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THE DRAFTING STAGE: OVERCOMING THE PHENOMENON OF THE BLANK PAGE

THE CONTEXT OF WRITING

Writing an essay, dissertation or dissertation is often a writing project of an unprecedented scale. The task involves the ability to manage almost all of one’s learning activities, with little direct social pressure to meet deadlines. Finally, achieving the goal can be fraught with a strong emotional connotation (eg being the first in the family to complete a PhD).

The stage of writing a dissertation or a thesis can therefore prove to be a daunting task. Your limits and your fears the best buried sometimes surface. To complete this step, it is important to understand what can hinder the writing process. You can also consult the text Obstacles to graduate writing in addition.

WHAT IS THE PHENOMENON OF THE BLANK PAGE?

The phenomenon of the blank page occurs when the student has in hand the content of his work, but he can not put his ideas in writing. It causes an inability to organize, plan and initiate the task of writing, while the preliminary steps (research, reading, knowledge of the subject, etc.) have been completed. Follows a block in the writing. This can also happen when the student has read a lot about a topic without taking notes. It can then lead to a feeling of scatter and difficulty in knowing what to select and how to start.

The phenomenon of the white page is manifested by a discomfort, often composed of several emotional states: anxiety, fatigue, helplessness, guilt, impression of trampling and feeling of incompetence. To cope with these unpleasant feelings, the student will then tend to turn to other tasks that he or she feels better able to achieve. However, the more time passes, the more difficult the task becomes.

THE BRAKES ON PRODUCTIVITY

The phenomenon of the blank page is rarely due to a single cause. Many individual factors can cause it and be interrelated. Although it may occur in students who have already had this type of difficulty, it can also occur for the first time in higher education. Before attempting anything, it is important to take the time to stop and identify which factors are likely to affect productivity.

1) THE FEAR OF FAILURE

I’m not smart enough …

I do not have the abilities, I’m bad!

I’ll never make it, it will not be accepted …

The fear of failure can trigger an often diffuse anxiety, a feeling of incompetence or inferiority. Failure is often perceived in a very global way: failure is not only attributable to the task that is performed, but to the value of the individual. Performance becomes the yardstick for measuring personal worth. It is often the consequences of failure that are anticipated (eg, “I will not recover”). A variant of the fear of failure is the “impostor syndrome”, for example if you doubt your potential for higher education and you fear, writing a text, that your director unmasks you.

2) PERFECTIONISM

I must produce something superior to what is usually done.

I have to write ten pages a day and I will not take more than one day off a week.

I have to write something good the first time!

A perfectionist sets unrealistic and far too high standards that generate anxiety (eg revolutionize the field). The pressure to achieve these standards can lead to rigid rules or waiting to be in ideal arrangements to do a perfect job.

3) SELF-CENSORSHIP

My director will not find it good …

I have not progressed enough, it does not move forward!

What I wrote is not good enough, better start again …

Self-censorship often takes root in negative past experiences (eg poor results). It can be a form of internalization of criticism, generally coming from authority figures (eg parents), which leads you to censor and reject from the outset the ideas that come to your mind, without giving them a chance. .

4) PROCRASTINATION

It’s going to be flat and long!

I’m going to do such a thing before starting …

I still have time …

Procrastination is the difficulty of getting to work, of disciplining oneself. It manifests itself in an irresistible need to flee the work to be done. It may result from the attitudes described above, but may also be related to other factors. It involves, among other things, a difficulty of time management and organization. The leak provides temporary relief: with the delay that accumulates, the pressure to make up for lost time increases.

5) MYTHS RELATED TO WRITING

To write well is an innate talent.

Writing is not really important in itself …

It takes a vocabulary to produce a good text.

A long text is better than a short one.

Writing is a skill that can be learned and developed through practice. Communicating the results of scientific work is an important skill to develop in higher education. Having a sought-after vocabulary can be an asset, but the use of a simple and precise vocabulary can also convey your ideas clearly. Finally, even though the number of pages may at first sight leave the impression that the work required more effort and investment, a short and concise text often has more impact than a long, sinuous and redundant text .

STRATEGIES FOR WRITING MORE PRODUCTIVELY

1) SET SPECIFIC AND ACHIEVABLE GOALS

If you feel stuck, blocked, the first thing to do is to decrease your writing goals. However, with the passage of time, the feeling of having to “catch up” will probably push you to want to do the opposite, but this usually increases the pressure and perpetuates the blockage. Set your goals very small and easy, a very specific part at a time: be careful not to ask too much, you must desensitize gradually.

