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It's the same here. For my part, I just have to decide that I want the paper done and sent by some date (usually the end of a month), and I'll tinker up until then, give it a last look, and send it off. Then I can reward myself with something new.

Assistant Professor

I think this is a *really* common struggle in our field (though not necessarily specific to our field) but it a real problem for meeting professional expectations. Grad school imposes a lot of deadlines - so that can remove part of the problem (the paper is 100% done when it is due, not when you feel it is perfect) but even that can be a problem for students who perpetually take incompletes instead of turning in papers, or can't finish a dissertation.

In the post-PhD world my strategy is to create deadlines for myself. Sometimes I make them up, sometimes I set my sights on a special issue submission with a fixed deadline. This helps. It might mean I send out work that is good but not the greatest it ever could be (but what does that mean anyway for it to be the greatest it could be? and according to whom? even if I think it is perfect Reviewer 2 will likely disagree). Now I find the papers that languish in the 80% done phase are the ones I feel most invested in, oddly enough, because those are the ones I most want to get *right* and most want to see in an especially *good* journal and they are therefore the hardest to polish up and finalize to my imagined standard for them. I look forward to other comments and suggestion on this topic.

Anon Grad

I don't think you're doing anything wrong, this part of writing certainly can take a lot of time.

That said, it is the part of writing I actually like the most, because I find it easier to feel motivated to work on a paper in know is almost there than one I'm not sure will ever get there.

Different problems for different people I guess. I find the middle part of writing the hardest: filling in the details after I have drafted out the main parts of the paper but before I am just polishing and working on the expression of the paper.


Totally normal. I struggle with this as well. A professor once told me, 'you never finish a paper; you merely stop working on it.' I think that's fundamentally right.

A piece of advice I've been given and like: just ignore the paper for some time (2-4 weeks). Then re-read it. If you are pleasantly surprised with it, maybe its time to stop tinkering. If you would be embarrassed for it to be published as it (because of that page, or these paragraphs), keep tinkering.


Related to this, I'm reading Pamela Haag's book "Revise" and it's pretty good.

And I agree with what's been said above about the normality of OP's experience.

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