not written anything for 1 year - at breaking point!


I'm in my 4th year (social science) supposed to be writing up and have hardly written anything for over a year. I did a year long ethnography (2nd year) and think i burnt myself out after it so had no energy to actually write up - or anything for that matter! I have done the whole 'it will be in by next friday' thing to my supervisor for too long and i finally sat down with her today and admitted defeat (and embrarassed myself by crying alot) - i confessed to not atually writing anything (other than what she already has - my results (35k)and some literature (10K)) and that i am having severe difficulties and am totally depressed/burnt out with the whole thing and life in general just now. i really dont want to quit as i cant bear the thought of wasting 4 years and not finishing what i started, so i'm taking two weeks out to 're-group'. Anyone had similar problems? or should i just get out while i'm still a funtioning human being?


You are doing the right thing! You have confessed and been honest so you don't need to feel you are hiding any more. You are going to take some time out and get your strength up, then come back and try to work for an hour. Ease yourself into it reeeeeeeally slowly and, slowly but surely, you will get your mojo back.

Don't quit - what you are feeling seems to be pretty common amongst us all. Just come on here if you need a whine...

Good luck!


yes, what you've described every phder feels that way. i too hardly wrote anything for my dissertation for a whole year. but it's never too late!

you can do it. you're just pilling too much pressure on yourself and you need to stop berating yourself. what is in the past stays in the past. today is a brand new day to turn things around. you would be suprised how much can be accomplished, how much writing can be done, in just a week!

start slowly. in small baby steps. when looking at the dissertation as a whole. it can seem like a huge mountain, and so overwelming, that leaves a person feeling anxious.


you've worked very hard for 4 years, it would be a shame to stop now at the writing up stage. what you're experiencing is perfectly normal.

Joan Bolker writes about how it's very common for a phd student, with only just 5% left to write her disseration to say "i've decided not to carry on with this"

i've experienced what you have on countless times! i cried during my mphil examination, because i didn't know anything. and so desperately wanted the examiner to fail me, so i didnt have to continue on. but she didnt.

you will get through this. after a rainy day, there's always hope for a sunny day. blue sky coming after a cloudy grey one.

you're just experiencing a down at the moment.

what will make you feel better, is to make a rough outline of what kind of chapters you want to write.


think of your dissertation, not as something you HAVE to do, but something you want to do, to wrap things up. dont think about failing or passing, just think about writing it to the best of your ability.

so close the door on the past, and look to the future. it's never ever too late!

don't give up. you can do this

Joan Bolker also speaks about just writing for 10minutes. and for *only* 10minutes, whether its free writing, messy writing, writing about certain ideas you would like to discuss in your thesis, it can be anything, but just to get the ball rolling, and then once you're comfortable doing that, to increase it. the point is to do something small. even if you hate writing anything related to your thesis , you can still do it for 10minutes.


and Janey is absolutely right, take those 2 weeks, really relax and take your mind off your dissertation, phd. and then when you come back. make a rough sketch of possible chapters and contect you wanna include. and then start really slowly.

and well done for admitting to your supervisor and being honest with her, i know it could not have been easy. so you should be proud of yourself that you did that. any fool can make up excuses, but it takes a person of strength to admit to their own short comings.
so well done

and yeh like Janey said, come back here whenever you feel stressed or overwelmed. you will find most of us have our downs , on a frequent basis, i know i do!


I want to bury my whole entire chapter and the notes and EVERYTHING in a big hole in the woods at the moment. I will happily stamp on the earth to make sure it is properly buried and walk off forever, job done. I have had an epiphany this morning: I know nothing.

Resolution: I aim to sit here for half an hour and do a bit of reading to feel in touch with the basic ideas, then I will go for lunch for an hour/hour and a half, and hopefully, hopefully, come back a bit more refreshed...

We're all in the same boat, see?


You've actually written loads. I think taking a couple of weeks out is an excellent idea. Try to just put the project completely out of your mind during that time if you can.

Even though you haven't been writing for a while it's probably still been at the back of your head going: "Helloooo. Remember me... the millstone round your neck!" This is my experience anyway.

As far as I'm concerned, the guilt for feeling like I haven't done enough when I'm supposed to be working can mean I never feel like I've properly earnt any free time, and as a result I never switch off properly. It gets exhausting!

I reckon you should think of this break as totally sanctioned and justified, and try to completely forget about things. Speaking to your supervisor was the first step towards sorting things out and you can come back to it afresh.


If you didn't give a sh*t you wouldn't have gone to see your supervisor or cried, you'd have just dropped out. which means you've definitely got the motivation in you to do this. You can do it!


thank you all so much for the encouragment!! i'm overwhelmed at the quick supportive responses (esp lara). I do feel like a weight has been lifted and have just spent the morning talking it all out with my mum and made plans to visit and catch up with friends (who thought i'd died due to lack of contact lol)

I've decided that when i come back i'm going to start at my methodology chapter so i'm at a fresh starting point and see how it goes. I've also just signed up to a yoga class (which i used to do every week but i decided i didnt have time)so i feel pretty positive about things now.


I'm going through this too. I found that as long as I wasn't doing any work the whole thing just became increasingly stressful and daunting, but once I started doing some work I felt better about things because I was actually progressing.

Start by producing an outline plan for the thesis, chapter and section titles, think about the structure and how the argument will progress from one chapter to the next. Then plug in the bits you have already written and see what's left to be done, and tackle it one chapter at a time. You don't have to start with chapter one - if it seems easier feel free to start writing another chapter first. Focus on just getting a first draft, it doesn't have to be perfect.

Put it this way: you're not going to quit, are you? So therefore you have to write this at some point - you might as well do it now! If you're going to be depressed anyway, you can at least be a depressed person with a PhD - better than being a depressed person without a PhD :)


the thing is to drag yourself out of that deep black hole. the problem is, when you're depressed that is of course the hardest thing in the world to do. try baby steps, they're more managable. tell yourself: i will tidy up my desk today, sort out all the rubbish and my notes. put on some nice music while you're doing it. it's mechanical, manageable and whilst it is not phd work, it is work in preparation for stepping back into your phd. then the next day you could print out your work so far and look at what you've written, you've probably forgotten half of it anyway (i have since last year...). ok, so now you're in the topic again. now sort out your literature, update your referencing software (or start it if you haven't). that will take a few days, it's not that quick. what next? well, how about googling for new articles/literature on your topic, there's bound to be new stuff out since last year. check out your "favourite" authors, see if they've published new stuff.


then try and read one of those articles/day. then maybe two articles/day when you've got into the (working) rhythm. then get my point. update your reference software each time you read an article, that way the workload won't build up. tidy your desk up regularly. make a little list of tasks you want to accomplish in one week and try and manage them all. if you don't, make a shorter list the next week. and so on...