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Writing Your Dissertation

Writing a dissertation can be exciting at first. You can’t keep your hands off of it. You love your ideas and your ideas love you right back. The words flow from your fingertips with an almost unreal sense of ease. Then time passes. Life happens. The initial excitement starts to fade. More time passes. Suddenly, it’s apparent that the muse has left the building. Will she ever return?

Keeping your momentum going throughout the months or years leading to the completion of your dissertation isn’t for the meek at heart. Overall, my coaching clients are a hardy bunch with grit. But even the most tenacious dissertation writers have times when they wonder how to keep the flow going throughout this often tedious and occasionally maddening process.

I could state the obvious and suggest overused solutions like “Write a Little Every Day” or “Put a Reminder on Your Desktop”. But our minds don’t always respond to these ideas over the longer term.

Try these less obvious solutions to keep your writing moving forward.

Read when you can’t write.

Writing is a highly active, often pressure-laden experience whereas the act of reading is generally less demanding. But you’re not slacking off. Reading keeps you engaged with your topic and provides opportunities to make new connections with sections you’ve already written. Try to take notes as you read and ideas arise. These notes then become sentences… and finally paragraphs. Voila! You’re actually writing again! Reading also reduces the feeling of being unproductive, which is often at the root of procrastination and limiting thinking. (Check out this interesting article on the causes of procrastination here!)

If you’re not going to write, speak it instead.

When we continually start and stop our writing project, it’s easy to forget our direction or abandon it altogether. When we jump in again, it can feel foreign. One way to bypass this? Take some time to speak your thoughts out loud instead, with a peer or even alone. Ask yourself: Where did I leave off? What would I like to address next? What section needs some work? Try taping yourself and using a transcription app. You may have some usable chunks of writing you can actually work with!

Use different kinds of daily reminders.

Instead of the typical reminder: “Finish your dissertation!” note on the fridge, think outside the box. Put up a fact or idea from your dissertation that still inspires you. If you’re writing about online learning challenges during Covid-19, hang up facts, questions or pictures specific to your topic where you will see them regularly. This way, your notes aren’t shouting at you, but providing concrete details that unconsciously direct your thinking instead.

If you’ve committed to writing a dissertation, you’re in it for the medium to long haul. So forgive yourself for occasional down periods and recognize that it’s normal for your momentum to wax and wane. The great part: when you’re in “wane mode” different approaches can help you forward with your project in a meaningful manner. (Here are some other ideas for getting “unstuck”.)

Ready to move into writing mode? Contact Dr. Cara for a complimentary strategy session.