Tomatoes, timers and two-day papers


I wrote a post a few weeks ago about my frustrations with the academic writing process. Comments from Chris and M-H on that post have had my mind ticking over for the last while on it – that we don’t have to engage in academic writing the way we’re taught to, and that the Pomodoro and Shut Up and Write techniques are about giving you the focus to write freely.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my conceptual frustrations with academic writing still stand. But, because this is my line of work and I do sometimes have to play by the rules, I needed some way to engage in the process without getting in the way of myself. Enter Pomodoro. I downloaded an app and gave myself 25 minutes to give it a shot – 25 minutes to do nothing but write. No referencing, no stopping to check that a source validated what I was saying, no making sure I had a citation for everything I wanted to say. I didn’t look anything up at all. In short, I composed.

After 25 minutes I had 700 words. So I did it again. A few pomodoros later I’d written 2700 words in a day, which is somewhat unheard of for me. Not a single word of it was a citation or quote. Call me obtuse but the idea that I could just write whatever the hell I wanted was somewhat of a relevation. Obviously one needs to go back and make edits and add citations, but ignoring them completely in the first instance made such a difference to my ability to write. After another session this morning I effectively had the bulk of a paper written, in two days (after editing & referencing it won’t be a two-day paper but the alliteration worked nicely in the title and you get the idea).

Ultimately it’s not about the pomodoro itself – I don’t think it particularly matters that I do things in 25-minute increments with 5-minute breaks. What it has been is a catalyst for my thinking. I have the terrible (or excellent, depending on your viewpoint; I tend to the latter) habit normally of being very good at the ‘ideas and action’ part of research, but when it comes to writing I get so frustrated by the idea that I can’t write what I want in whatever form I want and actual people won’t read the end result anyway that I end up giving up in disgust and not writing anything at all. The stupid red tomato timer has at least highlighted a way out of that for me. It’s not a solution to the endemic problem of academic writing at large, but it’s at least a way to let my Trojan horse keep on rolling.

And yes, I’m writing this on a pomodoro now. 3 minutes to go.

NB: It appears that I have gotten myself into trouble now. After tweeting about starting to do pomodoros, @catspyjamasnz ‘helpfully’ decided August would be pomodoro-a-day month and now I can’t wriggle out of it. Sigh…

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