How to Write More and Enjoy It

For those that don’t know, November is NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). Thousands of people will be picking up their pens to write that book they have been planning for years. Maybe you are thinking about starting that first novel or perhaps just want to write more words, more often for your blog or university/school work. This post will breakdown a few tips and tricks that I have learnt whilst doing my PhD.

For the past two years, I have been writing about 10,000 words every six to eight weeks for my PhD supervisions. It can be pretty intense and when I had just started the PhD, I was often rushing to get things done, staying up late, and getting up far too early to meet deadlines. Over time, I have got better at writing by simply learning what makes my writing sessions more productive and less stressful. For more on productivity, check out this post.

Academic Year and You

1. Know what you want to write

I’m sure everyone’s English teacher at school advised you to plan your essay before you start. It might be boring advice, but it is excellent advice. If you don’t know what you want to talk about or the angle that you plan to take with your blog post/essay/whatever, it is going to be much much harder to write. Personally, I find that my ideas develop as I write – it is part of my process – so I’m not suggesting that you should have every sentence thought out. Just take some time to think ahead and you’ll save yourself hours in the long run.

2. Just write something, anything!

When you are trying to write, few things are more terrifying than the blank page. Although I think planning can really help, at some point you have to start writing so just go for it. Don’t overthink things and just get some words out! We are all guilty of trying to craft the perfect sentence or paragraph, of agonising over every word, of deleting and rewriting over and over again. I try not to re-read whilst I’m writing; instead, I just get as many words out as I can and then edit later. For the first draft, any words are better than no words.

3. Set (sensible) goals

When I have a deadline approaching, everything (even cleaning the bathroom or taking out the bins) seems more appealing than writing. I have to persuade myself to write, and I do this by setting myself a goal for the day. It is important to make the goal acheivable but not super easy: I tend to go for 500 words as I can usually manage it even when inspiration isn’t flowing. Then tell someone your goal, like a friend, colleague, or partner. You’ll then have someone to hold you accountable and to celebrate with! The prospect of writing seems so much less daunting when you know exactly what you want to acheive that day.

For some people writing comes naturally but for others (myself included!), it can take time to learn what makes you a more productive and happier writer. These three tips have improved how I work and made writing a much more pleasent process.

Happy writing!

Library shot PhD

Advertisements

How to Survive Freshers’ Week

8 years ago today I moved to university and my life changed forever.

That sounds pretty dramatic and it wasn’t a change that happened over night but going to university was a big deal for me and my family.

I loved university. All of it. The best bit was making loads of new friends and gaining independence and all of that started in Freshers’ Week. Freshers is a scary time: you have moved somewhere new, you might be away from your family for the first time, or anxious about making new friends. But it was, for me at least, a wonderful experience.

Lisabeth westwood freshers
This was just as I was moving into my room. It was messy already!

Moving day isn’t just big for you

My parents drove me down to university for the first time. It was a four hour drive and then they helped me unload and move into my student halls. What I really regret though is getting them to leave as soon as I was settled in. I’m sure it upset my mother, even if she has never mentioned it. We all knew I did it because I was excited to start my new life but I didn’t think about how my parents were feeling with their youngest child leaving home. So I’m not saying make your family stay with you all day long but don’t forget that their lives will be changing too.

Introduce Yourself

I was so nervous to meet my new flatmates. I had found most of them on FaceBook beforehand so I knew their names and their degree subjects but that didn’t make it less scary to say hello. Everyone feels that way too! So just bite the bullet and knock on a few doors. My mum had brought me some biscuits and a bottle of wine so I had something to share with people and make it less awkward, and it really worked! I lived in a flat with 8 people and some of them have turned out to be – so far – lifelong friends.

That First Night Out

The first day (and Freshers more generally) can be overwhelming with all the new people and events going on. I decided to throw myself into it and my flatmates immediately decided to join a pub crawl that was happening that evening. Whether you drink or not, these events can be a good opportunity to meet people and explore the campus or town. I did make the mistake of not eating enough beforehand and then drinking so maybe stop by the supermarket on the way to university to pick up some pizzas or easy dinner bits.

