- By Jason Bacot
- Published 02/22/2011
If you are a graduate student about to start on a thesis, your worst enemy is not incompetence. If that were the case, you probably wouldn’t have been admitted to graduate school in the first place. Your greatest enemy when it comes to writing your thesis is the blank page. It is little wonder why blank pages are so terrifying: they are empty and could hold anything, from a page full of drivel to words that could change the world. One way to avoid this problem is to do something that no professor would recommend. Start writing before you’re ready. Nobody has to see this “proto-thesis.” As soon as you have some sense of where you want to go with a chapter, start putting down words. Those words can be only obliquely related to the task at hand. You could, for example, start with something like, “William Faulkner was a mail clerk, but he was pretty bad at it and liked playing cards in the back room better. Could I somehow tie this in with his choice to become a screenwriter?” And then you could proceed with reasons why or why not you might want to try.
The actual process of writing is very effective for helping you clarify your thoughts. Sometimes just getting a few sentences down can help you figure out where you want to go with a chapter or section. If the “off the record” writing mentioned above is too unorthodox for you, consider keeping a thesis journal. Make it a practice to wr
ite in it every single day, even if that “something” is, “I wrote 1,000 words on Chapter 2 yesterday so I’m taking today off!” The sheer habit of writing makes the process easier. Additionally, don’t feel that every chapter has to be polished to perfection before you move on. Once you have the entire thesis written, you will want to expand some parts, edit down others, and shift some of the material around. You should do your final polishing then. Plus, as you progress through your thesis, your writing style will evolve. By the time you finish Chapter 9 you may look back and think that Chapter 1 was written by a stranger. Here are a few more ways to move past the scourge of the blank page. 1. Imagine that your intelligent, 10-year-old niece has emailed you asking you what you’re working on right now. Try explaining it in a 250-word “email” back. 2. Pretend that your favorite interviewer has asked you about your work and that you have two minutes to answer. Role-play this scenario with a friend, or write it out. 3. If you’re really stuck, spend half an hour or so on a task that demands attention and hand-eye coordination, like drawing, playing a musical instrument, or making a cake. Sometimes using other parts of your brain lets the writer in you recover enough that you can write effectively afterward.
Writing your thesis isn’t a non-stop, programmed procedure. Give yourself permission to break the rules a bit when writing seems like an overwhelming task.