Particularly the idea of writing down the seeds and then adding bits around them and over them to get chunks. That’s what I’m doing right now. Or was until I took a break to read this post 🙂

  6. R says:

    good god, 60,000 words at the end of your degree, how long was your dissertation?! 😮

    I’m freaking out about 40,000 in 6 months and I’ve done most of my research. However, here’s something that’s improved my productivity – the distraction free text editor. Them white pages can be awfully jarring. I like a clean black screen on which I can spew out inny winny text documents to piece together into chapters.

    You may already have covered this, I haven’t checked your back pages to see if you’ve covered this, but my gosh what a lifesaver. You have no one but yourself to blame if you alt-tab out of it.

      • R says:

        I looked up scrivener based on your endorsement but do not use it – it looks great, but I like the clean black screen on which my neon green words pop up. There are no buttons or widgets or menus to distract me. Also, I don’t use a Mac – that might have been a deciding factor as well.

        No my writing tools of choice are – Q10, OneNote and thin sheets of ruled A4 paper in any colour but white. Maybe after this degree I’ll devote more time to learning TeX so my PhD can be perfectly typeset 🙂

    • R says:

      ah, no I do trust your judgment. I’ve been a purist too long. This is my first time doing a major research thesis and only recently have I accepted that I should make use of helpful software. I’m still clinging to my “you only need a text editor” minimalism as you can tell. I’ll probably submit to needing more complex software in time. I’ll reward myself with Scrivener (or something like it) if, after this degree, my proposal for a PhD is accepted.

  7. Liz Tynan says:

    Inger – another inspired and useful item. I showed one of your earlier pieces on “divorcing your supervisor” to our dean and she absolutely loved it. I loved “reading like a mongrel”. This is all wonderful stuff. I am hoping you will allow me to link your material, from time to time, to our brand new JCU Graduate Research School Facebook page…..
    Liz Tynan
    JCU Graduate Research School

    • ingermewburn says:

      Of course you can link and repost us Liz – we are under the creative commons share alike license, so you can even print it out use it in work you do with students.

      The great post on divorcing your supervisor was written by Dr Sarah-Lousie Quinell from Kings college in London, who has agreed to join us as a ‘supervisor correspondent’. She runs a great blog, which I write for as well: phd2published

      • Liz Tynan says:

        Thanks Inger – your items (and those by contributors) will start appearing on our site soon. I am hoping to begin writing my own pieces on these matters as well, which I would be delighted to pass on to you if you wanted them. My main interests are in academic writing and critical thinking (not to mention my own PhD on Maralinga and the media).

  8. @sauramaia says:

    inger, i really like this kind of thinking.

    i recently (under some advice) changed my approach. phd is a big word, and people will judge my quality as a scientist, and maybe i’m not that good, and WAHH! SCARY!

    instead, the research was done by someone else, and i am writing a report about it. a special kind of report, called a thesis. which is like a journal article, only longer. i’ve written those before, they’re fine! they’re intense, but they’re over quite quickly, and they’re done to format and spec. so i can write hard n fast, clean up later, and make the language fit the science schema. it’s just a report about some research that someone did some time. it’s not about my ego, just about fitting the format.

    ps BLESS scrivener!

  9. djbtak says:

    Some of this comes down to style. I agree with the steps in general, but I think one a) can extend the creative window by not turning on the internet or being interrupted (though it does need to start in the first part of the day); b) can have editing days or writing days, and sometimes generating 3000 words one day and having a net -500 the next is more productive for me than saying “here is the target each day”. Setting targets based on how I’m feeling when I wake up does work though.

    • ingermewburn says:

      Yes – that might be a good variation too. I found I had to set a big target or I just wouldn’t produce enough words. I started with 500, upped it to 1000 and then did 1500 for a bit. The fact that there’s a target is important perhaps, not the number.

      • djbtak says:

        Yeah, I just do wonder about the moral economy of the quantification of words. Sometimes word counts are useful motivators, but for me they’ve never helped me get anywhere (though I do quite like the after-the-fact “I did this much today” bragging to myself 🙂 ). While I work with my own students on the importance of producing words as the material of the thesis, I also know sometimes students write a lot and re-edit (sometimes producing twice as much as the required word count); others write basically once with minor adjustments….getting in touch with one’s own style the key throughout I reckon.

        In any event, these steps are useful for everyone so thanks for sharing.