Freshers’ Fair

Societies can be a great way to join groups and find new interests. That being said, I never actually joined any! But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go to the Freshers’ Fair and sign up to every mailing list going. I was still receiving emails from the Music Society when I graduated having never gone to a single event! Also, the fair can be a good place to score free pens, food, and vouchers.

Above All, Enjoy Yourself!

However you choose to spend your time; whether you already know people from school going or know no one; whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in the middle (that’s me!) have a wonderful time. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing and be yourself. My undergraduate degree was a great time in my life!

Lisabeth Westwood graduation freshers
Graduation!

Making Long Distance Work

Long distance relationships: we’ve all tried one at some point. For some people the distance doesn’t seem to matter but for others it all just ends in tears.

On a July evening in 2015 I met my boyfriend after work and told him the news that I had just been awarded a scholarship for my PhD at the University of Leeds. We hadn’t been together all that long but we decided to try to make it work regardless of the distance, and, a year later, here we are. Still together, still happy, but there are moments when it all seems a little too much.

My first go at a long distance relationship was when I was 18. Me and my then boyfriend were at different universities across England and it was very short-lived. A similar thing happened a couple of years later when I moved to France. But now the long distance is working and I thought I’d share my experiences.

Lisabeth Westwood

It IS going to be difficult

Sometimes it is wonderful but there will be hard points, and it is important to try to work through them. I am an emotional person and am prone to tears, and this means that whenever I have a problem with work or I’m just sad then the boyfriend gets a teary phone call. This usually ends with me telling him that I wish he was here in person. This is not a good move: it doesn’t make me any happier and I’m sure it frustrates the boyfriend no end. So I’m trying to stop bringing the long distance into every little problem.

Communication, Communication, Communication

I’m lucky. There are only 200 miles between us and we don’t have to worry about time zones, flights, and huge lengths of time apart. But keeping chatting and texting every day helps the distance to not feel so big.

Every couple needs to work out the communication situation themselves as there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. In my relationship, we send good morning messages, chat occasionally throughout the day, send the odd voice message on Whats App (sometimes I sing, I don’t think my dulcet tones are appreciated!), and have a call in the evening. This could be too much for some couples so just feel your way with it to find a balance between keeping the communication open and being glued to your phone.

Plan Trips and Events

Having something to look forward to together is so important. We tend to go on little weekends away throughout the year and it allows us to get all excited, spend lots of time planning and chatting about our trip, and then spend that little bit longer together than usual. Sometimes money is a bit tight so, ahead of a weekend together, we’ll browse the internet to find exhibitions, gigs, and films to go too. Having sometime to plan can give you something to focus on other than distance when things get tough.

IMG_4734

Think Positive

One day the reason for the distance will be over. Although that moment is three years away for me, I’m sure we’ll be fine! If you trust in your connection and keep your relationship fun then why shouldn’t it end well? That is what I say to myself and it helps when I’m feeling a little lonely. I hope that all of the other couples doing long distance feel the same.

Are you in a long distance relationship?

Have you got any tips to share on making long distance work?

 

Turning 26

I recently had my 26th birthday and every birthday makes me think about the previous year and everything that is to come.

26 felt like a big number as it is moving very steadily into the late-20s and that seems very grown-up. The land of mortgages, serious relationships, kids, savings accounts, and gardening gloves. I currently only have one of these sorted – the boyfriend – and I have pretty much zero desire for the rest. Realising this has been a good thing! I feel less concerned that my life doesn’t look like that of all of my school friends or what my Grandmother expects.

Things I have learnt in the past year:

1. It IS okay not to be doing the aforementioned ‘grown up’ things IF you don’t want to or aren’t ready for them. Other people’s expectations are just that, theirs.

