The Writing Center

How to Finish a Writing Project

Many graduate students have very high grade-point averages and have completed everything except a final writing project like a test or thesis.  Here are some suggestions that can help you finish a project. 

Keep a Writing Journal

Write about your writing:  write privately about why you are stuck rather than trying to fix your writing (which can be dangerous).  Chart out a series of small tasks that you can manage once you see why you’re stuck.

Give Yourself Deadlines in Your Calendar

Writing deadlines in a calendar often focuses our attention on getting something done. 

Write for 15 Minutes a Day

Keeping your momentum is helpful in finishing projects; even 15 minutes a day keeps your mind on the various tasks that need to be completed.

Work with Your MBTI Temperament

If you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory, here is a link to a shortened version:
If you have a high J, think about balancing that love of order with more flexibility so that you can finish the project rather than continue your schedule in order.  If you have a high P, think about adding some consistent scheduling to help you finish.  If you have a high N, remember to add details to your text.  If you are a high S, don’t forget to add the big picture to what you are writing. 

Curb Perfectionism

What is reasonable in your reading and in your writing is better for finishing a document than what is perfect. 

Know the Form of Writing You Want to Produce

Take out 10 samples of whatever it is you are supposed to be writing (e.g., Master’s theses in your field, articles from a particular journal) and study them carefully for organization, length, and style.  You may have to let go of your current notion of form (such as a research paper) and adopt a new form (such as a thesis that comes in chapters).

Let Go of Negative Criticisms

If you can’t finish because you keep thinking of negative criticism you have heard in the past, then you need to let go mentally of that audience and imagine writing for a friendly, interested reader.  Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, says the only real criticism is specific and that vague criticism is really a character attack made by unhappy people.  Even if the criticism is specific and negative, remember that at the graduate level, criticism is aimed at helping the whole community receive a work that is well done—don’t take it so personally.  Further, when the criticism you receive repeats, then take it seriously.  Try to show your writing to someone you trust in order to receive good criticism. 

Consider the Advice of Psychologist Otto Rank on Writers Block

Use Positive Reinforcement

When you finish something, reward yourself with a luxury in your hobby for under $10 (so you don’t break your budget!).  This positive reinforcement lets you look forward to a reward, and, every time you see that object, you’ll remind yourself of your finishing a particular project. 

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