How do you overcome the writing block?
Some days writing is easy. You sit down, you retrace where you left off, you start writing and you enter ‘the flow’. Other days you wonder if ‘the flow’ really exists. Is this ‘flow’ a myth? Have I actually ever experienced it? Is it an elusive writer’s fantasy? You can get so bogged down in the ‘I can’t write’ frame of mind that the way out seems blocked.
But, as with any down time, there is always an up time. The silver lining, so to speak. It’s just a case of keeping the chin up, being confident you can get over this block and not getting overwhelmed!
I’ve come across a few strategies that can help, depending on who you are and how you work. Some people suggest that setting aside two hours everyday at your best (most productive) time of the day for writing is essential. Two hours every morning? Two hours at night? Whenever. Others suggest that blocking yourself off from the world for longer periods of time is more effective – you are living with your piece of writing and it’s all there is in your life! A friend of mine recently completed her thesis. I saw her yesterday for the first time in six months. She moved back in with her parents in the countryside for those six months, cut herself off from distractions and just wrote the damn thing! Anyway, everyone has different ways of working, but if you don’t know yours it’s good to test a few options.
For those days when writing two sentences seems like dragging blood out of a stone there are some simpler tactics. I like to write something, anything, to get my brain into the creative mood. Emails don’t count – they are usually about responding to requests or writing requests and are not the most creative things in the world. In fact, they are a distraction. But anything else: a short outline of what I’m going to write in this chapter, an introductory paragraph, even a blog post to get me started. All of this helps go from ‘ah, I can’t write’ to ‘I can put some sentences together’. It’s a start!
And then, it’s important to take breaks. Not just to drink coffee (which, let’s face it, may be tasty but isn’t healthy), but also just to change scene, let your brain settle, get some fresh air. Sometimes even taking a day off if you struggle several days in a row is the best thing in the world to do. You don’t want to accumulate a habit of unproductive days, so just take a break, take a day in the park and come back to it again fresh and rested.
So, now that I’ve gotten my fingers typing and my brain constructing sentences by writing this post, here’s hoping I can get into ‘the flow’ today!
P.S. if you like more structured, targeted PhD thesis writing advice, check out the book “Authoring a PhD” by Patrick Dunleavy.