Finding Your (Middle) Motivation
Over time, writing can feel exhausting. The slow and steady pace you've established begins to affect you. It's easy to let the day in, day out grind of writing wear down your motivation. If you're writing well, you've probably established a daily ritual and pattern to keep making steady progress. However, it's hard to keep that motivation going as you begin to reach the middle stages of your writing project. I believe this is especially true for dissertation and thesis writing. There comes a point where it really starts to dawn on you how long it's going to take to finish. For better or worse, you've settled in for the long haul.
Middles are often depressing. After several months (maybe a year) of writing, you realize how much is left to do. You might realize that a significant amount of work needs to be done. The psychological effect of what's left to do can easily erode your motivation. It's around the midpoint that our self-doubt begins to awaken. You start doubting your progress, work, and ability to finish. Furthermore, you begin to feel that you don't have enough left in the tank to finish. This is especially true if your first few chapters were challenging or slow. It's easy to let those earlier challenges cloud your judgement about the rest of the work. You're left wondering if you have anything left to give. How do you face the remaining months (or year) of writing?
The middle of a dissertation or thesis is a crucial time. It requires you to find a way to refuel and recommit yourself to the project. Moreover, that re-commitment is important, even if things are going well. Meaning that it's important that you continue building on that current success. Doing so also requires preparing yourself for those confidence and motivational issues that will likely arise. Otherwise, you might slip into some negative habits. For example, it's in the middle that you might start to feel the pressure build. You may begin to notice those deadlines around the midway point. Six months ago, you weren't worried about those deadlines. Suddenly, you are more aware of those looming committee and graduation deadlines. At such a point it's not unusual to feel a little anxiety. Committee members are asking for chapters, and decisions need to be made about graduation. Will you meet the graduation deadline? Therefore, it's perfectly natural to feel anxiety about those second-half deadlines. It's imperative that you remain motivated!
How do you stay motivated in the middle? That motivation is going to be different for each person. You will have personal struggles, challenges, and life issues that you'll need to work through. There's no way to predict what challenges await you as you write. However, here are a few practices that can keep you motivated in the middle.
Reevaluate your strategy. Ask yourself how you are doing. Are you missing your deadlines? Has your writing been excruciating or painful? Do you feel exhausted from the last several chapters? It's time to change your approach if you answered "yes" to any of those questions. Just because you've made progress doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement. The midway point is a time to critically evaluate your progress so far. Don't be afraid to judge your current writing practices and routines. Now is the time to start planning for the remainder of the journey. Therefore, you'll need to determine if you have enough left in the tank to cross the finish line. If you feel drained, lethargic, and/or depressed, then you need to refuel! Remember, a dissertation or thesis is all or nothing. A half-completed dissertation won't get you to graduation!
Recommit. Evaluate yourself. Are you still excited about your work? Do you enjoy your topic? Do you enjoy writing? If you answered "no" then it's time to recommit to yourself and your work. Explore the reasons why you picked this topic and reexamine your goals. What did you set out to accomplish or discover? Have you lost sight of your focus or purpose? Obviously, your main goal is to graduate. However, that alone isn't going to be enough to make it through those last chapters. There's no such thing as powering through a dissertation. Finishing requires recommitting to those research goals you set for yourself. Use those goals as a reminder of the importance of your work. Remind yourself that your work has value and is necessary. No one else is going to finish or complete what you've started!
Rediscover your motivation. If you're having trouble with recommitting, then it might be time to rediscover your motivation. This might require a return to the research. Return to the books and journals and look for areas to explore. Perhaps there is new research available that might help get you over that writer's hump. Moreover, research has a way of igniting your mind. Your lack of motivation might be a symptom of a starved mind. Feed your mind!
Revisit your deadlines. Did you set realistic deadlines for yourself? If you're feeling pressured or stressed then it's time to ask if your deadlines are feasible. It's not unusual to overestimate your progress, especially early on. You want your deadlines to be realistic, otherwise those deadlines can become a catalyst for failure. Pay special attention to the deadlines you've negotiated with your committee. Don't be afraid to ask for extensions to those deadlines. It may become necessary to give yourself more breathing room. Yes, you want to finish your dissertation and graduate. However, a breakneck pace is only going to disappoint yourself or lead to burnout.
Reevaluate, recommit, rediscover, revisit, and celebrate your progress!