        • ingermewburn says:

          I agree about style. I suppose that’s what my last paragraph was about. I see ppl write a thesis line by perfect line – and they do it. But I think they suffer a lot more pain than ‘make a mess and clean it up’ types.

  10. barbourians says:

    Writing 1000 works a day makes me think about a book I read to my children called “I’ll teach my dog 100 words”

    Fun story where he goes through all the words he’ll teach his dog and how people will come and say what a fantastic dog he has, and the mayor will proclaim a holiday in his honor and all the praise he will get etc and then ends with …

    .. and everyone will cheer! I’ll teach my dog 100 words – I’ll think I’ll start next year.”

  11. TokenLefty says:

    Once again, Inger, fantastic advice, thanks. Some of these tips I was starting to work out for myself, but it’s great to see them here and to know that I’m on the right track. I’m writing a journal article at the moment where I switch back and forth between data analysis and writing, as I fatigue of one or the other. It works well.

      • TokenLefty says:

        LaTeX poses no issues (except if you were trying to bang out a paper containing lots of formulae, in which case, LaTeX could slow you down). In fact, LaTeX helps with the “get the ideas on paper” style of speed writing, because it de-emphasises the appearance of your document.

  12. cynwit says:

    Love your advice Inger. I am the archetypal “Mrs Bottom takes a trip to Chair town” As a mature age student returning to writing, I have been coming to the uni every day, wasting time doing my emails, getting more articles and updating Endnote (not totally a waste of time I know) attending “how to seminars” and feeling a little lost in this great big academic world.
    I downloaded Scrivener, had a go and think it is great but find learning another bit of software too much at this point. Sorry to sound so woossy but I will now do 1000 words a day, according to your recipe, come rain, hail or blisters on my bum!!.

    • lzh Fang says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, but how did you get rid of this finally? I feel frustrated when I get hoarding anytime and a “software enthusiast”. I was swallowed by all the information, I can’t focus on the truly matters

  13. Melissa Castan says:

    Yes! Ms Bottom sometimes spends too much time in Chair Town! But seriously I often tell students to start a separate document called ‘What I Really Think’, and get started by free writing, getting mad, or writing ‘badly’ – whatever it takes. Because many of us are much better editors than writers, I recommend writing ‘unconstrained’ by format or convention, and then edit that piece. Writing while self editing is an abominable task. And thanks for a great post!

  14. Bilby says:

    I have found that separating the writing and editing has made writing much easier.
    I spend 2 days at uni writing. I then print out the chapter I have been working on to take home. Then for the rest of the week I read and make notes in the hour or so when my son is having his midday nap. When I get into uni on Monday I make all the changes I’ve noted, then start writing again.
    2 months till submission day.

      • Dida says:

        Same here. I have to do my work when my lil one asleep. Hard to juggle, but I have strong determination to get to the fin line 🙂 Hope to be there soooooooooooooooooooon. I can write lots and quickly, but not good at the ‘cleaing up’.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is fantastic Inger thank you. How to fit it in my 80,000 word phd – with a full time job, small children…..I find it difficult to find time to (a) read, (b) write and (c) even get exercise…..I have an ever expanding waist line instead of word count! It’s getting me down…..before I even start at all! Excuse sob story. I feel very lucky to have a job, kids and phd albeit phd on back burner a lot….thanks ….I’m in field work mode which is a busy time too!!

  15. Ivan Pope says:

    Don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but I would recommend getting a little applicaiton called Freedom. What does it do? It locks you out of the internet for an amount of time of your choosing. So, fire it up and set two hours and then you can’t peek at your email or Facebook or anything for those two hours, so you are more likely to write.
    It’s a godsend for people like me! there are Mac and PC versions.

  16. webnemesis says:

    Hi Inger,
    Seems I’m the last one to read the text inspired by my twitter rant, I do have excuse though – last and this week I’m on conferences.

    Thank you so much for reminding all of us what we should be doing and stop for once and for all procrastinating and slacking through the day.
    My co-supervisor always repeats: write, write crap, later edit, write in chunks.
    And two-hours rule! Maybe he read the book you suggested. He told me that two hours per day is perfect for diss.writing, and having full time job and writing can work.

    What I want to know: two hours per day, or 1000/2000 words per day rule applies also to taking notes,, nonsense thoughts that you’ll later edit and edit more?

    Many, many thanks for writing the post! Now I just need to get rid of 100+ browser tabs and crack on it.


