As Luke Skywalker found out during his doctoral studies with Yoda, changing habits is not a simple undertaking. With writing habits, there are numerous conditioned patterns of behavior that need to be altered, and if you’ve ever tried to change other long-standing habits, such as how you eat or exercise, you know it’s not a trivial challenge. Here are a few ideas to experiment with.
1 – Work daily on your writing, even if it’s for short periods of time. Incremental work adds up.
2 – Decide if the scope and topic of your project are the problem. If so, consult and adjust; even if it means throwing out previous work or having uncomfortable conversations with your advisor.
3 – Decide if advisor interactions are the problem. Evaluate options carefully, and consult where you can do it safely and confidentially. Take steps that will allow you to make progress without harming your professional future.
4 – Develop support. Find or start a dissertation support group that meets regularly. See if a university counseling office has services that will help with anxiety, depression, relationship, and procrastination problems.
5 – Make a plan for the entire project with estimated timelines. Make weekly and daily plans that fit into the larger scheme. Chart your progress even if you are falling short of goals.
6 – Examine your work avoidance patterns, reduce exposure to distractions, reinforce positive changes, eliminate reinforcement of unproductive behavior.
Lynn Z. Bloom’s article gives a good description of writing challenges for graduate students and steps you can take. Virgina Valian’s article, Learning to Work, on dealing with work resistances and procrastination is an excellent, honest, first person account of an academic writer facing her resistances and finding a way to produce.
About half of all doctoral students do not complete their degree. That’s a high failure rate for a population as intelligent and accomplished as those admitted to doctoral programs. While there are many different reasons why students do not finish their degrees, challenges with writing is surely one of them. Our institutions need to improve in providing writing guidance and support for graduate students, but until that happens, it’s on you to find your own way in battling the Darth Vaders of your graduate life.
Yoda said it best, “May the Force be with you!”