Are you at risk of not finishing your dissertation? The 5 biggest mistakes holding you back from writing your dissertation...and what you can do about it!

It should all be some simple, right?


I mean, you’ve made it this far.

You’ve taken all of the classes.

Wrote all the papers.

Went to all the conferences.

So, why is this dissertation so hard?

You love your topic and so excited about the research but this writing…

Listen, I hear you. Today, I’m breaking down what’s most likely happening and what you can do about it.

5 Mistakes Stopping Your Progress

Here are the five things that are most likely holding you back from making progress. I would love to know (in the comments) which one resonates with you the most.

You think failure is the worst thing that could happen.

What if I fail?

Then, you will get back up and keep going.

I don’t care if you’re crying, don’t believe you’ll finish, and ready to vomit.

You keep going. It’s that simple.

Failure is necessary.

Failure just means that you did not get the results you wanted at the moment.

Failure does not mean those results will never happen or something is wrong with you.

Failure is proof that you are working towards a goal and you’re learning.

Okay, if failure is necessary to reach your goal and failure is proof that you are taking action towards your goal, then you only have one question to ask yourself.

How many times are you willing to fail?

Another way of looking at it is, “If your success is already written, how many times are you willing to fail to get there?” What if you’re just one failure away from the goal? ‘Just some food for thought.

Doing it all in your head.

Your head can be a dangerous place to stay in. Researchers estimate that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day with 70-80% of them being negative. And if you’re anything like me, there are some real treacherous thoughts lurking up there. Let me tell you a (not so) secret...most of those thoughts are not even true.

So then, why would you try to do all your planning and goal creation all in your head? You are leaving your good plans vulnerable to those evil thoughts that are only there to stop your progress.

This is why I’m big on you writing down your thoughts and plans on paper. You get to see what is, instead of the distortions your brain will create.

Additionally, our community helps keep us out of our own head. When you have actual humans to talk things out with, you get to hear your thoughts out loud and receive feedback about those ideas. We are not meant to exist in isolation. We need other people to better versions of ourselves.

Going at it alone.

This doctoral journey is lonely enough. Don’t make it worse by shutting everyone out.

Now, not everyone needs to be in your circle (catch this word).

I also believe that the people in our lives serve specific roles. People are not there to fulfill all of your needs. You got your gym friends. Your Beyoncé loving friends. Your natural hair friends. Your meditation friends.

The point: You need to get you some scholar friends who are going to encourage you to finish this dissertation. Not the friends who are just going to distract you (even if it’s not intentional).

Who in your circle inspires you to be a better writer, researcher, and scholar?

Work with them.

Write with them.

We are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. If you and your crew are only sitting around talkin’ shit about the program and the people in your cohort, then y’all are probably not getting the important shit done. If this is the case, then you need to go find some more friends. Not that you need to give up your core friends, because they are serving their roles. You just also need people who serve the role of who you write and work with. Adding to your life, not subtracting.

Fear of feedback.

Why are you hoarding your writing?

It will never be perfect, so stop saying you need to work on it a little bit more before you get feedback on it.

Even after you hire an editor, defend your dissertation, and submit it to the Graduate School, it will still not be perfect. You will always find something that you want to change.

So, stop it!

Share your work as often as possible.

Feedback makes you a stronger writer and a clearer communicator. You think you’re being clear and that everyone will know what it is that you want to do and what you want to say. How do you know for sure? The only way to know is to let other people read it. Detach from the writing.

Your writing may be personal but it is not a reflection of who you are as a person.

You haven’t decided (or committed to your decision) to finishing your dissertation.

Sure, you haven’t quit your program. You’re showing up to your courses and all the required meetings. Maybe, you even went to that little dissertation workshop that the Graduate School was having. You may be thinking, “I’m doing all the things and it still not working.”
Now, if you have been around here any length of time then you know I’m here to give it to you straight. Sis, if we’re being honest and really looking at your actions, you might as well have quit the program.

No shade but what have you been doing? Like, really?

It’s time to commit to seeing this thing through to end no matter what. I don’t care about what your chair is doing or what everybody else in the program is doing. I care about you! Your thoughts, as well as your actions, have to demonstrate that you are committed to seeing this thing to end no matter what.

Your success is already written.

You will become doctor.

