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How many of you can relate to this dissertation writer?

Every once in a while I come across someone who describes the agony of dissertation writing so well, that I ask for permission to use their words. I know that when other academic writers read what others are going through, it helps them feel that they are not alone, and makes it a little easier for them to tackle their writing.

I received an email today with just such a well-written description of the dissertation-writing struggle. In this case, the writer is also the mother of a young child. Here are her words, with permission.

But really I'm not sure HOW to make my argument make sense and I have TOO MANY tacks to take in making my argument. I know no one has written what I plan to write in just the way I'm thinking about it--so there I feel okay. I think what holds me back really is the fear of the enormity of the thing. Each time I have written a paper in the past it has taken such incredible spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental/intellectual, and physical energy out of me. The feeling while I'm in it (in the writing) is good--there's such an energy flow; such a rush of energy--but because it is so exhausting and because I know it takes enormous commitment in the moments of the writing--for the whole project too--I fear going in there. And it feels like a "going in there" kind of thing. It's a cave of some sort but with intellectual comforts, none of which exist outside of this cave. So the going in is a singular experience and resurfacing is hard; decompression is near impossible. In fact, when I'm in the middle of a writing project, it's all I can think about and I wake up early rushing to thought, to type; I wake up with thought. And then my daughter needs her hair brushed and a push out the door for school, and then . . . Often it takes days and days of writing and scouring the research as I write, to finally and suddenly wake up with THE idea, THE argument. I wake up one morning in the middle of all the writing days and I feel like screaming: I'VE GOT IT! I have THE seminal argument. And I do "have it." And I'm proud, etc. But this entire process is absolutely exhausting and I just can't seem to muster up the strength and resilience to "go in" again--not for this article and not for the diss, an arena in which we can only afford for me to dwindle in for one more year.

I definitely want to finish this diss. Definitely. But, right now, I think my bigger battle is fighting off this mental, emotional, physical (e.g., like I just can't get to the typing of dissertation material but can type emails, surf for academic software, and other inane, un-related computer activities), demonic enemy. I need to see myself with a sword hacking away at the evil two-faced specter always with guard up. I have been cowering--and relying too heavily on--the safety of the cover of darkness for fear of exposure to the bright light of the dissertation.


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Holiday Challenge

Are you going to try to work on your dissertation or publication over the winter break?

I'd like to offer a holiday/winter break challenge to anyone who would like to take me up on it.

Post what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily. Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadine pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Then you can go back to this post daily, weekly or just at the end of the challenge (shall we say January 15?) to say how you did, to tell us about your problems or to encourage and commiserate with others.

So, to summarize:
Post what you're working onPost your daily time commitmentPost again periodically to tell us how you're doing -- I'll receive all posts as emails and will comment and encourage you!Good luck and happy holidays!