Impossibly last minute - any miracle stories?


I feel ashamed to post this here, but as I am at the end of my tether I thought I would. I am in the last few months of my PhD and due to personal circumstances - death of close relative, break-up and a severe bout of depression lasting months but ALSO due to incredible procrastination, I have managed to write pretty much *nothing* the entire time I have been enrolled on the course. I also had to change supervisor/topic half way in, though ultimately despite all of this I SHOULD have been able to do lots of work by now. And of course mind-numbing long-term writers' block. Who am I kidding. Ultimately these are excuses.

I am sorry for the belly ache. My supervisor is returning from a conference in six weeks and would very much like to *finally* see some work, although she has more than likely lost all trust in me to be able to do this at all (I have avoided her for many, many, many months). I would dearly like to regain her trust, and the only hope I have in doing this now is to submit a good chunk of work. 10 or 20,000 words?? ugh

I just wonder if any of you have any writing-up-from-scratch miracle stories? Writing/researching in *impossibly* short spans of time. I.e. 1000 words a day - is totally doable (gulp).

Thank you so much!!! I would so love to get back on the horse after all of these (incredibly depressing) years of inertia. I know the moment words start being written, the anxiety, depression which has hung over me like a cloud for years now, will finally begin to lift.



It is doable, but you need to have clear what you need to do: 1) Research questions and scholarship to date, 2) table of content of your thesis, clearly structured, 3) summary of what is the content of each chapter.
Then step by step you climb the ladder. I wouldn't rush and try to produce a large amount of work. It's much better to produce all the above and one chapter,rather than trying to write half a thesis with little content. Usually you leave the introduction as the last bit, but I would suggest you to try and write it now (you will change it many times before submission anyway!) including aims, rationale, methodology, historiography, chapters layout.
Everyone have bad spells along the way, so do not spend time feeing guilty, focus on what you can do from now on. You need to be very determined and cancel the word "procrastination" from your dictionary, but yes, you can do it!!!!(up)


Lara is probably the best example on the forum of managing to write a thesis at the last minute. She's not on here very much now - she completed her PhD last year - but if you PM her she may be able to offer some tips. She had a firm deadline, and churned out a certain number of words/hours a day. She also used Joan Bolker's book religiously.

Avatar for sneaks

well my supervisor has just announced she wants a finished thesis by the end of september. having previously told me I'm 'not allowed' to work on my thesis. So I have a month to write up a whole thesis. I do have 3 publications written, and literature (in vague sections rather than all in one) and other bits written, but will be an immense challenge.


10 to 20k is doable in six weeks. That's a whole 42 days! A 1000 words a day would put you way over your mark.

Have you tried tomato-ing?


Hi Phdalex,

You're not alone in procrastinating your way into blind panic. Along with some personal stuff and the inevitable writer's block I've managed to leave everything till the last minute. I've been putting my supervisor off for months with excuses about why they can't read any of my drafts yet (when in fact I hadn't written anything).

I have to submit my completed thesis by 30th September- this is my maximum registration and I don't have a good enough excuse to get an extension. So about 3 weeks ago, something finally clicked (I have no idea what) and I sat down and started writing. For months before this I would sit at the computer staring at a blank screen unable to even start a sentence.

In the last three weeks I have written the first draft of all 3 of my results chapters and completed final drafts of all my figures (I'm in cell biology so have loads of images of cells and graphs etc to mess about with in Photoshop and Illustrator). These drafts are going off to my supervisor to read tomorrow. Then I'll get onto my introduction. I've so far managed about 1500 words, so I've got a long way to go, but now I've made a real start, it seems to flow much more easily than I ever thought possible.

It will still be tight time wise, but I really think I can do it. And if I can write my entire thesis in 2 and a half months, then you can definitely get 20,000 words done in 6 weeks. I think it's a matter of self-belief more than anything else. I spent so long thinking I couldn't do it, that I actually couldn't. Once I really thought I could (possibly because it was so close to submission that I just had to start), it was much easier. It's still hard work, but not that kind of soul-destoying horribleness that comes from writer's block.

The only advice I can give is to get the first paragraph on the page, and the rest will come if you really believe you can do it- which you can! :-)

Also, read this forum for motivation whenever you start to feel like you can't do it. I don't post on this forum much, but I read it regularly, and you'd be surprised at how motivating it is to read about other people's success stories, or even to know you're not the only one struggling...

Lot's of luck, and get writing! ;-)


Quote From AmyP:

I think it's a matter of self-belief more than anything else. I spent so long thinking I couldn't do it, that I actually couldn't.

Ahh one of my favourite quotes: "if you believe you can do a thing, or if you believe you cannot, in either case, you are right"- Henry Ford.
Very true! Every time I have what seems like an enormous task to do I freak myself out with its enormity and get very little done. It's not until I absolutely cannot put it off any longer that I make a start, and I am always amazed by how much easier than I imagined and even enjoyable it is. (You'd think I'd learn for subsequent tasks and just get on with it immediately, but I still go through the ritual of putting it off, panicking, finally getting on with it, followed inevitably by the wonderful realisation that I can do it and I could've done better had I began sooner!)

Good luck


Depends how much reading and research you've done already. When I've done the reading, I can write approx. 1500-2500 per day of usable material. So 10-20K words will take about 2 weeks to write up. You can do it. Go for it!


Yep, been there, done that (had also similar personal problems) and I am doing it right now. I've been trying to change this last-minute habit for years, and after 2 counselor, 2 psychologists, 1 hypnotist and a dozen of bored to death friends and relatives I haven't managed to change it, so I just embraced it, I AM this way, and the soonest I can start writing something before the deadline it is on 3 or 4 days. So I did the (first draft) methodology chapter in one afternoon and one night, and currently sprinting to do the literature review chapter in 4 days which is an improvement given my record (And by the way,  in this times asking your PhD colleagues how long it takes for them to do something doesn't help at all)... I admit I am a fast typer though, and when really pressured can write up to 1000 words in 2-3 hours, so yes I am aiming on completing those 10,000 -15,000 words in 4 days and I am somehow panicked but all I can do now is keep going.. I would also advise getting a proofreader, maybe that could add a bit more pressure in working towards deadlines (adding an additional deadline before the deadline) or maybe just deal with the editing part that annoys me that much... To sum up...If you can't change it, EMBRACE it...


======= Date Modified 05 Feb 2012 21:40:59 =======
Good advice from the previous poster but alas, I suspect, about 18 months too late for the opening poster. Well beyond last minute...