  17. Claudia says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog. I’m remotely writing my dissertation (uni is in the US, but live in the UK), and I’m finding it difficult, to say the least. I thought I’d suggest a site that I recently started using: As the title implies, if you join, the goal is to write 750 words a day. The site gives you various badges for completing streaks (such as 10 days in a row, for example) to motivate users. They also have monthly challenges that users can sign up for… I’m still on the fence as to how useful I am finding the site, I tend to do “brain dumps” for the 750 words. The statistics they provide are interesting and make it more fun. I suppose I am doing them (the brain dumps) there instead of in the dissertation… I am one of the people who can’t just “dump” write and then edit…

    I’m going to keep reading here. It might help with the feelings of isolation and general malaise. Thanks!

  18. Annie says:

    If I could write 60,000 words in three months… or 80,000 in 4… I’d have the PhD in the bag. Please tell me this is possible for a rampant perfectionist such as myself??

    • ingermewburn says:

      If you are willing to let go of your perfectionism, and you have enough material it probably is possible. A lot of people need some counselling to get over perfectionism though.

  19. zenali says:

    Excellent advice. I found having a ticket for a flight to my first postdoc enlarged and taped above my desk was hugely motivating. I wrote my thesis in 7 weeks and lived to tell the tale. Just. Submitted the day before the plane took off.

  20. fskh says:

    I tried two pages a day, then 500 words a day but fell off the writing wagon both times. I’ve written about 26000 words (very rough two and a bit draft chapters). I am remotivated. Thanks Inger!!!! I shall revisit this post regularly to motivate myself. There may just be hope for me yet with two young kids and 17months more till submission deadline. 🙂 🙂

  21. Ali says:

    Great article! Two other things I find help are:

    1. After a first edit, printing it out and going to sit somewhere different to read it. Maybe it’s the change of scenery, or maybe it’s that it’s not a screen, but I feel like I can ‘see’ the writing better when it’s in hard copy.

    2. On days when I just don’t have it in me, I try to do something productive that is writing- related: formatting the bibliography, polishing references, making sure my formatting meets whatever guidelines apply, making a table of contents, etc. Not only does this make things feel productive on an ‘off’ day, it saves time at the end when all you want to do is SEND the thing and not worry about those niggly details.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Great article! Seems very reasonable – got a very similar task in hand. Limited time and discipline during that time is key!!! Thank you!!

  23. Kyle Mullan says:

    I’d like to add to this discussion from a novelist’s perspective.

    Rewriting is the main writing ingredient you should be concerned with, if your writing is to be read by anybody but yourself, as it is only after you have left your hack of prose alone for weeks or months that you can be impartial enough to destroy its imperfections.

    And destroy them you must: most of us digress into personal opinions when writing anything subjective, but it’s crucial to keep on topic. Nevertheless, write your opinions down in the first draft and come back to them later; you may laugh at them when you see them surrounded by genuine arguments, interlinked by points and grounded reasoning. On the contrary you may find them valuable; in that case keep them in, but make sure they are relevant to your topic.

    Recently I wrote a novel of 80,000 words in just under one month. I had no other commitments so time was readily available and not pressing. This goes against the time windows the OP argues are effective; I have never tried this approach and I look forward to tackling it during my next novel.

    Rewriting is the toughest and most important part of any writing, as I’m sure most of you will agree, so spend your writing time slamming those ideas onto paper in any format; just make sure that format is recognisable and coherent to the state of mind you employ during your rewrites.

  24. pamela58 says:

    Thank you for this post! I just found your blog and I so appreciate the tips. I tend to have way larger goals than is possible for one writing session. To focus for the next day, I write in all caps the one little point I want to labor on the next time. Tiny morsels. Keeps me from overwhelming myself. To each his own…In the body of my writing, when incorporating data, literature, etc., I will put in ALL CAPS my own thoughts as I go along. When I’m done for the day I have a couple of pages with half in caps, it creates a thought trail that’s easy to pick up on later. Sometimes the caps are reminders to myself to read that article again, refer back to something else, etc. Works for me.

    It’s amazing what deadlines can do for you. I did my written qualifying exams in 6 days, 100,000 words exactly. I never in my life would have dreamed that was possible for myself. But I would attribute much of that success to Inger’s process, too, as mine was similar, just not as refined. A couple of years ago I was that person that had to have perfect sentences before moving on. As a result, my thoughts would get crammed into the trunk of my brain where I sometimes had difficulty retrieving them later. By writing somewhat free-style like she suggests, all the freshness is there, though in raw form.

