Almost every PhD student is now and then faced by anxiety over his thesis. Will everything be OK? Will I be able to do it? I will never succeed in writing this thesis.

Handy advice when having a fear to write or writer’s block: if you can’t write: write!

And there are many reasons to be nervous and disheartened. Maybe you are surrounded by people who don’t understand what you are doing and therefore can’t support you. To write a thesis is very time consuming and you are in need of a lot of focus and perseverance. Besides that not every supervisor is that supportive. In case you have adopted bad working habits they will now emerge! And beware: your way of thinking can interfere tremendously, a fear to write might pop up!

So what is the trick?

So maybe you have the impression that you have to learn how to deal with your writer’s anxiety. Or will you write, despite your fear. Writing is the best remedy against writer’s anxiety. You can start by writing down why you are so frightened to write and note down the answers. Then you can reflect on what you have written down. Or you can question yourself what advice you would give to somebody else with writer’s block and then comply with these recommendations.

Handy advice when having a fear to write or writer’s block: if you can’t write: write!

And did the following ever occur to you?

Fear to write is sometimes a defense mechanism: it is a fabulous way to avoid doing what you really want to do. You can completely focus on your fear to write instead of on the tasks that really need to be done. Still you have the feeling that you are trying really hard.

Luckily there are ways to ensure you won’t be paralyzed by your fear to write.

The temptation to do other things when you are experiencing a writer’s block, like reading, drinking coffee, clearing up, surfing on the web, going on holiday is extremely high. Sometimes doing these activities can be a good alternative because you are tired and you are in need of some distraction or holiday. However, to deceive yourself is sometimes the worst you can do. Not to mention when a deadline is under way!

So what is the best you can do?

It has to do with writing, but a different sort of writing than writing your thesis. The rule is: writing is writing and if you don’t succeed in writing for your thesis than still continue with writing. It doesn’t really matter what you are writing as long as you keep your writing muscles engaged. The trick is: during episodes of writer’s block, keep on writing!


Handy advice when having a fear to write or writer’s block: if you can’t write: write!


A few additional remarks:

  • Limit your writing time drastically. Tell yourself you are only allowed to write half an hour (or any amount of time, even when it seems negligible) and not any more.  Chose an amount of time you can comply with, even if it is 10 minutes a day. This strategy will help you to feel at ease again with writing.
  • Write in a different form: poems, a dialogue, a haiku, an email to somebody about your thesis. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as you write.
  • Think of something you do everyday day and you can’t really live without, having a shower, your cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, check Facebook. Set the criteria that you are only allowed to indulge then after you finished a reasonable amount of writing that day.
  • Explore and write about the topic why you can’t write – for example by questioning yourself when you stopped writing and what could be the reason. The probability will be that you will come across some answers and you will start writing again.

So, when you are stuck writing, write!!


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  1. Hi! I think this is great advice. I have a couple of questions/experiences that I would love to hear your advice about in a response or post.

    I’ve got about 6 months left to write my thesis and although I have been writing month-on-month for the last year I still have lots of writing, and more to the point, re-writing to do. 1. I’ve got to the point where I have lost motivation to re-write chapters that I have already re-written several times. 2. The second experience is that, aside from finding it difficult to get started writing at the beginning of the week, towards the end of the week there are days where I feel as though I don’t have any words left in my head – I struggle to find new ways of saying things or new ways to get me through the day.

    Your words on these topics would be much appreciated! Despite it all, I do actually want this PhD but that doesn’t seem to be enough to inspire the necessary motivation sometimes.


    • Hi! Thank you for your comment. A small word of advice: use free writing. Just search for it on the website. Of course you know where to find me for more in depth advice.

  2. Hey, Being focused is one of the key things in writing that always help to avoid any such writer’s block. I personally, plan my writing ahead of time. Having a plan helps me to go non-stop until I complete writing. That’s challenging. Further, I keep the mindset cool whenever I started writing.

    Thanks for your advice.

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