Write…or perish?


This title is an analogy to the famous (academic) quote (and reality) ‘Publish or perish‘, which emphasises how much vital it is for scientists to publish if they want to ‘survive’ in the academic world. To this end, I’m obviously relieved to learn that my third article co-written with my two supervisors (Prof Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith) has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (JOLIS). Moreover, it also acknowledges the validity of my study, even though I’m not done with it yet.

The challenging act of writing

So why this title? Because despite this recent victory, I’m presently in the painful and slow process (or let’s rather call it agony) of writing up my thesis, and if I fail to do so, I (the PhD student that I am) will ‘perish’ for sure! I could attempt to justify myself by complaining that writing ‘per se’ is an arduous process, particularly so when it is not in my native language, and even more so when it is in an academic style. These are indeed significant challenges which – when piled up together – illustrate well how it can hinder my productivity. However, being in the middle of my 4th doctoral year, I was expecting from myself to be a little bit more at ease with this process by now. But am I deluding myself? Perhaps…

A thesis isn’t a book

Discussing with my colleagues from university (this includes my PhD mates as well as members of the academic staff) – I found out that everyone has been through a writer’s block during the writing of their thesis. And not only once. My supervisor warned me recently that I’m not writing a book, but a thesis (which is never finished and yet has to be finished at some point). An academic friend of mine also told me that the thesis is entirely different from writing a book because you don’t have the choice to finish it. Writing a thesis he said, is like banging your head against a brick wall, until a breakthrough occurs. Sounds fun, isn’t it? Well, at least I can testify that my head is certainly banging on the writing block, so maybe I’m on the right path after all.

A known syndrome

The impostor syndrome, which can lead to procrastination, and bring up all kind of emotions such as fear, guilt, lack of trust, comparison, perfectionism, and so on, does not facilitate the process of writing of course. Much as been discussed on this phenomena, since it concerns many writers (academics or not). Plenty of books, seminars, articles, providing all kind of support and advice are available for those of us who are affected by this so well known syndrome. I did read some of these books, articles, blog posts, and even attended seminars. Yet, the problem seems to persist. So what can be done?

Focused & grateful

I feel, that it has more to do with an inner ruthless resolution. With gathering the courage and faith, that this work is going to be done, no matter what.  The thought that this thesis might not get written – which would consequently lead to failing my PhD – isn’t quite pleasant to consider after all. When I think about all the sacrifices that not only I but also all the close family and friends have made for me to be here, it helps me to pursue my efforts, out of respect for them, and for myself. This insight could quickly shift to a threatening pressure though, which would bring me back to the writing block, and that’s not the point. I think the trick here is to be grateful. Grateful for being here, in this overall process, however difficult it can be. Grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a PhD and writing a thesis.

Faith in the process

I’m not alone. Support is always here and now, coming from another dimension I too often overlook. To remind myself that I started this PhD out of (spiritual) faith reminds me that what matters is the journey itself, not so much the destination. This helpful book I’m presently reading, and the rest I’m having out of a few days of illness, gently bring me back to a zone where I slowly feel again in alignment with myself. May this reconnection lead me towards action and the completion of my thesis.


Image copyright: Cooozza http://7-themes.com/users/cooozza