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Writer’s Lab: How to stay motivated when writing an entire dissertation

That very beginning of writing your dissertation – chapter 1, the introduction – and then nothing but the flashing cursor in your writing software… This situation is probably the beginning of 99% of all dissertations.

The end is also quite the same for most of us: compiling a list of notations, adding the references if you haven’t used an automatic importing system, and compiling the table of contents.

What happens in between those moments can be a bit messier. You might just sit down and write it all out, or you might come across gaps in your work and spend a few more weeks to figure things out.

Even though you might be able to write your dissertation quickly, chances are still that you will hit a rough patch at some point in the process. If you want to stay motivated when working on such a large project, here are 7 ideas to try out when you need to pick up your motivation again.

1. Reread an important paper

If you want to get your inspiration flowing again, then try to remember which work inspired you in the first place. When you are stuck somewhere, reread an important paper that was essential to your work. Or read a new publication in your field. Remember how we discussed earlier how reading sparks creativity?

2. Edit a previous chapter

Do some work that doesn’t require much of your hard thinking deep working capacities, but that needs to be done to move forward. You can for example edit a chapter that you wrote earlier, and wait until your bad mood drifts away.

3. Think about your propositions

If you need to defend both your dissertation and 10 propositions as in the Netherlands, you might like to take your thoughts and worries away from your dissertation and look for good citations or ideas to use for your propositions.

4. Take some time off

You know yourself best – when you need a break, take some time to recharge and refuel. That doesn’t need to be an entire holiday, but you can simply take an evening off and indulge in some things you love, or you can take a weekend to yourself and try to watch some inspiring documentaries or read some thought-provoking books.

5. Have a discussion with your supervisor

If you’re really stuck and you are doubting the quality of your work, then don’t suffer in silence. Speak up and ask for a meeting with your supervisor to discuss the difficulties that you are facing.

6. Don’t stress over it

Friction and creative blocks are inherent parts of the entire process of creating something – and a 100k word thesis is certainly “something”. So be prepared: you will run into some creative blocks, but that is just fine! That does not mean that something is wrong with you as a PhD candidate.

7. Set boundaries

At incredibly busy times in the lab and with my funding agency, I’ve ran on an 8am to 10pm schedule to get all the measurements done and all the simulations run. For writing, that just doesn’t work (or at least not, to write an entire thesis). Set office hours for yourself, even if you work as a part time PhD. Know when you can work on your dissertation, and make a realistic planning of what you can achieve.

How did you get from the flickering cursor to compiling your table of contents? What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you resolve them?

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This Post Has One Comment
  1. This really helped me stop procrastinating for my thesis. I used to think that having a block meant the end of the world and I ended up not getting anything done by the deadline. Thanks for the tips!

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