Help- Strugging to write


I seem to have a real mental block with writing since I started my part-time PhD beginning of this year. I have written 2,000 (pretty ropey) words so far and have written nothing since mid-July.

What I have done is present at a prestigious international conference and I have just finished writing my slides and notes for a 45 minute research seminar I am giving next month. I have lots of content (for this stage) from the range of perspectives I am drawing on, have some results from pilot observations and interviews I undertook in the summer and I am pretty pleased with what I have written for the seminar (I also presented at a PhD student day in July which was only 15 minutes but which my (very tough) supervisor said was the most well-conceived presentation of the day.

BUT I CAN'T SEEM TO WRITE. I don't doubt my abilities to research relevant literature, synthesise it etc, construct arguments, undertake the primary research etc but I don't seem to be able to write anymore.

Any thoughts or tips on translating a pretty good presentation into PhD writing or (as I really ought to do) into a journal article. I don't know if it is just a mental block becuase I think I shoudl eb writing PhD standard of work now or what but I am scared I won't get over this 9esp as it has been going on forover a month since I got back fomr my research trip)


I find it is best just to write ANYTHING at first. Don't think about the final product too much (I find if I do this I start worrying if is up to standard and I end up panicking and not being able to write) and just bang out what you can. You could start by writing down the kinds of thing you say during your presentation. I find that with a rough draft it is then easier to redraft and to turn it into something good, rather than trying to write something really good from the outset.

I found this difficult at first because throughout my studies up until my PhD I'd do maybe one rough-ish draft and then tweak it at the end. I have had to learn how to bang words out without worrying about them too much to begin with.


I find brainstorming my ideas verbally helps, so I record them on my computer, as I speak them aloud and run through them. That gets me going, then I work from that. Anything to get started.

Good luck.


I've had this issue too. I have been using the MyTomatoes site to track my writing (not for any other kind of work), and I find that it's a useful and motivational way of structuring writing time.

I also think that for longer pieces of work, it's a good idea to write a very detailed plan, and turn the notes and points of that plan into longer text. My supervisor put me onto this, and it works very well, as previously I had a tendency to get lost and distracted in the middle of chapters.

Also, don't feel you have to produce a high word target every day. For a while I tried producing 600-700 words daily and it didn't work. On some days I would produce 1000, and on others I would produce nothing. If you can put a couple hundred words down every day (which you should be able to do in an hour, writing slowly), you should find that your work will progress faster than you realise.


I'm just about to publish my first journal paper and I can honestly say the only way I got it to publishable standard was to go over it again and again. It wasn't a case of two drafts and out. I sent it to as many people as possible, integrated their feedback and then just continued polishing it until it was finally ready. I'm in the humanities so maybe it's a different process for others but in my field it can take a long time to get a paper ready - just don't expect your first version to be your best, allow yourself time to write badly and then correct it :-)


You say you can't write "anymore". I have this problem whenever I take a break (and I hate to be immodest but I am a very good writer). I agree with Star-shaped: just write any old crap. Don't make it crap on purpose, but just start writing in the most easiest and simple way you know how and it will come back to you. My biggest problem is that I'm a perfectionist, and I am quite capable of wasting hours trying in vain to construct one perfect paragraph. The pressure and over-thought makes me write poorly, and I quickly become frustrated and paralysed with my own imagined inadequacy. Just write and don't concern yourself with its quality until you get into the swing of it again. It will work if you relax and just write.

Best of luck (up)


======= Date Modified 23 Sep 2010 18:43:22 =======
I'm just putting the finishing touches to a paper (which is nothing to do with PhD but is based on some research I started pre-PhD, which I got a conference proceedings paper out of a couple of years ago and which is repeated each year so it seemed mad not to write it up properly).  Maybe I should get rid of that and then I can focus on PhD writing.

At the moment I am trying to do PhD lit review writing, writing module guides for new academic year, writing a research seminar and finishing this paper. Maybe it is just too many different things on the go and I should park the lit review for a couple of weeks as that is not time critical.