It is utopian to envisage writing a dissertation or a thesis in a few days or weeks, as could be the case for the written work carried out within the framework of your courses. The task is too great to be approached in this way. The phenomenon of the blank page can occur when the student has read extensively on a subject, without taking notes, which can then lead to a feeling of scattering and difficulty in selecting the relevant information and finding the vein of departure. Thus, do not wait too long before starting the writing, rather alternate the phases of reading and writing. Here are some strategies to promote greater efficiency.
1. Establish a structured work schedule
Block out writing time in your calendar. Continuity in the writing task is important because it keeps your ideas active in your mind and reduces the level of anticipation and anxiety. This prevents you from oscillating between periods of overproductivity (which can lead to exhaustion) and conversely, periods of aversion to writing. If the writing should not occupy all the space, your work should ideally not be left aside for long weeks either. The text The challenges of time management in graduate studies could be useful to you.
It may be appropriate to start your day with writing. Rather than waiting for the ideal disposition to write, place yourself in favorable conditions (eg: suitable place, where the risk of interruption is limited). Prepare your mind for intellectual work, allowing yourself a warm-up period.
2. Set specific and achievable goals
Choose periods of 2-3 hours duration for writing, and complete your day with other tasks. This approach is often more productive in the long run. If you feel stuck, the first thing to do is to decrease your writing goals. Over time, the feeling of having to “catch up” has probably caused you to do the opposite, and this usually has the effect of increasing the pressure and perpetuating the blockage. Set yourself very small and easy writing goals at the start (eg: 15 minutes), one very specific part at a time: be careful not to ask too much, you must gradually desensitize yourself. Review the objectives set if these are only rarely achieved.
3. The method by successive drafts
This method consists of writing down what comes to mind without worrying about the relevance of your ideas and the coherence of your text. Writing promotes the production of ideas, which promotes writing, which then leads to the emergence of other ideas… Even if the ideas generated seem confused, they will become increasingly clear as you write. The tendency to reread and rewrite the same paragraphs over and over again is unproductive.
When you start writing, keep in mind that you are writing first for yourself, in order to summarize what you know and the information obtained from your reading and research. Write more than less, without critiquing your work at this point, until you have reached your writing goal for that day. Thereafter, you will see that your ideas are better consolidated and well presented, and that your reader can understand you well. You will be able to take care of the spelling and syntax at the appropriate time.
Here are as an example the steps that could be followed using this method:
freely generate main ideas, anything that comes to mind for a section of your plan
formulate ideas in complete sentences
improve transitions between ideas and paragraphs
reread what you wrote
make changes and corrections
review and improve your subsequent versions (up to your final version)
The hardest part is getting started. As you progress, the feeling of getting closer to your goal will energize you.
4. Pay attention to your self-talk
Writing is a complex task. It offers little immediate reinforcement. The thoughts that inhabit you before, during and after your writing periods have an impact on your motivation and your effectiveness. Try to talk encouragingly about your efforts, talk to yourself like a sports coach would, who would be behind you to support you in achieving your goal. Be sure to give yourself rewards for accomplishments rather than punishments for unfulfilled goals. Hobbies or activities that make you happy are a good way to reward yourself in order to maintain a constructive attitude towards the task and support your motivation.
For a better understanding of the connection between your way of thinking and your emotional states, read the text Stress, Anxiety and Perceptions: Mastering Toxic Thoughts .
5. Look for exceptions
Observe yourself and ask yourself these questions: what are the times when the blockage does not show up? Where are you naturally more productive? Identify what works for you and how you handled those times. Try to reproduce the conditions in which you feel you have progressed and felt satisfaction with your work.
6. Try something different
If the solutions tried so far don’t work, try something different from what you’re used to. Change the environment (eg: working in a café, at the library, an office at the university, etc.). Write by hand if you are used to writing on the computer, record your ideas verbally using a dictaphone. Change the order in which you write your sections (eg start with an easier or shorter section). Participate in a writing retreat; The Thèsez-vous organization offers physical and human environments for graduate students.