Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Dissertation Day: Exploring My Writing Process

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dissertation Day: Exploring My Writing Process

 Hello Readers!
     Happy Monday morning; time for another Grad.Life blog post! I hope everyone had a nice weekend and is looking forward to a productive week. Today will be a big dissertation writing day for me because I am off from my other job. It feels good to have a whole day ahead to use for my dissertation -- on the other hand, sometimes on a day like today I get overwhelmed by the pressure to accomplish a huge amount of work. It is like being in a small boat in the vast ocean, knowing you have to row yourself to the opposite shore; by the end of the day, you still can't even see your destination. In fact, the starting point behind you seems closer than the end-point. Maybe I should just turn around and lie on the beach....
     The thing about writing a dissertation is that you do have to treat it like a work task rather than a creative work springing forth from your brain and fingertips. I have fantasies of sitting down and magically producing page after page of my current chapter, my fingertips flying gracefully over the keyboard as elegant sentences and arguments flow into my Word document as easily as wine into a glass at a summer rooftop party. (You may, indeed, use my analogies to induce what I'd rather be doing right now.) But I've learned over the last few years that those kind of days rarely happen for me. In fact they only happen, at least for me, at the very beginning of a draft. After I get the basic thoughts down into something that is chapter length, the real work begins. It involves tedious, pain-staking, paragraph-by-paragraph, sometimes sentence-by-sentence revision. Sometimes revision is not enough a strong enough word.
   As I've begun new chapters, I've tried to change this style of writing; I've tried to go from my research and notetaking stage to the drafting stage in a more graceful way, a way that would eliminate this pain-staking revision stage that I have found myself in time after time; but so far, it hasn't worked out. It seems my process is that after a period of research (usually having generated only a percentage of what I will eventually need to complete the chapter), I feel compelled, like a surfer being caught by the swell of a wave, to create a document and begin the "Draft File." This is often what I enjoy the most; blocks of time disappear as I type, getting lost in the "work." But as enjoyable as this stage is for me, I am never doing my future self any favors. This draft is usually a piece of junk.
    I guess my problem has been not being able to fight that compulsion to begin writing. My adviser always says that I shouldn't fight it -- that if I am being compelled to write it is because I need to think through my material and argument through the act of writing. In other words, the resulting crappy draft is not the point of the exercise; it is the thinking that occurs while writing the crappy draft. In fact, I could probably just delete the whole thing after I write it and I'd be no worse for wear.
But then, of course, once all that writing is down into the file, I CAN'T BEAR TO DELETE IT. I can't even bear to ignore it. It has become something that I will mold, and re-shape, and nurture, maybe until it is completely unrecognizable, but never completely part with. I wish I could exorcise this always-too-early compulsion to draft from my writing process, but for now, I've resorted to it every time.
    After this current chapter, I will challenge myself once again to discover a different, perhaps more efficient, process... but for now, I am stuck with what I have -- which is a big messy 80 page document that will take me the next few weeks to craft into something readable and valuable.
     I am interested in learning about your writing processes -- and if you have any advice for this disseration writer! Please share your thoughts, gripes, and processes here!
Until next time, yours, Liza

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