Writing routineΒΆ

Tags: phd

Writing, writing, writing. I'm now at 150 pages, probably 170 when I'm finished adding screenshots, a bibliography and so on. That pagecount is starting to get a bit high to my liking, so I won't mind it if my professor scraps some parts.

I thought I'd share two tips/routines that have been helping me:

Cooking timer
Get yourself a cooking timer (kookwekker) and, before you start on something, estimate how long it 'll take. Ok, brainstorming part of a chapter should take 15 minutes; when the clock goes off after 15 minutes I think either "almost done, great", "ouch, I need another 10 minutes" or "thanks for the warning, I've been reading weblogs instead of working". So in every case, you get handy feedback.

Setting a cooking timer also helps in improving your estimation of how long things take. At the moment I'm still grossly underestimating, though it gets better. Perhaps I've got to start using eXtreme Programming's method of estimating: if I was off by a factor of two last time, I'm now going to multiply my estimate with a factor of two right away.

Whiteboard mindmapping
I admit, I'm in love with whiteboards. When we moved into our current house 2.5 years ago, I allocated place for a decent whiteboard. And a pretty big one at that. Oh, the next time you're looking for whiteboard markers, take the RotRing xonox multiboard ones, which don't run dry as most markers do (which irritates me).

Ok, writing. When I need to write part of a chapter, I spend 15 minutes (estimate=15, real=30min) mindmapping the section's contents. When finished, I put numbers next to the main items to indicate the order in which to put them. After that, I sit down behind the computer and start typing. When I've finished a part, I wipe the corresponding area on my whiteboard clean, which gives you both a sense of completion and a visual feedback on the amount of work still to be done.

It surprises me how such an exercise can product some two or three additional pages for my thesis. Just keep this up for enough days and suddenly you've got an extra 50 pages (provided you spend the previous four years obtaining enough knowledge and experience). Having a good prof that drops a few hints here and there ("add this, this and this and it starts to look like something") helps: I use hints like that as mindmapping-input.

Just a quick note: I don't do my mindmapping as elaborate as on the page linked above. I'm just starting in the middle and branch out in a radial pattern to the sides. In one color. The numbering I add at the end is in a different color, though.

I did print that page, however, to see if the more elaborate approach gives me better results. I have four marker colors :-)

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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