We all have those days when we just can’t bring ourselves to write a word, or when finishing (or even starting) a chapter seems an impossibly difficult task. However, it is essential not to allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the task of writing or to give in to procrastination and apathy. Here are some failsafe methods for moving past writer’s block and getting those words flowing again:
Don’t be so precious about it: Often, perfectionism can be the enemy of productivity. This is not to say that you should relinquish the goal of producing a thesis that is as close to perfect as possible, but it is worth noting that perfection takes time to come to fruition and that a first draft will not be (and should not attempt to be) perfect. Just get it down! You’ll have plenty of time to remove the flaws later.
Make yourself write something—anything! There will be time to fix it later. The most important thing is to move past the fear of the blank page and get going.
Schedule your writing hours: Nearly every successful writer will tell you that they write to a schedule. This is because routine is the enemy of procrastination. Make your thesis writing just another part of your day. This will remove the temptation to avoid it and allow your work to progress.
Go for a walk: If you are really stuck on an idea or just finding it hard to express a point, get out and walk to clear your head, but take a pen or a phone with you. Often, the combination of rhythmic breathing, a change of scenery and light exercise will allow your thoughts to settle and new perspectives to emerge. Just don’t forget them before you return home to your desk!
Change your space: Sometimes just the grind of working in the same way every day can get you down and make it hard to keep working. Take your laptop to a park, a café or the library. Allow yourself variation and enjoyment: it will make the task of writing easier.
Practise freewriting: Freewriting can be a great way to get your language flowing if you are finding it impossible to write even a sentence. Spend two minutes simply writing down whatever comes into your head. You will find the task of formal writing much easier after this. It’s a way of clearing away your extraneous thoughts to allow you to focus on the work ahead.
Have a shower: Everyone knows that the best ideas emerge in the shower. Is it the warm water, or is it simply the fact that in the shower—for once in your day—you do not need to concentrate on anything in particular?
Draw a mind map: Can’t move past a difficult idea? Finding it impossible to express a complex concept? Draw a mind map. Break your topic down to its simplest elements and work out how they connect. Then number each point in the order in which you think it should be expressed.
Read some more: Reading is an excellent way to move past a block because it exposes you to new ideas and can make you see your own work in a different light. If you find yourself unable to write, pick up a book or download an article and get reading!
Talk to yourself: ‘No, I’m not insane, I’m writing a thesis.’ But are the two mutually exclusive? Dialogue is an important way of developing ideas. If you’re the only expert in your field around, don’t be afraid to talk to yourself. The simple process of putting your ideas into spoken words can move you past writer’s block. Try it and see.
Sleep on it: Is it possible you’re just too tired? The morning often brings fresh eyes and renewed vigour.
Re-read what you have already written: Sometimes, you just have to work your way into the writing zone, particularly after a few days off. One of the best ways to do this is to reread your previous work. This will remind you of your academic tone and voice and will refresh your memory as to where you were up to in your work.
Emily Finlay, PhD, AE (IPeD)