So you’ve been thinking about a particular blob of paint on a particular little-known canvas, and you’ve hashed out your general argument and how it will progress, and now comes the part when you actually have to produce pages, and you really just aren’t feeling it.
Or, you’ve been writing ad infinitum and are reaching the point at which all of your sproutings have become a large and unwieldy hedge. You must trim, discarding intricate branches, twigs, twiglets that took you hours to write, and you really just aren’t feeling it.
You may be ready to be done, kids, but your thesis ain’t.
Here are some suggestions to get you moving before you bash your computer screen in with the weight of your boredest stare (alums who may be reading this post, or current MAPHers who’ve figured out techniques of your own, please add your wisdom!!):
- Try nomadic working: instead of planting yourself in one spot (the Reg, say) for 5 hours, stay for 90 minutes someplace and move to another. You may find that you’re a lot more productive in 40-60 minute real spurts than 5 hours of languishing.
- TAKE BREAKS. You can’t be “on” all the time, or you’ll burn out. (You’re kinda like a light bulb, evidently!) A few well-placed, brain-clearing and relaxing breaks can be the gulp of fresh air you need before plunging back into the thicket again.
- Zoom out: Try looking at your thesis as a larger whole again if you’ve been hacking away at paragraphs– remind yourself of why this is worth arguing, why this problem interested you in the first place, what you’ve noticed, and what the arc of your argument is. If you’re cutting, this’ll remind you of what’s important; if you’re still fattening the draft, this will give you a greater sense of direction. I personally got a whole lot out of making visual mappings of my argument on the Regenstein study room chalkboards.
- Go back to your object: If you’re stuck with your argument, go back to your text. That’s the juicy, raw data. mmm, object.
- Try an interlocutor: If you’ve got a buddy with a similar or sympathetic project (or even someone from outside of academia) who’s willing to sit through a talk-through of your thesis and the argument and any trip-ups you’re having, “we’re most fluent in talk,” and it might take you somewhere. Thoughtful questions– or even just sounding boards–can really help.
- Set small and manageable goals: it sounds hokey, but set yourself smaller goals. It’ll help psychologically to see “Finish paragraph on red blob of paint in upper right corner” on Thursday morning, rather than “Write your thesis, foo’.”
- Make post-it note pep talks/commands: On your apartment door, “You may NOT leave until you finish __________.” On your computer, “Writing is an act of creation, an act of synthesis!!!” Cut out a picture of whoever created the object you’re working with, and make a little speech bubble that says “[your name here], I heart you.”
- Tough love (of self): If you’re just seriously unmotivated, you may have to give yourself the whole harsh realities rundown– you have to finish this thesis, and you might as well do it now rather than in a panic-stricken whirlwind at the very end (you KNOW you’ll dash off to Kinko’s to get it bound without the bibliography). So just do it.
The thesis is a wonderful experience!! You’ll be so happy when you’re done!!! You’re doing super!!! Keep going!!!
Big huge telepathic waves of encouragement,