5 Things I Learned While Writing My Thesis

…mostly through trial and error. Always consult the supervisor of your thesis before following any writing advice you shall come across online. This general information is not intended to give you an A or to replace your (insert the degree you are studying) professional. Consult your sense of logic – and humor – and adjust accordingly. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these suggestions, stop and consult your provider.
Now I am done with my medical translation exams, I am entitled to a pun, right?

1.   Pick a topic that interests you.
Writing a thesis is a great chance to delve into a topic in which you are very interested and might be relevant to the kind of profession or further degree you may wish to pursue. However, I would insist on the first point since no matter how passionate and motivated you might be while choosing this topic, there will come a time, when you will hate yourself. Hate the topic. Question your decision to study. It might be when your research comes to a halt, when you cannot find the appropriate words to express your thoughts, when the literary source you’ve ordered does not arrive on time, delaying your work a couple of weeks or when you have fifty pages of astute, eloquent text and you are unable to put your thoughts in the right order so as to compose the perfect conclusion; the ‘swan song’ to your hard work.
Talking from personal experience, you might come as close as considering to never hand in you thesis (and hence never complete the bachelor program that required three years, many sleepless nights and almost illegal quantities of caffeine) or delete everything and start from zero after you have already printed it.
At this dark time (which may or may not bear resemblances to Middle-earth’s War of the Ring) reexamining the reasons behind your choice will enable you to think more optimistically and continue working.
2.   Plough a lonely furrow.
“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”, said Pablo Picasso and I cannot stress this argument enough. I started writing after I was halfway through with my research and I chose to do so at the university mensa (ger. for dining hall) and cafeteria, which resulted in little to zero work being accomplished. When I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I forced myself into exile (aka staying at home) in order to increase my daily writing output. Even though I thought the practice of writing in public places as a way to combine work and social interaction, writing takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. Especially if they are a) humorous friends with lots of gossip, b) carrying food, or c) tall, dark and handsome.
3.   But don’t rule out a more social environment.
Susan Cain makes a very apt comment in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a WorldThat Can’t Not Stop Talking:

“When I was getting ready to write this book, I carefully set up my home office, complete with uncluttered desk, file cabinets, free counter space, and plenty of natural light – and then felt too cut off from the world to type a single key-stroke. Instead I wrote most of this book on a laptop at my favorite densely packed neighborhood café. […] the mere presence of other people helped my mind to make associative leaps. […] the café worked as my office because it had specific attributes […]. It was social, yet its casual, come-and-go-as-you-please nature left me free from unwelcome entanglements and able to ‘deliberately practice’ my writing. I could toggle back and forth between observer and social actor as much as I wanted. […] And I had the option to leave whenever I wanted peace and quiet to edit what I’d written that day.”

Solitariness can be tedious; therefore a change of place can stimulate your creativity. Moreover, if you choose to go to a place, such as a café or the library, where other people also go to study or write, seeing others working concentrated may function as an extra incentive.
4.   Fight your inner demons distractions.
Spot them and fight them. Is it social media? Give a trusted friend your passwords and ask them to change them and not disclose them to you even if you’re hallucinating, crying, begging or perfectly sure that your crush commented on your latest profile photo. Sometimes switching off your phone or using an browser plug in can do the trick – if you are using Google Chrome, you may want to try StayFocusd.
Is it food? Some days I got so bored and un-motivated that I kept finding excuses in order to take a break to have a snack or make myself another cup of coffee. At some point I even moved my laptop in the kitchen and wrote from there, gaining instant and immediate access.
It took me some time, but at some point I realized that I would often persuade myself that I was too stressed to think clearly and, thus, be creative, write or keep on reading material relevant to my thesis. I would use it as an excuse to do house chores, hit the gym, go for a walk in the nature or call a friend and suggest going out. However, sometimes the best way to distress is to keep working. As your workload diminishes, you will feel less stressed. When you find it difficult to concentrate, ask yourself: Do I really need a break or is it my brain asking for a distraction?
5.   Read other things.
This has to be the most personal suggestion of them all. Since my thesis consisted of a textual-linguistic analysis of the Harry Potter series, I spend a great amount of time reading and rereading all seven of the books, existing pieces of literary analysis and other paraphernalia. Even though I would gladly reread the books again now, at that time I needed to distance myself from the topic; draw a boundary between thesis-related reading and personal reading for leisure, so as to stop Harry Potter fun facts from monopolizing my conversations.


As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, I’m no expert when it comes to writing a thesis – I am still waiting for my results, so please keep your fingers crossed! However, I hope that my advice was helpful to you and I look forward to reading your suggestions.

Hugs and kisses,
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