Dear Ebony T,
I am in the midst of some supreme writer’s block and it couldn’t have come at a worse time: I’m dissertating. I have been so organized and diligent in all of my work throughout this whole grad school process, but I feel like all of that work as been for naught. I am stuck. I can’t write anything anymore, let alone think, without getting distracted. I’ve tried to follow a writing schedule, taken structured breaks, napped frequently (for better or worse), and still can’t push myself to get it done. Friends and colleagues have been majorly supportive, but I feel like I’ve hit a wall. My mentor’s mantra is “the best dissertations are done dissertations”, but what can I do when I feel spent and all out of edits, yet still not done? Any tips on how to push through to the finish?
Dear Done Girl,
I’ve definitely been there! Whether it’s something as small as sending out your Christmas cards or finishing a major milestone of grad school, when procrastination wades over your body and writer’s block crests, it’s easy to feel like it’ll never pass (or at least not in a timely or productive way). That “done without actually being done” feeling for me usually comes from two different underlying issues. Sometimes it’s that my mental health isn’t where it needs to be and I needed a full, unadulterated, ~~treat yourself~ break to feel recharged enough to work again. If I try the stop and start and try again, my mind feels like my body when I take naps throughout the day instead of giving myself a full night’s rest. If I try to make the unadulterated break as guilt free as possible (you deserve this, and you’re going to crush it on the other side of this but for the meantime ommmmmmmmmm), it is more likely to work. Other times, I’ve found that when I‘ve got a serious prolonged writer’s block and tried all the things you mentioned, it’s time to dive deeper into what exactly is holding me back. Sometimes it’s dissatisfaction with a class, or a program, or a job that I need to resolve before I can move forward. Sometimes it’s anxiety that I’m doing something wrong, or my work isn’t good enough. One time, I was worried about digging much deeper because I thought it was possible the theory I was building didn’t have enough legs to stand on and the more I researched and wrote, I’d convince myself out of its importance. As kitschy as it sounds, sometimes a whiteboard or a big poster board, by yourself or with some supportive, but pushy friends, is what you need to find the issue at the heart of your block and what you need to push forward. I’ve found that even if the issue still isn’t resolved (I still hate this job, etc.), I’m able to find convincing enough reasons to push myself over the edge. Good luck!
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