Lessons I Learnt from the Thesis Bootcamp

“I prefer to write when I’m totally on my own, but it’s worth trying,” one of my classmates said. “And you don’t just go there and write.”

She was right. I can’t simply write about any random thing in a six-hour thesis bootcamp. I picked the Introduction chapter, because it’s fresh (read: totally untouched) and it’s the ‘warrant’ of my research. This warrant also helps navigate the rest of the thesis. It would be great just to come up with an outline of the chapter. I did think about indulging in the analysis chapters, but that would need a lot of referencing of my data back and forth. The bootcamp is just for writing, not for reading references. So I thank my classmate for her advice!

The bootcamp happened on a Friday in the main campus. I met my supervisor for a morning consultation, and I entered a room of classmates I don’t know. It started at 10 a.m. sharp with a quick brainstorming and meditation session. Then we have a few writing slots, with tea breaks and lunch. I went in with an expectation to write a lot, as the Graduation Research School claimed some students can write more than 6000 words in two days. I wasn’t disappointed: I finished the bootcamp with 4500 words, done in only 4.5 hours. 4500 words a day is my personal best so far!

After the bootcamp, I summarised a few points that possibly had contributed to such an exhilarating performance:

1. Don’t think; just write; edit later.

What stops me from writing fast is often the ‘grammar police’ in my mind. This sentence should go to the front. Use another verb. The adjective is not strong enough… “STOP!” I would say to myself. The fear of writing a bad draft always holds me back, but I would tell myself “there is no-one reading this draft except you, and this is a DRAFT. Draft is to be written for editing later.” With this mantra looping in my head, I let the idea flow and keep writing whatever I have. The editing part is being done NOW, when I am writing my chapter up.

2. Write in a distraction-free environment.

Everyone defines ‘distraction’ differently, but anything that makes your focus drift should be taken away. In the bootcamp, no one was allowed to use their cell phones; the internet had to be turned off – the moderator said it was not the time for finding references when writing. If you have to write in the office, you can diminish the chance your colleagues/ classmates would distract you by putting on earphones. I personally do not recommend writing with music on. Most of the time I would drift with the melody or groove. Preferences vary of course; if you really need some ambient noises you can try out an app that reproduces sounds from coffee shops – or simply go to one!

3. Set short writing slots.

With the wifi and cell phone off, I think it already enhances concentration. Then I can make use of such concentration for writing non-stop. I set 25-minute time slots for each session, with a 5-minute break between sessions. There’d be a longer break (15 minutes) after four sessions (2 hours). Short time slots can avoid fatigue and distractions out of the fatigue. I make use of the breaks for a coffee or a face wash to keep myself refreshed. It works on most days, especially when I’m so devoted to writing at this (ABD) stage.

4. Devote a particular time in the day just to write.

This point is relevant to Points 1 to 3. I schedule time slots for writing, turn of the internet and write. As a full-time writer now, I devote most of my time to writing (16 writing slots or 8 hours). But for some of you who wants to blog or write short stories, poems, lyrics, etc. while working in the daytime, it would perhaps be better to start small with 2 slots in the morning and another 2 in the evening. For example, get up one hour earlier to write for an hour, and write for another hour before sleep. Sometimes if I have ideas popping up, I make use of my commuting time to write. Most writing platforms have an app for our smartphones, or simply make notes on your smartphone notepads. Easy-peasy.

5. Reward yourself.

Breaks are essential. I can work for 20 slots a day but it can drive me crazy if I do it every day. When you finish your daily writing target, go for a walk. Grab a coffee. Meet some friends. Have dinner with them. I personally would go for a long walk at weekends. I do this less lately but I still head out for short 30-minute runs or weight training. Doing workouts promotes creativity and makes you smarter. Even if you aren’t a sportive person, try really short exercises at the office or at home such as stretching and push-ups. Knowing when to rest means knowing when to work (hard)!

So much for now, and now it’s over to you. Have you ever joined any writing “bootcamps”? What do you find are the most useful through these writing activities? Please feel free to share!

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