That’s what is waiting for you on the other side of this decision.

6 Steps to Holding Yourself Accountable

These are just a few reasons why you are not holding yourself accountable and making true progress.

“Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”

I’m glad you asked.

Make the decision

We covered this above so I won’t go into much detail here. Friend, let’s make the decision today that no matter how many times you fail, you’re committed to seeing this dissertation to the end. Why? Because like my weight loss coach says, you could be just one failure away from your goal. Don’t get in your way from having what you want.


Plan, plan, plan

The overall goal is to finish the dissertation and graduate.


Next, we know that you need to:

  • Write and defend the proposal.

  • Conduct the research.

  • Analyze.

  • Write chapters 4 and 5.

  • Edit and defend the whole dissertation.

  • Submit paperwork to the Graduate School.

  • Show up at graduation.

  • Done.

After reading this list, how are you feeling? Sick? Overwhelmed? Maybe you’ve stopped reading (which would be awkward because I’m still writing). How you’re feeling right now is the most important thing to focus on! Not, the overall goal. Why? Because your feelings are the key to success. Ask yourself, “What would stop you from succeeding and what can you do about it?” Write those answers out. Come up with simple plans you can do when those success blockers pop up. Notice, I didn’t say if, I said when. Know what you will do ahead of time will help you get over those things quicker and back to taking action towards the main goal. Planning is key.

Get you some scholar friends.

Find your community who will motivate you and ask you the hard questions.


Work with them.

Write with them.

Share with them.

If I had to narrow down the key to my success when writing my dissertation in 4 months, then I would, hands down, tell you it was because of my Black Girl Crew.

There were days I didn’t want to write. Days I was trying to hide out in my apartment watching YouTube. Days where I just stared at my laptop screen. Guess who was right there, next to me? At least one person from my crew...watching them write, having them to cry with, or run away to Michaels for the fifth planner that was going to help me plan out my dissertation. Judge yourself!

I know how truly blessed I was to have the community and I recognize that not everyone has that. This is one of the major reasons why I created Write Away. Every week, a community of scholars comes together to support and challenge each other to get our writing done. I’m even there to answer questions and look over your drafts. Check it out if you are looking for some more support and accountability.


Establish a morning routine

I love love love my morning routine. I believe how you start your day determines the outcome of your day.

Do you have a morning routine? Here is my suggestion for a good morning routine if you need some inspiration:

  • Wake up

  • Grab a good beverage

  • Open up a journal or word document

  • Braindump (list) all of your thoughts for 5 minutes.

  • Ask yourself how you want to feel for the day.

  • How would you behave if you felt that way? (identify at least 3 behaviors)

  • Identify one task that will take 20 minutes or less. This task should help you make progress on your dissertation in some way.

  • Do that task.

  • Go about your day.

  • This should take you about 30-40 minutes.

Turn in your work

Remember, we are no longer hoarding our work.

You need eyes on your work. The best writers are married (not in a love/romantic/legal) sense) to their editor.

Writing is one process.

Editing is another.

And I believe the magic is in the editing.

Dear friend, then, you need to let someone edit and give you feedback. Otherwise, how will you know the effectiveness of your writing? You don’t want to wait until you give it to your committee. The stakes are too high, then. Instead, you want to send your dissertation to your committee feeling confident that they are going to approve it.

Receiving great feedback is another reason why you should join Write Away. Not only will you get support and accountability, but you’ll also get personalized feedback on your drafts.

Even if you decide that Write Away is not right for you, it is vital for you to find someone who can serve as an editor/feedback person.

Evaluate your effort

Last but not least, the final step to being accountable is to evaluate your progress. Check in to see how you’re doing. I recommend doing this on a monthly basis. A month is a decent amount of time for you to make some progress and still have time to make necessary changes. If you’re on a stricter timeline, then bi-monthly or weekly may be more appropriate.

Ask yourself some basic questions:

  1. What were my wins for the month?

  2. How satisfied are I with how I spent my time and energy towards my goals?

  3. How did I practice self-care throughout the month?

  4. What action will I keep doing for next month?

  5. What will I do differently next month?

Well, that’s all folks! That is accountability in a nutshell. Now, I don’t want you to leave empty-handed. Click the link below and download your accountability guide to keep you going.

Let me know in the comments about your thoughts on today’s post.