    I really like reading what everyone’s experiences have been. It helps me to think about what I might or should do differently, or at least try.

  25. Alice says:

    Ahh this is brilliant, thank you. I’m in the process of adapting the way I write as trying to cultivate perfect sentences just isn’t cutting it these days. You give me hope! I’ll definitely be working some of the ideas you suggest in with my existing routine.

  26. Larajingles says:

    Hi, I love your advice.. While writing my masters- since December.. I definitely applied the idea of outbursts and it was great to let it all out – of course re-writing was the hardest part.. well actually not as reaching key resources.. It was so frustrating, I got stuck and last month I had no other choice but turn to to professionals for help… otherwise I would be able to hand in thesis on time which was yesterday.. I got help from Masters writing but I have only used information and I got a feeling that my work was 98 % independent! My presentation is in three weeks time !! Hopefully it will all go well!

  27. Sanne says:

    You know, Stephen King once wrote a whole book in less than two days. So in theory… *whistles innocently while eyeing her Playstation*

  28. Jennifer G says:

    Thank you so much for this! I, too, have got to produce a lot in a very short time, and this is helping me to identify practical steps to make it happen.

  29. Heidi says:

    So this is it. I have 25,000 words of my write up left and only a six week period until completion. I think this is extreme writing….1,000 words a day…..its all about keeping perspective and not panicking….

  30. Cheska says:

    Great article! This helps me to get back to writing my thesis paper. After two weeks, I feel lost and looking for that inspiration to kick-off writing. This article helps me to put time-related fears into perspective and not panick! Thanks-

  31. medievalbex says:

    LOVE this! So helpful!! And I LOVE the Thesis Whisperer – what an amazing blog. SO glad I found you as I’m at the end of my MA, just about to make the jump to PhD – your advice already makes me feel ahead of the game (plus this writing tip works for MA dissertations as well as theses!). This is how I work too, about 2 good hours a day, then reading/researching/dossing the rest of the time. I find this really works for me – if I struggle for too long my mind tends to go into meltdown and I get nothing productive done at all, but I think you’re right, we all sometimes make that mistake of feeling self-righteous for sitting in front of our computers for 8 hours, even when that 8 hours is incredibly unproductive.

  32. josabelle says:

    Great advice. I’ve spent the last month writing ‘Thesis plan’ at the top of a sheet of paper. Spent 15 minutes scribbling eligible gibberish on it, then walking away feeling helpless and destined to fail. I’m going to give this a go and report back on progress. Thanks 🙂

  33. murfomurf says:

    I seem to have arrived at a similar strategy to yours in trying to climb out of the slough of despond & finish a Masters dissertation. You’re very inspiring in showing that things can be done as you clearly are DOCTOR Mewburn! I have a few add-ons to the morning, 2 hours, “just write” philosophy: an oven-timer & bursts of exercise! Since I am a lazy sod & don’t want to die too soon, I supplement my one hour aquarobics per week & a few 45 minute walks with bursts of interval training on a home exercise machine (or in the shower, hehe). Simply this: I set the oven-timer for 50 mins, write furiously then do 5 to 10 minutes of short interval stepping/climbing. It suits me to do 60secs slow then 60 secs flat chat alternating. Then I sit down & write again. When lunch is over [I’m at home all the time so I just have nuts & fruit], I go for 30min bursts then exercise if I want to keep working, but afternoons are not my forte either and I tend to have another burst at about 4.30 or in the evening. It seems to be working for me most days, so I’ll have my masters by Christmas!

  34. natachia says:

    Hi, I must tell you, this is the very first time that I start writing, and I wrote in 2 hours almost 3000 words! And what make me happy, is to read all the steps that make writing easy, and I ve done it exactly like you said. Maybe I was born to be a writer, who knows! I believe my book will be brilliant. Only small problem, where can I find good editor and publisher? I also want this book to be use for a movie 😀

  35. Jo black says:

    I love your 1,000 words a day theory. I have just written a book and its with my editor. I have 5 weeks deadline to have it edited. Already I have calculated 12,000 words a week to check the editing and do my track changes. So I’m going to take your advice and sit down with a cup of tea, with maybe a whiff of scotch in it and then begin. I agree totally with your advice. Firstly Get it down on paper and forget the grammar at this stage. When you go back to sentence structure and editering, your creativity then really flows. Jo black

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  37. medievalisterrant says:

    I know it’s years after this was posted but oh well. THis is all very common sense stuff, and not that different to what I was doing, but somehow having it all listed out in someone else’s words makes it more effective anyway. 😉

    One thing I wonder–has anyone successfully managed to make Scrivener (PC version) handle citations decently? I love the program for fiction writing even though it’s the PhD I actually dl’ed it to deal with–but importing what I already had and dealing with new citations was such a format nightmare I gave up on it, even though the ‘writing in chunks’ totally suits my process. I have many, many OpenOffice files instead, which is not ideal, but manageable at least.

