Essential Writing Aids

Well, November has come and gone and I managed to reach my target of writing 20k words in a month. Then December happened and the inevitable Christmas/New Year productivity slump. I’ve been getting back into the swing of things this week and in honour of that, and in the spirit of looking forward into what is officially The Final Year of thesis writing for me, I thought that a post on those things that I cannot write without. Not so much the books and the plans, the citation guides and the academic blogs that support and shape the content of the thesis. I mean the aids in the actual writing process that make it a little more enjoyable and that, from time to time, stave of the fears and insecurities that will plague any long-term writing project like a thesis.

  1. Sounds

While some people can only work in complete silence, I need sounds to be able to write. Paradoxically, I tend to tune them out once I really get going. This means that I have a fairly specific set of requirements when it comes to what goes on when I’m working. I cycle between a few different options:

  • Music that I’ know all the words too – any music that I could sing along with the majority of the lyrics to, for when I’m in deep writing mode and can easily loose my train of thought. This allows me to tune out when I’m focused on writing and tune back in when I’m taking a momentary pause. I usually play albums on CD or from my iPod in my hi-fi speaker dock.
  • News  – a television news loop, like BBC News, is good because we are already accustomed to tuning out the voices of other people when we need to; loud people on phones, discussion groups in the library, people’s conversations when we’re walking down the street. It also gives you a little “wake up” call periodically when they repeat the headlines on the hour. Which leads nicely into the next option…
  • Classic FM – no lyrics to worry about as well as the handy “wake up”  all of the news on the hour. The downside to this is that, being a commercial radio station, you get interrupted by adverts on occasion. For some reason I find these much harder to tune out.
  • BlinkBox – I initially used we7, but this was bought over by the Tesco owned BlinkBox Music. Despite Tesco’s involvement, it has remained a very good on demand online streaming service. An alternative to DAB and online radio stations, it works a bit like Pandora in the US. You can either choose and artist or genre and BlinkBox will play a station of similar artists/styles or you can choose from their pre-programme stations by things like mood or activity. I’m writing this post to their ‘Energy Boost’ station, but there are loads to choose from. Only the occasional add to listen through, and because they don’t mess around with volume suppression it doesn’t get louder during the adverts.
  • Fire App for Apple TV – we were very lucky to get Apple TV as a wedding present, and I sometimes use the Fire App streamed through this when music is too much. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube that do exactly the same thing for when I’m not in the house.
Temporary writing cave set up at my parents'
Temporary writing cave set up at my parents’

2. Tea – not always the caffeinated kind, but I like it strong and often. Iced only in the height of summer, but hot the rest of the year. This is related to…

Macbeth mug from the gift shop at Shakespeare’s Globe

3. Mug du jour – alter depending on mood. A good variety of styles is essential, as is a variation in size and shape.

4. Glasses – switching from contacts to glasses can sometimes be a Godsend. Not only does this stop my eyes from getting tired staring at the computer screen thanks to the anti-glare coating, it also helps my concentration. Odd as it is having my glasses on = serious business. Contacts are for play, glasses are for work. (Just me? Ok…)

5. Writing cape – also known as my black, witchy looking poncho. Just as cosy as a hoddie, but I don’t have to worry about sleaves getting in the way. Warning: do not leave the house wearing it. It is for writing only. No-one else needs to see that.

November image for last year’s calendar. © Edward Monkton

6. Leaving the house – remember to get out on occasion. Go see friends, walk around the park, return books to the library and get new ones, even just go to the supermarket rather than booking a delivery. Reminding yourself that there is a world outside your thesis and that it is waiting on you does two things. It gives your brain some breathing space and it motivates you to keep going so that you can finish your PhD and get back out there.

So, over to you. Do you have an essential writing aids that you can’t work without?

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