The Dissertation Writing Blues

You’re on the home stretch.  Your committee has given you the clearance to begin writing your dissertation.  That light at the end of the tunnel is a bit brighter.  Now, the only thing that stands between you and your defense is a document that may seem to have a mass that is equivalent to that of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary or that requires more paper than can be produced from an Amazonian rainforest.

This may seem insurmountable.  Believe me, it is not.  Aside from excellent time management skills, you can complete your thesis if you learn to strike a balance between writing and…well…not writing.  For the next few weeks, months, but hopefully not years, you’ll be living and breathing your dissertation.  You know your thesis better than any one, and writing may come easily at times; however, there will be times when your focus and clarity give way to the following:

  1. Self-doubt
  2. Dismay
  3. Anger
  4. Fatigue
  5. Sorrow
  6. Apathy

These aren’t in any particular order.  Actually, you may feel all of these at the same time.  This is why you feel like you’re going to go insane.  It’s OK.  Breathe.  Step away from the computer (hit ‘Save’ first).  It is at times like these when you need a serious distraction – something that completely removes you from your dissertation.  Or something that is completely mindless and removes you from reality.  I can only speak from experience, so here are a few distractions that were invaluable to me while I wrote my dissertation.


  • Internet games

They’re an easy and quick distraction.  You’re already in front of your computer, so why not?  Sit there, go blank, grow some crops, solve some puzzles, shoot some aliens.  Whatever floats your boat.

  • Exercise

Yes, this requires some motivation.  You may see this as more work, but the stress relief and clarity of mind that comes with regular exercise can do wonders during the dissertation writing process.  Make an exercise schedule and stick to it.  Running, resistance training, Wii Sports.  Again, whatever floats your boat.

  • Reading

Read for enjoyment, whether a new book or your favorite one.  If you’re sensitive to it, avoid the news.  It can be depressing.

  • Family

More than likely, your family knows absolutely nothing about what you’re studying.  Call or have dinner with your significant other, your parents, your siblings, or whomever, and take great comfort in the fact that, if you speak about your dissertation, no one will understand you.

  • Sleep

Need I say more?

Obviously, these are purely suggestions.  You’ll need to find what works best for you.  Writing your dissertation is just another of the flaming hoops through which you must jump in order to secure your Ph.D.  It certainly isn’t the last.  You still have to do the dissertation editing to comply with your institution’s formatting requirements, make revisions that appease your advisor and your committee, defend, and meet all the deadlines for graduation. You may even have to hire a dissertation editing service to help you finish up. But hey, at least the writing part is a flaming hoop that you can complete on your own terms

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