First thoughts

How should I approach the task?

“This sounds a bit odd, but I never got the impression that writing up the thesis was the primary objective of doing my PhD. I got the impression that the idea was to do experiments and get the results out in presentations and papers, and the thesis would happen by itself. The thesis wasn’t my focus. Nowadays, as a professional writer rather than as a scientist, my whole focus is on what I’m writing. Now, when I get a writing brief, I immediately think about how the final piece is going to look.”

“If I had my way I’d abolish terms like PhD student, research student and postgraduate student. I’d call every person working on a PhD a writer. That’s what the job is – it’s writing a thesis in the time allocated.”

“I think postgraduates would benefit more from 25 practical classes – how to manage your time, how to organise your thinking, how to write, how to edit, how to get feedback, which resources to use, how to organise a support group, etc – rather than yet another academic course.”

“I think PhD students should realise that they need to develop as writers as well as scientists or social scientists or whatever. But there are as many ways to write as there are writers.”

“At the end of the day you’ve got to figure out your own way of working but to have ideas and ways that other people have done it is very useful.”

“I’ve never seen that much of a difference between writing a book as an adult and what I used to do as a student, which was write essays. In a way a book is just an awful lot of essays – an essay a day or whatever. Obviously the structure is different to an essay, but the basic mechanism – research your subject, take notes and construct the notes into some form of intelligible consecutive prose – is essentially the same whether it is a 2,500-word essay or a 250,000-word book. I don’t feel there’s a great mystique about writing nonfiction.”

“Writing has an apprenticeship like a stonemason’s. You need to do it for some time before you can start thinking about it. It’s experiential learning. You need to try it and then read about it.”

“Writing can be taught, but only to yourself.”