  38. Laura says:

    This is great, although it’s a shame I can’t find a blog specific to humanities PhD theses. I might write one myself after I submit! I have to redraft and edit 80,000 words in one month, which also includes adding in extra research here and there :/

  39. Edie says:

    Excellent suggestions. I don’t have to write a thesis right now (thank goodness), but I will use these tips for my fiction writing.

  40. Gurpreet says:

    Thank you Inger. I am suppose to finish my thesis writing by 1st march 2014 while doing some experimental too and its becoming a night mare. Feeling good after reading your post. Finally you helped me to plan that how many words I have to write and it is 50000 and so it will be about 500 words only in a day and I am feeling confident after reading your post.

  41. Juna says:

    Read this before. This is an evergreen gem. Thanks Inger! Going bat shit crazy juggling new family+work+kids homework/issues+etc schedule. Hope to breakthrough water surface soon and this is a big help! 😛

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  43. Jer says:

    I like your just plow through it, attitude. I can see and believe how you could write like a machine. I bet the editing is a nightmare, but worth the effort. Thanks for sharing this with the world.

  44. Eugene Hennie (@EugeneHennie) says:

    Hey Whisperer,

    Great advice. I write 1,000 words a day and love it sometimes. I would like to add something to the article.

    “Lower your standards and keep writing”. Writers often feel everything they write has to be profound. Not the case. As long as it relates to the topic you can always improve it later. The goal is to brain dump everything.

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  48. Colton says:

    Great article and I may be the weak link here but i have had to write three one thousand word essays in the past week or two while also balancing work and plenty of school. One of the essays is for a Skills USA competition and two more for comp II.and i am sick of writing. oh well, enough pity me back to my essay.

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  50. Jasem says:

    My most challenge is re-order my paragraphs in editing phase. How I can build my pragraphs without change the order of pragraphs ?

  51. Claire Stocks says:

    Reblogged this on Research Staff Blog and commented:
    With the Writing Retreat coming up, I thought this post from The Thesis Whisperer Blog might be timely. While the post is intended for researchers who are writing theses, there are some good tips for those of us who might be struggling to write shorter pieces too.

  52. rocknruins says:

    I don’t know if this blog is still active of what the story is, but just wanted to say thank you all the same!

    A friend put me onto this when we were doing out undergraduate thesis a few years back and it saved my ass then and it’s saving me ass all over again with my masters thesis. Shared this with my classmates even though they all abide by the ‘line by perfect line’ approach and lo and behold, it has now saved their asses!

    So on behalf of everyone I know that has done a thesis since I discovered this, thanks a million 🙂 We all REALLY appreciate it and more than likely owe our degrees to you!

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  54. Abdulaziz Lamlum (@alamlum) says:

    Great stuff, thank you. I’ve realised that sometimes the word count can really piss you off. even if i sit myself down and just finish it I can have the time to fix it without worrying about time. as much as it’s quality over quantity, this helps avoiding the worrying.

  55. oceankeeper says:

    Inger, thanks for this awesome advice and for delivering with such good humour!! The laughter this provoked lifted some of the terror of a very similar realisation I recently had regarding words/days… ugh.

    I have one question though – being in the sciences, I need to reference just about every sentence I write… and hence keep reading papers (and yep, I have not read nearly as much as I should probably have, but instead compiled a good amount of practical on-the-ground insights and even more strong opinions on my topic – ha). So, when would you fit in the paper-reading-for-certain-sections/finding and adding references? During the rewriting stage in (say) the evenings, or in a third phase after rewriting?

  56. ionajohnson1 says:

    Thank you for this great advice. I have to write as much as I can this summer, and I’m going to use your advice. I’m also re-blogging this to Dissertation Meditations

  57. Anonymous says:

    thanks a lot! for fear of writing very bad i am not writing anything many deadlines gone and extensions got….but now will do this way hopefully will work…..between i never give up!I will do it in anyway,

  58. Susan says:

    Great blog post which I will send on to others who are lucky enough to have day times to research and write in a full time PhD program. A blog post on how to write 1000 words when the only time you have is your worst time (i.e. after your day job and the kids are in bed) would be great for me 😉

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  60. Ailidh says:

    I’m at complete loose ends, I pray this approach helps.
    Thank you for sharing, today is day 1 of only 28 days to write 10,000 words – wish me luck!

