Post Academic

Dissertating and writer’s block

Following up on reader SH’s wish list of topics (Thanks, SH!), I’m tackling the issue of how to deal with writer’s block, particularly while you’re dissertating.  It’s kind of a timely topic too, since some of you are dreading dealing with the tangled mess your research has become as the summer progresses.  I’m not going to be able to give you a magic bullet or anything, since I was hardly efficient in finishing my diss and everyone works differently.  But I’ve come up with some tips from recalling some of the pitfalls I encountered, as well as looking around the corner at some logistical things that get obscured by the intellectual project that tends to come first and foremost.

"typewriter typebars" by Mohylek (Creative Commons license)

Know Yourself: Like I said, I don’t have a magic bullet for how to finish the manuscript, because everyone writes differently.  I’m not gonna give you a gimmick that writing 15 minutes a day will yield you X hundreds of pages over X period of months.  It worked for some people I know, but I never tried it and all the time it would take me to convert to that mindset would take a lot longer than 15 minutes a day.  Instead, I was the sort who needed huge blocks of time to go with the flow of my research and writing, which really only the summer could provide.  Some days were not very productive, while some hours more than made up for the lost time.  That’s just the way I worked, and I’m using my own personal, idiosyncratic approach to say that you should do what you need to do.  By now, you know how to write and you know your habits, so don’t change when you’re in the home stretch.

In short, go with what brung ya: If you can pace yourself, that’s great.  If you need to sit in front of the computer all day to get a few good hours, that’s fine, too.  If you need a block of time to crank out as much you can, make room in your schedule.  If you need carrots or sticks or both, do what it takes to fool yourself into writing a little more than you planned to.  If you write best under pressure right at the deadline, why change now when you’ve only got one really, really big paper to finish?

More advice, after the jump…