The Party’s Over… Getting Back to the Dissertation

in Dissertation Help

Graduate students who have difficulty getting back to their dissertation after a break will find these helpful tips useful. Using Robert Boice’s tips from Professors as Writers, you can get back to the dissertation. As you work on your thesis or dissertation, maintaining your momentum is critical. A dissertation coach can help.

It’s so hard to get back to the dissertation when you’ve lost your momentum. Here are some specific actions you can take to get back on track.

The Party’s Over… Getting Back to Work


That is what you may feel as you think about working on your dissertation after the holidays.


The clear and steady path that you had been following seems like a distant memory.  Now it is just a stack of books, folders, papers, or cryptic computer files that seem to have been created by someone else.

When the moment comes to sit down to write, it feels like trying to exercise after you get the cast off your leg.  It’s painful and slow.  With that kind of misery, it’s often easier to check your email or play solitaire.  The dissertation can wait until tomorrow.

There are some steps you can take to lessen the pain of starting up again.  These suggestions will make the transition back to a regular writing program more palatable.

  1. Make a writing schedule.  Choose a time that you will work every day, or every workday, if possible.  It doesn’t have to be the same time every day.
  2. Plan to work no more that 30 minutes a day.  You can extend this later, but if you have been having trouble getting back into it, this could be the most important step.  If 30 minutes overwhelms you, start with 15 minutes.
  3. For your first session back at work, your assignment is just to read over what you had written before you took a break.  Either you’ll be pleasantly surprised, or aware that you need to edit. 
  4. In the next session you will begin writing.  If you have no trouble getting started at this point, you can skip the next steps.  If you are still feeling unable to write, read the following.

Robert Boice, the author of “Professors as Writers” suggests “writing before you are ready.”  This means that you don’t have to know exactly what you are going to write before you start.  Your thinking is clarified by the very act of writing. 

In order to start writing before you’re ready, dissertation writers may need to notice that “inner critic” that is telling you that what you’re writing is a bunch of junk.  The following steps will help you to silence your inner critic.

  1. If you feel you are completely unable to write on your dissertation subject, spend a few minutes writing about what you hate about writing.  Just get some words down – it doesn’t have to make sense.  Then move on to the next step – writing on your dissertation topic.
  2. Write for 10 minutes.  It may be somewhat “stream of consciousness.”  Don’t worry if what you write is good enough to use in your dissertation.  After 10 minutes, stop and read what you’ve written.
  3. On another page, make a rough outline, mind map or diagram of the thoughts that are emerging or starting to emerge.  You don’t have to use complete sentences.
  4. Go back and rewrite what you’ve just written a little more clearly, adding logical links and clarifications.
  5. Keep your eye on the clock – it is very important to stop at 30 minutes.
  6. Keep repeating steps 3 though 5 until your time is up.  Do not worry about the quality of what you’ve accomplished.  All that matters is that you started!  If what you’ve written is wonderful, stop anyway.  It will be much easier to start tomorrow.

Hope.  Relief.  Maybe even excitement.  

It’s a wonderful feeling once you get back in the writing habit.  Use this technique any time that you feel stuck in writing your dissertation.  Always keep in mind that short bursts of writing help clarify your thinking.  And Happy New Year!

About Dr. Gina J. Hiatt

Gina J. Hiatt, Ph.D. is the founder and president of Academic Ladder, Inc. (, and the founder of the Academic Writing Club (  She and her associate coaches work with academics who want to complete dissertations or writing projects while balancing the demands of academia, including going on the job market and achieving tenure.  Thousands of academics have been members of the Academic Writing Club, and some have stayed for years.  Not only do they develop the habit of regular productive writing, they find online peers who support them in a small group environment.  Join the Academic Writing Club today!

This article first appeared in the “All But Dissertation Survival Guide” in January, 2005.

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