In physics, the momentum of a system is said to remain constant so long as there are no outside forces acting on that system. The same law applies in writing—a dissertation, an article, or any other project. Once we begin writing, we can speed through; we’re on a roll, steadily making our way through the chapter or article, but when we reach the end, we get stuck. Something in our system has been altered. We know what our next chapter or section needs to accomplish. We have our notes and our outline, but still we struggle to regain the feeling of momentum pushing at our backs and can’t get restarted.

Momentum is a tricky thing for academic writers. Losing it is not unusual and mustering fresh momentum can be challenging. While there is no one-size-fits-all-solution, there are some things to try.

  • First, park on a downhill slope. That is, instead of stopping when you reach a natural conclusion, push through and start the next chapter of your dissertation or section of your article. Stop only when you know exactly what the next point you need to make will be and, importantly, how you will make it. You will have already gotten over the hump of the blank page when you sit down to work again. If, however, you find yourself totally stumped about how to pivot to something new, how to introduce a new concept or chapter, you can skip the introductions and jump right into the meat of your material—definitions, datasets, related scholarly arguments—then come back and write the beginning at the end.
  • Second, if you stall because you haven’t spent the necessary time outlining the next chapter or section and therefore have no idea what is supposed to even come next, try breaking down each chunk of the new chapter or article’s section. The level of specificity you require is highly individualized, but once you determine your needs, take the time to satisfy them before you begin writing your chapter or article.
  • Finally, when you do finish writing for the day, make sure you have some gas left in the intellectual tank. That is, make sure you stop before you’re burned out so when you sit back down to write tomorrow, you aren’t fighting mental and/or physical exhaustion.

Action Steps

  1. Think about why you’re stuck. Is it the feeling of completion or the worry over introductions that are stalling your progress?
  2. Park on a downhill slope.
  3. Outline the next chapter or section of the article before you begin trying to write.
  4. Stop working before you burn out.
  5. Hire a coach to help you identify your needs and devise a personalized strategy for overcoming the loss of momentum.