Hands poised at the keyboard or perhaps with pen in hand, you survey the blank screen or paper and IT hits you. The realisation that you need to fill that page or screen with a carefully crafted argument, the knowledge that your thesis will not write itself. But the prospect of writing is daunting. You don’t know where to start, nor do you feel ready. Perhaps you should do something else first? Yes, that seems like a good idea. And is it really procrastinating if it’s productive? You could fill out those research funding forms, print articles or even tidy your desk. These are essential tasks after all…
While I have yet to experience honest-to-goodness-I-could-not-write-if-my-life-depended-upon-it writer’s block (touch wood), like any PhD student there are times when writing my thesis is daunting. While procrastination and waiting to feel ready are often the culprits of writer’s block, procrastination will not get words on the page and as the ThinkWell team note we have to write before we feel ready, because who ever feels completely ready?! However, sometimes this inability to write cannot be explained by procrastination or ‘lack of readiness’. To paraphrase the late author Ray Bradbury and to apply his observations within a scholarly context, if you find that part of your argument will not eventuate despite honest and active effort on your part, the problem might lie with your subject matter.
I can recall occasions where I have tried to bully my argument onto paper, trying everything from talking it over, to jotting down the main threads, to revisiting the literature from which the argument originated. Having deployed my arsenal of writing tactics with little success, I have wondered whether it might be that this aspect of my argument is tenuous or even unnecessary. These thoughts were not an irrational whim to simply delete everything and start from scratch, we’ve all been there, but the gradual realisation that my argument was not developing because I had taken the wrong path.
As Bradbury implies, at such writing impasses we need to make a U-turn. Yes, the prospect of abandoning part of your argument is daunting and it’s best not to think about all those notes that you will no longer be using, but writing is the process of clarifying your thinking, so when faced with a genuine problem with our writing, we need to address it. But what should we do? I can only offer you the solutions I have used in the past: stepping away from my thesis to gain some perspective, returning to it with fresh eyes and considering how my argument might progress differently, discussing these ideas with my supervisor and beginning to write again. Will that work for you? I don’t know, but it will work better than ignoring the situation and the realisation that I needed to pursue a different topic did help me write this blog post. In fact, the only reason you have a blog post to read is because after many fits and starts Ray Bradbury and the Think Well team helped me realise that my original post was going nowhere fast and needed to be abandoned!
Hopefully this post will give any struggling writers struggling a sense from this post that they are not alone, and maybe even some ideas to consider. I would also like to acknowledge that some of the ideas in this post were inspired by the ThinkWell workshops I attended and what they taught me about procrastination, ‘readiness to write’ and using writing to clarify your thinking. Last but not least, no ulterior motives here, I am not affiliated with ThinkWell, I just found what they had to say helpful : )
l-li”>Release Writer’s Block Today (blissreturned.wordpress.com)