I Can't Write My Thesis!

Most Sunday mornings, I wake up early,  grab a mason jar of water along with a cup of tea or coffee, and quietly proceed to start my work day. The plan is always the same, work first, then write thesis. This sounds like a pretty simple plan, but it’s been 4 months and I have not had successful follow through once.

As an undergrad, I would set schedules and keep to it. In my head, as I spent day after day in the struggle, I told myself it would get easier and once I graduated the world was my oyster (still not exactly sure what that means, but I was with the sentiment).

I had assumed that by the time I got to this point I would have had my stuff together! I was supposed to be a mean, green, writing and researching machine! But more and more, I actually find it much harder to be as disciplined as I was once. Truthfully, I’m burning out. Yet, I had the foresight early into my grad career to consider that I, perhaps, I would need a break. I figured that keeping up my school load, work stress, community engagement, and just being a single girl surviving in New York City would feel a bit like drowning. So, I decided to detour just a bit and instead of going the BA to PhD route, I would do BA to MA (possibly dual MA) to PhD. I won’t be able to tell you if this was a bad move until I have some hindsight on it, but lately it has begun to feel that way, so I’m looking for some advice.

I’m at the point where the only thing standing between me and graduating is my thesis. I set myself up pretty well so that, academically, my only focus would be on my thesis. I also signed up for a half marathon in April to make sure that I forced myself to stay healthy as I spent hours sitting on my butt, researching and writing (plus I work a desk job). My job has a set schedule, so I could easily plan around that. But, alas, I sit, surrounded by my thesis research at my feet, within a week of my first draft deadline, and not motivated at all to write.

I can’t get my mind to quiet down! Not to mention, I have so much research and notes floating around in my head that I can’t figure out how to start. So, I think to myself, “I’ll go for a run!” I change my clothes, then decide “Nooooo, I need to write!”

I sit back down, turn on the computer to search for samples of literature reviews and other thesis to make sure I’m doing it right. Then I get so many different examples, I get hung up on trying to figure out which sample is most like what I should be doing. A few hours pass, I have achieved nothing, and it’s time to get dinner.

I’ve tried making schedules, writing during vacation or holidays, but there is always ‘one more thing’ I need to do before I can start. How do people do this?! Now is not the time for me to get burned out! What are your tricks for getting this done? Group writing sessions? Sequester? Anal retentive observance of a schedule? The acquisition of a muse?

I’m sincerely running out of ideas and times…


  • I have to start by saying that I have no answers for you. SORRY! But I can identify with this so much that I had to wonder for a moment how you were spying on me! 😉 I guess the only reason I wanted to comment is to say that I know how you feel and you are SO not alone. I swear to God I seem to live my life with that ever-present “one more thing.” I have actually in the past two weeks had to cancel just about every other thing I need to do (within reason) and just force myself to sit and write. I certainly can’t say it’s the right way but for me it has been the only way.
    Oh, and even with that, I’m still way behind where I need to be.
    Good luck and hang in there!! It will be worth it.

    • Thanks so much! This is actually really helpful! Sometimes a little ‘company’ can help with perspective! When one is surrounded by people turning in their 1st and 2nd drafts and I’m struggling through my 1st, I’m just happy to know that I am not alone!

  • Writing a thesis doesn’t have to be a full work day. Do it in short spurts, but make sure that you stick to whatever short spurt you have started. And do it *first.* Rather than getting your tea and starting your work day, wake up half an hour earlier and before you even brush your teeth, just sit down and start writing. Write until you’ve come up with a new idea and gotten it down in ink, or write until your 15, 25, or 45 minutes are up. I find that if I don’t write first thing in the morning, or directly after breakfast, my focus has evaporated and it’s hopeless. Good luck!

    • This was awesome advice! Thanks! But I discovered that I had to do one better and head to the library. I actually got a couple of pages written. But, of course, when I was there, it was admitted students day, so there were tour groups rolling through the library every 5 minutes.

      • Great!
        But making sure you have an environment where you know you won’t be distracted is half the battle. I discovered working from home worked best for me, and when I got bored after a few days I would go to a coffee shop with headphones. I’m sure the library will be fine after admissions though.

  • When I wrote my thesis there is no way I could have put in a full work day if I wasn’t feeling it. Ride your creative wave until it crashes then walk away for a bit and get some sunshine or get a coffee and go for a walk. I would write whenever the urged struck, even if it was 1am. I was horrible at keeping a writing schedule because if I tried to write when I had nothing to say I would stare out into space or reading gossip on the internet. Good luck – I feel your pain.

  • As for me, I’m getting my MPH but I have to make myself do it. I usually turn off everything, grab some coffee and then I go old school. I write a make-shift outline and then I start writing.. the good old paper and pen. Oh and I turn my phone on DND. No tech at all. Let the words start flowing.. keep writing and I eventually have what I need to get started and I eventually get on the pc for Word and I keep right on writing. Try that.

  • Thanks! I will definitely try this technique, but the struggle is still very real and I only have a few more weeks to knock it out!

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