Back to school already, where did the time go?! Even if you’re well rested and ready for the new school year (which I never was at the end of the summer, by the way!), it can be tough picking up where you left off with your writing. You’ve likely lost some of the momentum that you had before the break, and it can take some real effort to regain that drive.
This can be the case whether you’re working on your thesis, your next journal article, or a longer manuscript.
Some people refer to this problem as a “summer-induced writer’s block,” and I know that it can be pretty frustrating for many scholars. It might feel like nothing is going to get those wheels turning again, but I have a few tips that have helped me to oil my own creaky writing gears over the years.
(1) Start Small
After a break, it can be difficult to think about writing at all, much less writing an entire article or thesis. That’s why I recommend setting time limits that allow for short bursts of writing with plenty of breaks built in, an approach known as the Pomodoro Technique.
Start by writing at least 15 minutes each day.
Although writing may be difficult at first, this regular writing practice will pay off. If you get stuck, write anything related to your topic.
Remember, you’re just getting back into the habit of writing, so while you may not feel that what you’re producing in this small amount of time is worth it, the effect on your overall mindset will be huge.
(2) Work Up to It
After a few days or even weeks of writing for 15 minutes per day, schedule a few writing blocks of 10 to 25 minutes each day. Once they become a normal part of your schedule, incrementally increase the length of time to 45 minutes per writing block, and make sure to include breaks.
In the long term, you can develop even more extended writing blocks.
Remember, however, to take at least one 15-minute break for every hour or so of work. Research shows that taking such breaks actually makes you more effective at scholarly tasks.
(3) Develop a Long-Term Plan
How long do you have until you need to submit that article or get that thesis to your committee?
Now that you’ve gotten back into the habit of writing, make sure that you’re actually dedicating enough time each day in order to meet your deadlines.
Calculate the amount of time you need to write each day, and don’t forget to stay on top of new projects as they develop.
(4) Stick to Your Plan
Okay, so you know how much you need to write each day for each task. Now comes the hard part—actually getting those daily pages written.
While you will miss some days, make sure that:
a. You stick to your plan as often as possible.
b. You adapt your plan to account for any unforeseen developments (a sick child or out-of-town visitors) by increasing your writing blocks on other days.
(5) Join a Writing Group
Since many of your peers are also experiencing writer’s bock at any given time, it makes sense to work together to help each other break through this mental barrier.
Writing groups are an excellent opportunity to bounce ideas and theories off of one another and get some useful feedback. This process can often spur you to start writing again since it helps renew your enthusiasm for your scholarship.
(6) Tackle Obstacles
Is there a specific chapter, source, or argument that’s got you stuck?
Identify obstacles, and then get some help tackling them. Talking to someone in your department—a colleague, mentor, or adviser—about your challenges can help make things clearer.
If you have a bad writing day, don’t let it discourage you. Just adjust your plan and keep moving forward.
(7) Treat Yourself
For bigger goals, such as completing journal articles or dissertation chapters, it can be especially motivating to reward yourself with a treat—whether it’s a movie night, a tasty dessert, or even a few days’ break from thesis writing altogether (but only if this is realistic for your timeline—don’t take too much time off that you lose your rhythm!).
Always make sure to stay disciplined and treat yourself only after you’ve met your goal!
(8) Avoid Distractions
There are multitudes of ways to avoid distractions—here are a few that work for me:
- Turn off your phone and close your email inbox.
- Begin writing early in the morning, before you get distracted by other tasks.
- Keep a notepad next to you while you’re writing to jot down your various (unrelated) thoughts and avoid getting distracted.
- Leave your computer at home and go write outside in a notebook for a change.
- Use a writer’s productivity website/app, such as http://writtenkitten.co/ or http://selfcontrolapp.com/
The bottom line is this: Don’t be too concerned about struggling to get back into writing your thesis or manuscript as you head back to school. Most people find the writing process challenging—especially after a break—but all you need to do is take a deep breath, make a plan, and tackle it in a logical manner.
By starting slowly and tackling your writing one day at a time, you’ll have that book or thesis written in no time!
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