Just a friendly reminder to graduate students everywhere who feel they can’t start writing up because of one (or some, or all) of the following reasons:
- I need to do more research first.
- I have plenty of time left. What’s the rush?
- I haven’t thought of anything groundbreaking yet.
- I’m just not ready!
The reminder is this: You are ready now!
So many graduate students have this notion that their thesis is going to be their supreme effort in life –their magnum opus! It will be the one document that outlines everything and anything that they think about their chosen subject, and the rest of their career will be built upon that foundation.
No wonder you don’t feel ready to start writing yet. Will you ever be?
It’s important for graduate students to realize that their thesis or dissertation is not their magnum opus. The very un-glamourous truth is that (depending on your field) it is really just a glorified term paper.
Remember all those term papers that you struggled to finish? You looked at the calendar one day and thought, “Wow, that paper is due really soon.” Maybe reluctantly, and maybe even last-minute, you began to write the paper, and if you’re like the vast majority of graduate students, even at that point you had the distinct feeling that you didn’t know what you were talking about. But you got down to work because you knew that deadline was fast approaching, and you couldn’t just… you know… not do the paper.
With your thesis, however, practically speaking, you can get away with just not doing it—at least for the time being. Add that to the grandiose expectations you’ve set for yourself, and you have the perfect recipe for never finishing—or even beginning—at all.
I urge you to think of your thesis as nothing more than a longer-than-usual term paper. In fact, begin by writing your thesis as a smaller paper—say, twelve pages (or whatever you consider a normal term paper to be). And if you’re good at setting yourself deadlines, try that. (If not, do what you can, but at least start.) Don’t expect too much from yourself at this point. Just get it done. (I can almost guarantee you that when you go back and read over this material, it won’t sound nearly as bad as you thought it would.)
So, there is really no reason to put off writing any longer. Your research will get done, and your writing itself will count as your best quality “thinking” time. Some days, the sentences will come easily; other days, each word you type will be like squeezing water from a stone. But here is the single most important thing you can do for yourself in the meantime:
Now. Yes, you. Go write something!