March 27, 2017

Hi everyone! My name is Rene Marke, and I am a board member of the SIOP-YI network. Today I would like to share some thoughts on writer’s anxiety with you.

As a third year PhD student at Radboudumc Nijmegen in the Netherlands, my daily life is often dominated by one overwhelming feeling: I feel guilty when I am not writing my thesis. I recognize that I am not the only PhD student with these issues.

What I learned during my PhD program is that nobody can write a manuscript for 10 straight hours in a highly productive way. I try to break up my productive stretches with short pauses for tasks not related to writing. When I am in the lab, I try to plan experiments in between my writing. But let’s be honest, once you postpone your writing process, there is a plethora of tasks and to dos in the lab that easily keep me away from my computer. This is why I usually try to write at home.

The other problem we all encounter is online procrastination. My philosophy with this is: Close the tab, open the book.  I print out key papers and save my data on my hard-drive. After doing so, I go offline! I will try and find a calm environment to sit down (this can be a library, the lab or a favorite coffee place) and actively write for two to three hours. And only after doing that, I reward myself by doing something else.

And it’s kind of a funny story that while writing this article about writer’s anxiety, I actually struggled with writer’s anxiety. But I managed to overcome this issue because I have one little mind trick: I believe that there exists no text or manuscript which is truly perfect. Bearing that in mind, I just start writing things down. So instead of always doubting if my manuscript or thesis chapter is perfect, I just view every text as a developing and slowly evolving piece. The final result is shaped not only by me, but also, by other people who read my manuscript. So normally, when doubts arise about whether my thesis chapter is good enough, I just send it to my mentors or supervisors to receive their feedback. I always have the feeling that many PhD students view their thesis as a monumental contribution to the scientific community. Unfortunately, with this perspective, they hinder their writing progress by being too critical about their own work and slow this process unnecessarily down.

The other trick I call “ Momentum”. When dealing with a writer´s block during my thesis work, I try to write something else completely unrelated to my thesis. This could be for example this blog entry or a recipe for a cookbook that I have been writing for years. Once my writing is rolling again and my momentum is back, I am ready to tackle my thesis.  This “out-of-the-box” writing often helps me generate fresh thoughts.  At the end of the day, writing is one of the most important skills to develop in order to become a successful scientist. I truly believe, that as young scientists, we must practice and develop our writing as often as possible. This could be writing an abstract, a manuscript or a blog entry (or even a cookbook!).

What is your experience with writer’s anxiety and how do you try to overcome it?


1 Comment

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  • Great article and thank you for sharing!

    Susanne Reply

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