Dissertation Help: How to Get Over Writer’s Block

Oftentimes doctoral students come to me with questions about how to maintain consistent motivation with their doctoral writing working on their dissertations or thesis. Writers block happens to most students somewhere along the journey. This article is one of a series offering dissertation help to doctoral students faced with the challenges of graduate work and it focuses on the frequently asked question, “How do I get over writer’s block?”There are two times when students work bogs down: when starting a new section, and during the writing process itself, each is discussed here.

Blocks Faced When Starting a New Section

Like a blank piece of paper to the artist, the first words in any new section may be the hardest. It’s easy enough to say, “Just get started, ” but there is more to it than that. Everyone wants to write with some security that what they are writing is correct and so natural insecurities arise. Just as the house needs a firm foundation, your dissertation will be much easier to write if you have a firm list of topics and subtopics in your table of contents, and to guide the writing in each section. Many times when going through a defense of proposal I find that the underlying structure of the chapters is weak, and therefore the student struggled to get all the necessary material in each section. Your university Dissertation Online may or may not give you a strong set of headings. I have written other articles about the necessity of pulling down several finished dissertations, and comparing their layout and headings to that of the outline given to you by your university. While university headings must be included, writers who believe that other additional things will help guide their work progress in a logical manner can, of course, add to those beginnings. There is no one set way to write a dissertation across all universities. The good thing is that you, as a peer, and writer, chart your own course.

This leads me to the second thing that will help you start a new section, and it is a change in internal rather than external perspective. All the way through school you play the game in the role of a student. The doctoral dissertation process requires that you step out of that role in into the role of a peer. This rite of passage is at the heart of the changes you will experience doing your own research, nevertheless even before your proposal is expected, it is useful if you take on the mantle of your professional life when you write, rather than consistently asking an outsider external force what they want in that section. The differences are both subtle and profound. A professional looks at a set of requirements and asks how can I use these to the best show off MY purpose? To the extent that you can take on this powerful perspective, writers block will go away more quickly.

Blocks Faced During Writing

Blocks faced during the writing process are frequently caused by internal insecurities, which, like all insecurities are sometimes valid and sometimes not. Start by asking which of these is true. Do you understand all the information you should know in order to write the section on which you are blocked? In other articles I have discussed the need for you to have several models dissertations always at hand. First, read through this section that you are currently worried about in each of your model dissertations. Second, outline the information you have on your topic that would be appropriate for the section you are working on. Third, if you intuitively feel that some of your information is weak, go to your library and find other resources to fill in the gaps. You can do this, it’s just a matter of learning what you don’t know.

If it turns out that your writer’s block is due to natural but unfounded insecurity, that you do in fact understand the required material for this section you face, then what you need to address is your insecurity. I personally find it less helpful to ask “why am I feeling insecure?” than to use guided imagery or neurolinguistic programming to help me get past it. To use guided imagery, you sit back in a comfortable chair and imagine yourself walking up a steep hill. You find in your way are two or three impossible barriers. Have fun with it, imagine in your mind how you blow up those barriers, climb over them with a ladder, etc. whatever feels good. And as you have conquered all the barriers in your internal world, remind yourself as you open your eyes that you have all the capability you need to conquer the barriers in your external world, especially the writer’s block you face. Let yourself feel the strength and power within you to move past the barriers you face.

Neurolinguistic programming reminds us that when we feel small our bodies take on that insecurity, even to the point of slowing down our metabolism. Several things help us take on the physiology of power rather than of insecurity: running in place, doing jumping jacks, bringing your shoulders back, standing up straight, and with a powerful voice shouting, “I CAN DO THIS!” The energy received in physical activity and positive thought will be useful in propelling you past your blocks.

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