Before I started writing my dissertation, I found that freewrites were about the only way I could accomplish anything tangible. I did a lot of reading and a lot of thinking, and the freewrites allowed me to record my thoughts a couple of times a day (on a good day). I did very little re-reading of this writing–but the act of writing helped keep me moving.
Some people are proponents of the “write without letting your pencil leave the page until the timer rings” freewriting method. I got along better when I had a specific topic (a book I’d just read) and simply tried to type quickly until I ran out of steam — usually around ten minutes. I let myself pause instead of making myself write “I don’t know what to write” because I found that if I wrote continuously, a bunch of complaining would seep into the writing that was actually not emotionally helpful to put on paper.
Once I started researching my specific chapters (instead of the general reading I did at first), I stopped needed freewrites so much–I typed notes about my sources (with any additional dissertation thoughts, related or unrelated, in parentheses). And I typed my chapters. But I didn’t need to do the free-form, no-planned-direction type of writing for a least a couple of years.
All the sudden, with a complete draft of my dissertation done, I find myself turning to freewriting again at the advice of my Dissertation Support Group. And I’m reminded that freewrites can be good for getting unstuck any time. At the very least, some writing is happening.
I never want to freewrite–I always want to do the “actual” writing that other people will see as part of the dissertation document. But even at this late stage, sometimes I really don’t see another way to get the project moving.