Researching and writing a doctoral dissertation is often a long and lonely process. It can take anywhere from two or three years to what seems forever. Unless you’re a newly-minted graduate student with a few teaching duties and a scholarship that allows you to spend most of your time on your scholarly work, writing your dissertation must be shared with family, employment and/or a myriad of other obligations. After a while, the pressures of dealing with your dissertation – in addition to everything else – may make you feel you feel stuck and unable to move forward.
And so you reach out to your doctoral dissertation advisor. If your mentor is engaged and responsive, then that can be of immeasurable help. But still, when you face that pile of resources and the blank screen every day, you need to motivate yourself on a daily basis. What can you do to get the project on track?
Location, Location, Location! As any successful small business owner will tell you, no matter how good or desirable their product, location will have a huge impact on their success. A delectable restaurant or shop on the wrong street outside the flow of traffic in an obscure location will usually fail. Visual artists generally require a studio that provides them with sufficient space/light and musicians depend on an acoustically decent space in which they can practice without interruption. As far as writers are concerned, Hemingway and Roth had their dedicated writing rooms, J.K. Rowling wrote endlessly in her favourite local cafe and Karl Marx produced his best work in the British Museum reading room.
If you are endlessly stuck writing your dissertation then perhaps your writing space is part of the problem. If you’re lucky, you may have an assigned office of your own in which to work. Look carefully at how that space is organized and designed: Are the desk and chair combo functional and ergonomic? Is the room lit effectively? Avoid harsh overhead lights – use natural and task lighting as much as possible. Can you purge clutter and organize your resources in a way that contributes to a sense of calm and order in the room? Is it time to spend some time refreshing the space with a new paint colour? Not that I am encouraging a major procrastination cycle by going on a redecorating deep-dive, but a couple of hours could produce fabulous results!
For a greater sense of the impact of physical space on the imagination, check out this Princeton review of Diane’s Fuss’ biography: “The Sense of the Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms that Shaped Them”.
With the pandemic beginning to lift, perhaps you can now get out and find additional spaces to work. If you need a jolt of inspiration, a change of environment – even for an afternoon – can help enormously. In fact, some students find that shifting spaces regularly helps to keep things fresh and their dissertation moving forward. Check out that new local coffee shop, head to the park for an afternoon of writing outside, inquire about whether the local library has reopened. You may be surprised at the positive effect a change of scene can have on your dissertation – and your frame of mind!