How To Overcome Writer’s Block when Writing a Thesis or Dissertation
The only true cure for writer’s block is writing, as unhelpful or even frustrating as that thought may seem when the flood of ideas you want to communicate becomes lodged in an invisible but insurmountable dam every time you try to formulate your thoughts and research processes as sentences and paragraphs. Unfortunately, the search for perfection – the perfect words in the perfect order to achieve the perfect form of expression – is often responsible for writer’s block, and the more formal and important the writing happens to be, the more difficult it is to let ideas flow in written text. For students who are working on a thesis or dissertation, that document is usually the most formal and significant piece of writing they have yet tackled, a situation that can increase the chances of experiencing writer’s block even if you have never encountered this problem before.
Fortunately, you need not and should not think of everything you have to write for your thesis or dissertation in such formal terms. In fact, some of the text you produce will never be seen by anybody but yourself, a reassuring thought that tends to render that writing less daunting. Jotting down your ideas about your research is a perfect example, and you can freely develop those ideas to see how they work out in text without the need to polish, prove, perfect or share them. Adding your own critical and reflective thoughts as you take notes from the sources you plan to use to support your research also provides an opportunity for spontaneous writing, and so does recording early analyses of the results of any tests or trials you conduct as part of your research. The kind and amount of preliminary writing you do for your thesis or dissertation will depend on the nature of your study, of course, but whatever you choose to write down will likely prove intellectually useful when you begin to draft your thesis or dissertation. It will also help prevent writer’s block in the future by providing you with some text to begin with when you tackle the more formal presentation of your research and ideas.
Once you sit down to draft your thesis or dissertation, it can be productive to bring a little of that informal spontaneity to the task. Keep in mind that perfection is rarely attainable in any writing project, and certainly not in a first draft. Some parts of your thesis will certainly prove easier to write than other parts will, and some days your writing will be better than it is on other days, but you can always return to your text and make revisions. Indeed, the feedback of your supervisor and other mentors will often necessitate changes, so a strategy that prioritises the process of writing and sacrifices the ideal of perfection in order to enable the progress of your work can be extremely effective. Such an approach should not encourage you to ignore essential aspects of your writing, but it can stop you from worrying about every little detail at too early a stage and therefore allow you to move ahead with your work.
Remember (without panicking) that worrying about not writing will not solve the problem. It is, in fact, as counterproductive as worrying about not sleeping when suffering from insomnia. Instead, channel your energy into an active process of writing with the recognition that such a process can achieve what may have seemed impossible as you sat with fingers poised waiting for that perfect first sentence to march across the screen.
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