Rod Pitcher is a PhD student in Education at The Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The focus of his study is the metaphors that doctoral students use when describing their research and other matters related to their studies. His profile is at http://cedam.anu.edu.au/people/rod-pitcher.
Not being able to work is the curse of the PhD student. And writer’s block is one of the worst to deal with. We all get it. Usually, there’s no reason apart from the inability to settle down and work. My supervisor told me that the way to beat not being able to write is to follow the ‘take one small step’ procedure. She told me that to get myself writing again I should take one small first step. This method works in breaking through writers’ block and similar problems. I know because I’ve used it.
The first step might be something simple such as opening a Word file ready to write something, but without actually doing any writing. Once the first small step is accomplished, take a short break. Have a cup of tea. Then, take another small step. This one might be naming the file or putting in a temporary title. Have another break for a few minutes and then take another small step such as writing a rough abstract. And so on.
Eventually, the small steps will add up to something useful and you will have got started. Having done something useful you will be encouraged to do more. Then you can stop taking small steps and start taking larger ones like writing the first draft of the whole of a chapter, revising it and finishing it. The larger steps will follow naturally from the small ones if you take enough small ones. The important thing is to recognise that you are making progress with each of the small steps and should continue on with more of them. The many small steps will build up to a big step which will help to overcome the urge not to work and break through the block.
Sometimes, you can only take the first small step. Doing any more is just too stressful. That’s alright. Take a break for a few hours and then take the small step again. This time you should persist and be able to do a little more. Don’t get stressed. If the next step is too much, then stop, have a break and then start again. As long as in each working spell you take at least one more small step than the previous one you will be making progress.
Whatever your problem with starting to write, try the ‘one small step’ procedure. What the small step is to be will depend on what you are agonising about, but should become plain with a little thought. The important thing is to do something. What you do isn’t as important as doing something. Try it – what have you got to lose? Nothing but your excuse to continue procrastinating. Once you have started writing again it will all have been worthwhile.
The decision between writing and not writing is yours to make. Maybe this simple procedure will help you to break the barrier and get something done. Try it – one small step at a time…