Home > General Academia > Ails of a Student: Writer’s block

Ails of a Student: Writer’s block

Problem statement: Addressing some of the issues of why writing a (master’s) thesis can be so difficult, based on my own experience.
Motivation: Well, I guess thinking about problems is a first step in getting them solved. Also, throwing out problems seems to be healthy. Making use of that outlet for negativity so positivity can take back the control again or something like that.

“You sound like an unemployed psychiatrist.”

Considering I am not an employed psychiatrist, I guess it is not entirely untrue. So…..over at Plausible Accuracy, I read the following:

I’ve got about 70 pages written on a document that I call “my thesis”. The problem is, I hate it. I’ve written it all in fits and spurts, jumping around from one section to the next. Some days I’ll write pages and pages and it seems like it’s going really well, and other days I’ll spend all day staring at emacs and not getting anything down. Lately it’s been much more of the latter.

I can relate to this. I have been working on my master’s thesis for quite some time now, much longer than I planned.

“I would nominate that for the understatement of the year award…”

Hey, at least it is almost finished, and I like my stuff, but it certainly has taken quite a bit of time. However, my problem is not so much that I hate writing it, but since I am skilled and creative with computers/Internet, I can think of a million other things that I enjoy doing more while I am sitting behind a computer.

“Actually, I believe the term and description for that is: a computer nerd with no (social) life who can only think of computers day and night.”

So I have been seriously considering locking myself up somewhere, with access to “Office” software and nothing else that could distract me from typing away on my thesis for hours and hours. I have heard of many students/people doing just that, with very good results. For the sake of productivity, I should be like that, too. I mean, I do have access to my university’s computer rooms and stuff. On the other hand, last time I was making use of one to work on my thesis, there were other distractive factors, such as other people typing, discussing whatever they were working on while typing and even using their cells for communication gibberish.

“Why, that is an excellent opportunity to practice your “shutting people the hell up” skills. It is crucial for people who want to be leaders one day!”

I guess. Another motivational issue is that the whole “documenting thing” is a lot less interesting than the “thinking about problems and working out (potential) solutions” thing. Yet, it is difficult to document it neatly straight away, while still in the mood to be productive after having done something “you perceive as” productive, because that normally results in incoherent notes/scribbles prone to drastic modifications overtime. I mean, I do not even want to know how many times I have (completely) rewritten my introduction, several paragraphs of my methodology and other chapters/paragraphs all over my thesis.

“Oooh, but I do want you to talk about it. As detailed as possible!”

And I was writing them quite seriously at the time, too. So imagine how much worse that would have been if I was just randomly jotting them down as scribbles instead. It is a serious hassle and it seems like I can always find a better way to put it every time I reread it. It almost makes me afraid to reread my own work again because I know I will modify it going “OK, this is much better!” and then do the exact same time the next time I reread it! But maybe it is just the mentality of being extra critical of your own work. Normally, when I am reading other people’s papers, I read through them as they are and go “OK, I am absorbing the knowledge of what it is saying here” without really paying attention to how they say it. However, when I am reading my own work, it is like I do not care what I said, but how I said it and how, if at all possible, I can say it better. It is not easy being a perfectionist!

“Actually, that’s just your pathetic lack of writing skills.”

In addition, working on a (master’s) thesis takes at least several months, from start to finish. And in many/most cases way more than that: it could takes years. For a Ph.D (concerning my research field anyway) it takes at least 4 years. I guess speed is one reason why I like blogging: writing a blog post usually takes just under an hour. OK, there are cases where I have spent longer than 1-2 hours working on one, spread out over a few days, but those are rare and then I have a “finished” product that I can somewhat be satisfied with.

“Speaking of blog posts: this is likely not the time to write one!”

Well, writing this blog post has inspired me to work harder once more! Over at Plausible Accuracy, as a “writing experiment”, some random thesis “snippets” were available in an attempt to get comments and boost his motivation. I tried to do something similar some time ago, actually. But after awhile, I realized that uploading an early chapter that I thought was considered finished was a bit too embarrassing after all. Especially after I had significantly improved it later (but locally) and saw how “crappy” unfinished the uploaded version was. So I decided not to put early drafts of a draft online like that.

“Can’t say I blame ya.”

One thing left for me to say then, for many things and regardless of reason: the longer you drag on with your work, the harder it becomes to finish it.

“Ehm, don’t you mean “lock yourself up in a library early in the process”? That sounds so much more productive, after all.”

Still undecided on that. Well, back to work it is!

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