You can not expect to write much of your dissertation or thesis in a few days, as it could be for written work done in your class (eg, writing extensively the bulk of the work during a weekend). The task is too big to be approached this way.

Give two or three hours of writing time, and complete your day with other tasks. This approach is often more productive in the long run. The text The challenges of managing time at the graduate level could be useful for you.

2) THE FREE WRITING AND THE METHOD BY SUCCESSIVE DRAFTS

This method consists in writing what comes to mind without stopping and without worrying about the coherence of ideas or syntax. Even if the ideas generated seem confused, they will become clearer by writing. The tendency to re-read and rewrite the same paragraphs over and over again is counterproductive.

When you start writing, keep in mind that you write for yourself first, in order to summarize what you know and the information obtained from your reading and research. By writing your first version, you will see that your ideas are better consolidated and well presented, and that your reader can understand you well. Write more than less, without criticizing your work at this point, until you have reached your writing goal for that day.

Here are some examples of the steps that could be followed using this method:

  1. Write freely: generate the main ideas, write everything that comes to your mind for a given section
  2. Sort and organize the points according to a structure
  3. Formulate ideas into complete sentences and paragraphs, improve transitions (writing your first version)
  4. Review and correct your first version
  5. Review and improve your subsequent versions (until your final version)

3) ESTABLISH A STRUCTURED WORK SCHEDULE

It is important to create consistent writing habits (eg four half days per week). Aim for regularity in writing, whether you feel inspiration or not. Continuity in the writing task is important because it keeps your ideas active in your mind and reduces the degree of anticipation and anxiety about the task. This avoids you to oscillate between periods of overproductivity (which can lead to exhaustion) and conversely, periods of aversion to writing. Writing regularly and slowly promotes the construction of ideas: writing produces ideas that favor writing, which leads to the emergence of other ideas … Writing should not occupy the whole place, but your work should ideally not either to be left out for long weeks.

Start your day with the writing period. Rather than waiting for a state of inspiration to write, try to place yourself in favorable conditions (eg adequate place, where the risk of interruption is limited). Prepare your mind for intellectual work, leaving you a period of warming (eg, re-read the part written the day before).

In addition, writing is a task where rejection and criticism are common. It offers few immediate rewards. Be sure to offer rewards for what has been accomplished rather than punishments for unfulfilled goals. Review the goals if they are only rarely achieved. Recreation or activities that make you happy are a good source of reward, if you grant them after an effort (and not before!).

4) FIND EXCEPTIONS

Do you observe and ask yourself these questions: what are the times when the blockage does not occur? Where are you naturally more productive, productive? Identify what works for you, how you proceeded at these times. Try to reproduce the conditions in which you feel that you have advanced and felt satisfaction with your work.

5) TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT

If the solutions you have tried so far are not very effective, try something different from what you are used to doing. Change the environment (eg working in an office rather than at home). Write by hand if you are used to writing on the computer, record your ideas by talking on a dictaphone. Change the order in which you write your sections (eg start with an easier section, do not bother writing the introduction first).

6) PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR INNER SPEECH

The thoughts that inhabit you before, during and after your writing periods have an impact on your motivation and your satisfaction. Try to make an encouraging speech about your efforts, as you would a sports coach, who would be behind you to support you in achieving your goal.

THESE TIPS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO REMEDY THE SITUATION?

Motivating factors may be involved in your difficulty to progress. Was your essay, dissertation or dissertation project really your choice? On what basis did you make your decision to undertake higher education? Do you have doubts or ambivalence about this choice? What are the issues related to it? Do you have any fears about the idea of ​​finishing your project (eg fear of the “after”, the job market, fear of having to maintain a high level of performance).

You stop and take a step back to explore the reasons for your choices, your questions and resistance to the task could help you better understand what you are going through.

It is also possible that you are experiencing personal difficulties that overwhelm your mind and affect your functioning. Do not hesitate to ask professional help to clarify your situation.

CONCLUSION

This text was intended to help you better understand the phenomenon of the blank page. Although it can have several sources, in any case, this blocking allows you to avoid confronting you with failure, criticism and … success. The hardest thing is to start. The negative feelings will fade as you begin to write, see your progress, and positive feelings can emerge. In fact, the feeling of getting closer to your goal is probably the best way to overcome your fears.

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