Hemingway’s Hack & Smiley’s Hot Water

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day.

Ernest Hemingway on writing

Keeping the dissertation on track

There are days when the dissertation writing flows.  You’re excited, intrigued or just plain obsessively detail-oriented and determined to track down that one last obscure reference to round out your brilliant prose…  Yeah, right.  And how about those days when you’ve hit a wall and can’t remember why you chose your research topic in the first place?  That’s when you might consider a Hemingway Hack.

Hemingway reportedly didn’t like to talk about writing: he wrote.  Prolifically, as it turned out.  And his advice, aka the Hemingway Hack, remains timely for dissertation writers.  Simply put, as you get up from one writing session, mentally plan where you’re going to pick up the next time.   Whether the next step is tracking down that obscure reference or transferring your notes on a critical article or writing the very next paragraph in draft form, to ease re-entry have a plan for how you’ll begin writing the next day.

More prosaically, Jane Smiley’s writing blocks land her in hot water. Literally.  In How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors, she confesses “ …when blocked, I have always had recourse to the same remedy – water.  Bath, hot tub, or the shower, it never fails.  I sit, I think.  I am stumped.  I wish the phone would ring.  I sigh.  I go into the kitchen and rummage for something sweet.  …But no – when I sit down in my chair again, still blank.  So I go into the bathroom and turn on the water.  I disrobe.  I step in.  It hot, almost hotter that I can stand for about 10 seconds.  Within moments, I know what to write next.”

So, whether you mentally plan your next writing move or just close the fridge door and head for the shower, know that other (highly successful!) writers struggle and persist.  And hey, if it doesn’t help your dissertation writing, at least you’ll be clean.    AMF


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