Working solo

Keep loving your thesis (even when it hates you)

By Inger Mewburn


Maintaining love for your thesis topic can be exhausting, basically because a thesis is such a hard thing to love. A thesis slowly takes shape over a period of years and must be closely attended to for most of the time. Many cooks find this exhausting and impractical, yet for best results, it is wise to keep your eye on it at all times.

A thesis doesn’t love you back. It demands a lot of energy and only gives you irregular rewards. Like any long-term relationship, it can be hard, at times, to remember the spark that got you interested in the first place. However, if you want to succeed, it is essential to try to keep the love alive.

One of the reasons we can become so estranged from our thesis is that the pressure to perform can spoil the enjoyment. This recipe shows you how to use ‘free writing’ to spend quality time with your ideas, without expectations. Free writing is advocated by many writing teachers as a way of overcoming writer’s block, but it is used here to help you break your habitual, mechanistic relationship with your thesis.



  • A pen and piece of paper, or a computer – whichever you prefer
  • 10 minutes of your time


  1. At the top of the page write ‘My thesis will help me…’
  2. Set a timer for three minutes.
  3. Now do some free writing – write anything which comes to mind, regardless of whether it really makes sense or not. Go fast without stopping to think. Let your pen/fingers do the thinking work, without editing.
  4. Stop and stretch. Take a deep breath.
  5. Now spend no more than two minutes reading over what you have written, underlining or highlighting anything which seems interesting.
  6. Write this interesting thing at the top of a fresh page and set the timer for three minutes. If you don’t have anything interesting, try another prompt, like ‘My thesis is important because…’
  7. Do some more free writing for another three minutes then stop.
  8. Read over this second output for a minute, underline or highlight any ideas which are good or worth pursuing further.

Cook’s tips

It’s best to do this exercise when you are out of the office. Try it while you are on the road: on public transport, in a waiting room, watching the kids play in the park. The different space will stimulate ideas.


Don’t expect anything to emerge in a particular session; it’s the habit of taking time to think out loud about your research, without expectations, which is important.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
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