Alternate checkpoint: a restful break

I’m tentatively stepping back into my final chapter today after 10 days of no dissertation related work or thought. It’s been lovely and restful, though I’ve consciously not started any tempting big projects because I know I’d have to set them by the wayside while I finish the dissertation. I’m finding it difficult to mentally gear up for this final push.

Mountaineering metaphor ahead: When I was in high school or early college, I climbed Mt. Shasta in northern California with my dad and brothers. I’m typically not the adventurous type. Sleeping on the ground, waking up at 4am, walking uphill for hours on end. I’d rather curl up with hot chocolate and a good book. On this particular hike, I wimped out at the red rocks near the summit. We’d already gotten up Desolation Gulch and were heading into the final Miserable Mile when I decided to stop. (In my defense, I did have a cold and was unknowingly in the process of getting second degree sunburns all over my ears, upper lip, and nose.) The problem for me at the red rocks was that I couldn’t see the summit ahead. I had to trust those who had done the hike before. I had to trust that I had enough Gatorade and Gorp to get me through, that my legs wouldn’t fall off, and that I’d be heading down soon. But without being able to see what was ahead, I couldn’t push that last bit.

I’m feeling some of the same things with the dissertation. I know I’m getting close, and I can image what the final destination looks like, but I can’t see the full path to get there. I’ve got to put one foot (or word) in front of the other, trust my guides, and be ready to hear that there’s another rise after the turn ahead but that I can make it.

If we want to go the route of childbearing metaphors, dilation is slow, and I’m waiting to hit transition–when there’s no turning back, I start to swear, I can see why people want drugs, and I somehow feel more in control.

So for today that means freewriting, reading some research, getting out the calendar to plan the days ahead, and breathing deeply.

Checkpoint: Chapter 2 submitted

After six iterations, Chapter 2 is finally submitted, I hope for the final time. This is a chapter that began as a book article, which itself needed substantial revision. I started writing it in spring 2011, rewrote it in summer 2011, rewrote again in spring 2012, then again in summer 2012, then again in September, then revised for the book article in October, then revised back into a chapter in November. It’s on a very long work of fiction with multiple versions, and though I find some of the issues interesting, it has always felt like it has a tangential relationship to my dissertation as a whole. If anything will need revision, it’s the connection between the dissertation and the chapter, particularly in the way my theory applies to the text. For now, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

On to Chapter 4!

Writing Tip #5: Talk it Out

Tip: When you’re stuck, find a friendly ear to listen as you talk through what’s gone wrong.

I’ve been stuck so many times writing Chapter 2 that I’ve lost count. Most recently, I’ve been revising with writing partner comments so I can send the draft to my advisor. But something wasn’t working. I wasn’t even sure what. So I enlisted my half-asleep husband to nod at me while I talked through why I might be stuck.

For some people, freewriting works to figure out how to get unstuck. For me, all the freewriting in the world won’t get me out of some knotty problems. I’m at my best when I’m processing verbally, and I don’t even need the listener to be fully conscious.

On Monday night my husband did actually fall asleep as I was talking, but I also figured out the big connection between the theory and the chapter content–at least enough to get started revising again.

How do you best process stuckness? Verbally? In writing? In doodles?

Checkpoint: Chapter 3 approved some more!

Last night I got a glowing review of Chapter 3 from my secondary advisor. He’s hard to please, so I’m especially excited by his assessment that it is “strongly argued and beautifully written.” The only problem: it’s all downhill from here. I’m revising Chapter 2 right now, and it’s definitely not my strongest chapter. The theory application is weakest, it’s been the hardest to write, and I’m aiming for merely passable at this point. I’m hoping these other chapters have primed him for a positive response on this next one.

The end is in sight!:

  • Intro: completed (needs chapter summaries updated)
  • Chapter 1: completed (needs minor revisions)
  • Chapter 2: in revision to send to advisor
  • Chapter 3: completed (needs one sentence added to intro)
  • Chapter 4: 1/3 of the way drafted
  • Conclusion: rough outline done; bad draft started