Thanks to all the well-wishers who cheered me on yesterday -- it was a big help -- particularly around 3:45 when I lost all motivation to do anything except surf the inane celebrity sightings photos at (Yes, yes, I know... no self-respecting academic should admit this, but a blog is all about revelation and embarrassment. If it helps at all, before I resorted to shlogging about in the cybermuck, I really did read the NYTimes and the BBC news...)

Despite this woeful lapse into the dregs of popular culture, I accomplished 1.75 of my goals.

First, I cleaned out the Cage --It seems that I had about 50 copies of every version of every chapter printed out. It was a little bit of overkill, I think. It must have been that trick of changing two words, printing out 50 pages to make myself feel like I was accomplishing stuff that Joan Bolker talks about. (And, incidentally, just when I need it the most, I can't seem to find my copy of her brilliant therapeutic book on dissertation writing.) Anyway, I took all of those drafts and put them into my scrap-for-printing-and-note-taking pile, and sorted out everything else into chapters and notes.

Speaking of notes, I wound up with was a pretty substantial stack of notes taken on the back of scrap paper that say things like "DO NOT FORGET TO FIX..." or "MAKE SURE TO DO..." All listing things I had thought of at random moments that I wanted to make sure I didn't forget to do in the whole dissertation. None of them make any kind of sense to me at this moment, but I'm sure they're vitally important so I can't throw them out. Maybe when I've finished dissertation v. 2.0, I'll go back and read through them to check that I've done what I said I should do. In the meantime, any thoughts on developing a better system for keeping track of important ideas and thoughts? I've tried the notebook thing -- I always forget them or leave them somewhere, or else I never look back at the pages already written on. I'd love to hear about how other people keep their thoughts organized. (or even if such an organization is possible.)

The .75 part of the goal looked like this: After a couple of hours of reading long lost blog friends (I stopped reading blogs as well as writing them), I looked at the clock and it was 5:30. I thought, well, I might as well go home. And then, I got this horrifying thought that if I did, I would have to confess to the blogosphere this morning that I had not read chapter 3 like I said I would. Strangely enough, it was a big motivator. So, I read through most of chapter 3. (I had also cheated a bit on my "one chapter at a time theory" and read through a bit of the introduction as well -- so between them both, I read a full chapter...)

I found Chapter 3 to be terse and bony -- there's no flesh here, it is like I assume that everyone knows what I am talking about, so I don't have to bother to explain it or to tell the STORY part of the hiSTORY. It is frustrating and daunting. Mainly because I don't really know how to revise it to get that fleshy, juicy, meaty part into the chapter(s?)

Whenever I've faced revision in the past, I've just thrown stuff out and started over, using the same sources but replacing the interpretation and analysis. I don't think that is what is called for here, really. But, I'm not really sure how to begin to get what is called for. I don't even really know how to articulate what it is that is needed. I keep coming back to the bones idea -- or even better, a building metaphor. It's like I've got this stark structure of steel girders, some of which are wonky and need shoring up, but which is for the most part ok. But, that's all it is -- girders. You can kind of imagine the building that will be formed around it if you squint hard enough as you look at it, but the building itself just isn't there yet. So, as a writer, where do you go for drywall and bricks and paint and carpet and furniture and landscaping? How do you take the girders and turn them into a real building? Especially when all you really know how to do is rivet girders?

[Just to check my spelling, I looked up girder -- just saying it in my head that many times made it sound like a ridiculously fake word -- the archaic meaning is to brace or strengthen. I like that notion - that I've got something strong here, a braced foundation. But, girders aren't enough. No matter how strong or bracing.]

And, just to complicate things in the midst of my authorial and intellectual crisis, I'm having lunch with my advisor in an hour and a half. (GASP!) It will be the first time I've seen the man in 6-ish or so months, so I'm a LEETTLE apprehensive. Last night I was cool as a cucumber, but now, I don't know what to talk to him about. Do I tell him I'm having these doubts? (I know he's heard it all before and is probably sick of it...) OR do I play cool, and be like, "Yeah, baby, I can TOTALLY finish this dissertation in the next week and a half." (that extra half week is so that I can please the Formatting Czar and the Austin Powers speak is to throw him off of my nervousness.) I don't know. I'm also a little concerned because I tend to babble and reveal a bit too much when I'm nervous (I'm sure he REALLY doesn't need to know about the stuff I've really been thinking about -- the lead abatement in the house, the flour moths that are taking over our kitchen, the doctor's appointment I've got next week to talk about the back issues that have caused my right toes to be numb for over a year, and the prep-work we're doing this week on all of the junk in our basement for our block's garage sale this Saturday. Or who knows, maybe he'd prefer to hear about those things than the whiny "why can't I finish my dissertation" chorus.) I guess I'll just have to wing it and hope for the best.


At 9:00 PM StyleyGeek said...

The potentially best system I've used for keeping track of everything is when I started a blog specifically for the dissertation (a private one), and whenever I had an idea I would post it and attach pre-decided-on tags specifying (1) chapters the idea related to (2)topics the idea related to (3) what the idea required me to do (edit, add, check, read, etc) and (4) how urgent/important it was.

Then when I wanted to work on chapter 4, for example, I could search the blog for all entries to do with chapter four.

If I was going to the library, I could search the blog for all entries relating to things I needed to read.

I gave up on this system when my tags stopped working properly and I never found out why.

Also, there are supposedly programs out there that let you do all that but in a self-contained journal on your computer, rather than posted to the internet (although I like keeping stuff online, because then I can access it from home and uni without remembering to take the file with me, and without getting into version problems).

My absolute number one recommendation, though, is to choose a system -- any system -- and stick to it. Once you decide how to organise your notes, you will be struck again and again by much better ways to do it. But if you keep switching, you not only lose time reorganising everything, but you are guaranteed to misplace important things in the process.

At 12:29 AM What Now? said...

I don't know if this will be helpful, since we're in different disciplines, but for what it's worth: A fellow grad student gave me a great piece of advice when I was dithering around with my diss., and that was to Do the Close Reading First. (I'm in literature.) And I think in your case, that might translate into Tell the Story First. And then you can "backfill" with all of the scholarship. Now this is a quite different approach (and a different metaphor) from your idea of adding walls onto the girders, but I found her advice really helpful, especially in that last summer of finishing up the project.

And I thought HistGrad's blog post that you linked to in your last message was fabulous! Good advice there for all of us trying to complete writing projects.


Post a Comment