The Dissertation Chapter Writing Process

daily life, dissertation, goals, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The end of this month has brought more frustration than I thought. I think I over-estimated what I could get done this month (third chapter in to advisor) and then well, it did not happen. I’m frustrated that even though I was super consistent in writing almost every single damn day in January, I made a little over half the days in February. The month just kind of went over the rails. Still. This has been my most consistent writing chapter and I’m just frustrated that it is not done yet. I try to calm myself down and say “It will be done when it’s done. It will be done when it’s done.” But nope. My anxieties refuse to be swayed by reason. I’ve had days where I can crank out almost 2000 words (this happened yesterday), other days where I can only squeeze out 200 in the same amount of time (today). In fact, at this moment I am about 2/3 of a way through a second draft. I do not even know if the chapter is coherent. I usually go through about four drafts before I send them to my advisor.

The first draft. Usually garbage. I start with a question. This time around its: “what does Rousseau say about Christianity?” Answer: “A lot.” I proceed to pound out quotes and notes on everything related to this topic. I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan. There is a vague outline but no thesis. Usually it is incomplete before I go back through and begin…

The second draft. I am starting to have ideas, a vague notion of a soft thesis is occurring, I start to have an idea about how I could finish this thing. I write a real introduction including a lit review. I start to add other thinkers in the mix. I have some nice interplay between Pierre Bayle and Rousseau this time around. Some honorable mentions for John Locke and Hobbes.

After this I email it to Bruno, my husband/editor. We proceed to have the same conversation we’ve had for every paper, proposal, article, dissertation chapter I have written since we started dating almost three years ago.

“Does it make sense? Am I so stupid?”

“It’s fine.”

“But I mean is my advisor going to want to quit being my advisor when he reads this?”

“It’s fine.”

“But I AM FREAKING OUT!”

“It’s fine…do you..do you need a hug?”

Bruno returns the draft with his edits. I usually start to feel a little bit better.

The third draft. Re-write the introduction. Go back through every thing again. Start to Turabian my footnotes and citations. Re-arrange. Have a hard thesis. Check to make sure thesis is mentioned in each section, especially necessary if chapter is about to be an absolute mountain. Have moments of bliss. Have moments of terror. Want to take all my Rousseau books and burn them. Want to read Rousseau forever and ever. Check, check, and double-check the French. This is the part where the chapter really comes together.

The fourth draft. Read through again. Does it make sense? Is there stupid mistakes? Ok, this is fine, usually quick. And then I…

Turn the chapter in. Here comes the panic, the fear. For a couple of days, I just focus on reading. I take a break. My advisor is pretty efficient so within the week…

The chapter is returned back to me. And usually it is not as bad as I thought. My last chapter was approved right away and recommended to go publish (which I worked on over Christmas break). I have a sigh of relief, think I might just make it after all.

I wish I could be more comfortable with this process. I wish I could just be comfortable knowing that if I am working on it, if I am doing the work, it is fine, it is fine, and yes, it is fine. But as I said, my anxieties refuse to listen to reason.

I bet you can guess what my main objective for March is…

xo, Ali

 

 

 

 

 

Consistent

goals, graduate school, running

Consistent: adj. (of a person, behavior, or process) unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time.

“Be regularly and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” — Gustave Flaubert

I have chosen a word for the year before. I remember one year being “Joy.” I have a small issue with these words though. How can I be joy though? Sure, I can make a point to notice the small moments, say “isn’t this nice?” more often. Be grateful. Try not to grumble so much. But for the most part this word is intangible to me.

I’ll admit to being prone to having a “cross it off the to-do list” mentality. It is kind of hard to determine “Did I joy today or not?” It was easy to forget. And what if it was a bad day, month, year? Those happen. So, it was just frustrating and flustering. And, more importantly, forgettable.

But I still like the idea of having a word. I like the idea of having something to look towards to evaluate my days (see aforementioned “to-do list” mentality). One thing I struggle with is consistency. I get things done and, if I am being fair to myself, I can even admit I get things done well.

My problem is that I am constantly tweaking. If I see a new schedule I like, I want to implement it. Should I write my dissertation before I work out or should I work out before I write?  This successful person does this in the morning. This successful person does this in the afternoon. Tweak. Tweak. Tweak.

I discover an interest I did not realize I had. I must explore it. I will lose hours to it. Days. Guaranteed. Last year I hit a total Amazon rainforest phase. I can tell you more about those who explored the Amazon than you might care to know. I was supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal.

Then, of course, there is the problem of doing things right. I can be all or nothing. Black and white. Did I wake up late? Day over. Did facebook distract me too much? Day over. Perfectionism for me is an excuse for laziness. I almost did it today. It is not going right at all and I thought, well, fuck it. I’ll make myself a bath and read the day away. Thankfully I did not do that, but my tendency is very much if things do not happen the right way, then the day is worth chucking away.

“Inches make a champion.” — Vince Lombardi

My desire for 2018? To be consistent in all things. I want consistency in running. I do not care about high mileage. I do not care how fast. I just want to see 4-5 days a week every week this year that I ran. I want consistency in writing. Procrastination has never been my vice, but I still sometimes feel like I am scrambling, never doing enough. I want to write a certain amount of time (for January it was an 1.5 hours, which did end up working out to about 40 pages of a rough draft) every single day consistently. When I start working on French again, instead of picking some big number to do every day. I want to read/speak 20-30 minutes every day consistently. I do not want to be doing some big impressive amount of work every day, I just want to do what I want to do consistently.

And so, cheers to 2018, cheers to being 28, and cheers to being consistent.

xo, Ali