2. Always get a birthday cake. Even if it is a little one. Birthdays without a cake aren’t the same.

3.Diet and fitness are – annoying – pretty damn important as you get older. My metabolism is not what it was 10 years ago and I like to be able to run for the bus without collapsing. So, more bulgur wheat and yoga for me!

4. Making a big life change can be liberating but pretty damn scary. When I got my PhD funding and I made the decision to leave my nice, safe office job and great flat in a beautiful city for the unknown – I was terrified. However, it has been the best choice I’ve ever made.

5. Being in a long distance relationship sucks but it can work. It is also very hard  to keep both parties happy and secure in the longevity of the relationship. Yet, I don’t regret starting the PhD and moving away.IMG_3720

6. Have something in your life that isn’t work. I used to work all day then come home for the typical evening of making dinner for myself and settling down to watch TV. Every night. So that is one of the reasons I started this blog: it gives me another focus that both isn’t work but is productive. It makes evenings and weekends feel more useful and I enjoy it.

7. Doing a PhD requires strict budgeting and that is rubbish! One way I’ve managed to keep to it is meal planning. It stops me hitting up Just Eat or eating a huge bowl full of pasta covered in cheese. I just take like 5 minutes a week to think about my lunch and dinners and it saves me a ton of money.

8. I was never really a pet person until my parents rescued a dog in January. I didn’t realise you could love something as much as I do that silly, old dog. I’m not shopping for dog collars and treats for my own dog just yet – they are a bit too much of a committment but give it 10 years.Lisabeth Westwood

9. Gilmore Girls is always great. Especially when you binge-watch 10 episodes in a day.

10. Being happy comes in many forms! What makes my boyfriend happy is hearing the wind blowing through trees in the countryside. While I think that is nice it doesn’t exactly set my world alight but I love drinking a cup of coffee watching YouTube or playing fetch with my parent’s dog. Lisabeth Westwood

How To Be More Productive

Let’s start off with a caveat: I don’t run a country, have any dependents or 10 million hobbies. Nevertheless I would consider myself to be pretty organised but being organised doesn’t automatically make you productive!

I’m in my first year of a PhD programme and my upgrade is coming up soon. The upgrade is basically where a couple of academics meet you to determine if you, and your project, are good enough to carry on to the second year. As you can imagine, there is a lot of work to do to get prepared! So here are the things I have been doing to boost my productivity:

WeekPlan @weekplan

weekplan
An example from the WeekPlan website

This app is so good and, best of all, it is free! It is a weekly planner that is task, rather than time, orientated. It is really easy to use and it forces you to plan your time properly and then to focus on the task at hand. There are also boxes called Roles (be it Mother, Sister, Friend, Accountant, whatever) that you can allocate tasks to but these aren’t associated with any particular day. All in all, so useful and it makes a very satisfying noise when you tick something as complete.

Have Other Commitments

Lisabeth Westwood productive tips

 

Being busier makes you be more productive: you are less likely to get everything done because you don’t have a time constraint. Whether your commitments are walking your Grandma’s dog, going to Pilates, or meeting up with a friend for a cinema date every Wednesday, having other stuff on forces you to get shit done. This blog has been so helpful for that too as not only do I love writing it but it means I have to organise my time better.

Be Accountable

FullSizeRender (1)
This is my actual to do list from last week! The boyfriend’s handwriting, not mine.

I’m not sure about you but unless I tell someone else about what I want to achieve then I’m more likely to procrastinate. By telling people your goals (be it daily or weekly), they can check up on how things are going and this can be a good way to keep productivity up. Last week me and my boyfriend both worked from home so in order to stop the inevitable chat breaks we both decided on four things that we wanted to achieve that day. We then held each other accountable and the day was super productive meaning that we could finish early and go for a drink!

Learn What Environments Suit You

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpg

Some people need silence to be productive, others prefer to blast ABBA out of their speakers and singalong whilst working. Also, the same place won’t work for everyone, every task, or every mood. Find what works for you and try that. For example, the library does not work for me as I get distracted and my productivity dips; I prefer to work with other people so we can chat when we want to but then get focussed.