  61. Kaz says:

    I’m sure like many others here, I googled ‘i’m struggling with my dissertation’ and this blog came up. What you have written in five steps is EXACTLY how I am operating at the moment, hence the struggle…lol. Like someone else on this thread, I am a distance student, so its good to know that although the struggle is real, I am not alone. Thank you for the sound advice. I’m glad I came across before my husband, because I know he would have sent the link to me lol.

  62. Ray Daley says:

    60k in 3 months? You weren’t in any hurry then? I wrote my 1st novel (50k) in 28 days averaging about 2 hrs a day writing time.

    Always leave yourself notes when you finish, so you know where to start from the next day. Future You will be happy.

    I agree with the free writing thing, that worked well for me during the novel. I had days where I thought I’d only write a few hundred words only to hit then pass my daily target of 1667 words.

    Break it down. If you have a set time to write in, and a known amount to reach, divide the one by the other so you know what your daily goal is.

    It’s not difficult to write 50-75K. It sounds like a lot, but if you break it down like I did for the novel. 1667 words a day. That’s less than 2 hours of typing every day. Anyone can commit to that.

    I did it working a full-time job of 10 hrs a day with an extra 2hrs of travel time. I used to look forward to being able to go home and write! It was my reward for a terrible or long or boring day.

    When you sit down to write, write. Don’t go on Facebook or Twitter, don’t go to get a drink. Have a bathroom break before you start & have a drink at the ready near by.

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      Hi Ray – I write novels in my spare time and, in my experience, the writing process is quite different. What you say rings true for that. I’d be interested in hearing what others think

  63. Lily says:

    Hello! Thank you a lot for this article. I am new in academic writing and just finished my first ever dissertation of 12,000 words thanks to this. It got me motivated every time I needed it. Great tips in here.


  64. sarahbabcockblog says:

    The process you lay out makes a lot of sense and reminds me of much advice I have heard from others who have finished their dissertations. I have spent over two years doing research for my dissertation (on a 11th century Chinese Buddhist monk’s literary miscellany). Now I have about three months to write a full draft, get feedback from advisors, and revise accordingly. I have reduced the number of my chapters down to 4 plus an intro and conclusion and I have semi-full drafts of two chapters. Three months is not really enough time to write two chapters, finish the two that are partially done, and write the intro and conclusion, especially based on my slow progress so far. I can only hope it is doable if I can put in place a routine such as the one you suggest. My difficulty is that the 1000+ words I come up with without being critical, written quickly, is almost always unusable. Because I am not stopping to organize, consider the source material, or think about my objective very much, I produce very unorganized, vague, overgeneralized material that I can barely stand to look at, much less revise into something that can be considered a readable draft. It feels like I need another step before the revision you suggest doing after a break. In short, when I write, I either write in a very anal way, editing while I write, constantly referring to my sources, judging my writing, etc., which results in very few words of stifled prose, or else I freewrite on a small topic without restraints, producing tons of complete vague crap. Do you have any advice to help me find a middle way between these two extremes? I am sure any thoughts will be useful. Thank you for your blog!

  65. CSR says:

    I once was writing an email to an academic friend complaining/explaining how I was really struggling with the particular chapter I was writing at the time. One glass of wine and five pages of email later, I realised that in the attempt to explain why it was unwritable, I was actually writing the “unwritable” chapter so I just kept going. The writing had to be revised of course but that was so much easier than the battle to get everything down on paper initially. It made me realise the enormous impact of fear on the writing process.

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  67. Calu says:

    I was looking for (practical) advice to help me improve my process of writing and this is very helpful. I do have the ~ 60,000 words to be written in ~ 3 months and I am stuck.Every time I read the 200 words I can come up with after a whole day of work I am prey of anxiety and panic that I will never make it…then I blame myself for that…stop working…and another day passes. I am determined to end that cycle… I hope your advice works. Thanks!

  68. Abri says:

    I am currently preparing for NaNoWriMo, and I set my word count goal to 30,000 so I have to write about 1,000 words a day. I believe that these tips and advice will help me a lot. Thank you!

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