Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD) : After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD). I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn' t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career , by Paul Gray and David E. Drew. Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck wi

Academic Exhaustion Syndrome: Four Recovery Strategies

The semester’s over. If you’re anything like the academics I coach, you feel like death warmed over.  Those last stacks of grading got done on sheer will, determination and fumes. And this is before considering your writing deadlines, committee responsibilities, and other demands.  You are suffering from Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.  Academic Exhaustion Syndrome (an advanced, more scholarly state of burn out) is a state of emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, ending with grading, over the course of the semester and academic year. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation to work, you have fantasies of standing up and screaming in the middle of a meeting, and you wonder what temporary loss of reality testing made you decide to become an academic.  This dreaded Syndrome can: Reduce your productivity and saps your energy Make you irritable and have thoughts of strangling an undergraduate Make you feel like you have nothing more to g

The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

Here's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge  back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again. Here's what you do: Post in the comment section: 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 deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.  For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals . Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes withou