March 15, 2009

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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