One of my biggest stumbling blocks while drafting came from receiving negative feedback on a chapter. My fragile ego interpreted the critique as a condemnation of my viability as a scholar, and I moped around for several weeks, wasting time assuming I was worthless. I have the bad habit of working furiously to meet a deadline and then riding the endorphin rush of finishing the work for weeks. Dissertations take time, and you will need to take breaks and recharge at some point. No matter how busy you are, take the time to write for half an hour a day. You have other work to do, you have papers to grade, you have jobs to apply for, you have meetings to go to, your back hurts, your computer is acting funny, the stars aren’t in the right position. And it’s hard, but sometimes you pretty much just have to tell these reasons to shut up. Read this post by Amy Rubens about Exit Strategies. Working solely for the “reward” of defending or graduating is overwhelming, so find little places to celebrate as you go along.
This independence can make the process seem very intimidating.
When you embark on this large, independent project, you may begin to ask yourself questions about your future in academia.
If you’ve set early deadlines, you should be able to move things around without throwing off your schedule. The sooner you can be communicating with your committee about your writing, the smoother your editing stages will go.
Sit with your advisor with just a rough outline of the chapter and find out if it works.
It is important to understand that short breaks in writing will happen, and you can take those breaks without feeling guilty.
Graduate school pundits often cite 50% or more as the attrition rate for ABD students (those who have completed All the requirements of their programs But the Dissertation). This handout will not only answer this question, but also give you good, practical advice on starting, drafting, and completing your dissertation.The (occasionally contradictory) tips below represent the things I would have done differently, if I could have. Having a goal to work towards is incredibly important for sustaining motivation over a long period of time.As someone who needs the pressure of a deadline to get anything done, I found that a list of due dates was essential for keeping me on track. That said, I pretty much immediately blew past my deadlines and had to keep adjusting them back.Send partial drafts to anyone willing to read them.This will not only prevent feelings of isolation as you write, as it will keep you connected to your committee and other writers, but it will also help prevent situations where you have to rewrite entire chapters. There may be times when you don’t need actual criticism, and instead just need to write, or to have someone say something encouraging. Knowing expectations will help you write effectively to your audience, and communication is key to avoiding potential pitfalls. Stand up for what you think is important, and for what you want to say. Academic work is always a balancing act between various pressures, and you have to get used to carving out time for writing next to all of your responsibilities. It is hugely overwhelming and distracting, and you need to be able to say “Go away, I’m writing.” Sometimes this means turning down a seat on that committee, choosing not to go to that concert, or kicking your friends out of your office. Next time someone asks you to go for a beer, close your computer and say yes. As I mentioned in my previous post, dissertation writing is a marathon, not a sprint. An awful lot of people, far smarter and more accomplished than I, have written guides for writing a dissertation. But remember that reading about writing a dissertation isn’t the same as actually writing it. Trying to please the entirety of your committee may be impossible, and at the end of the day it is up to you to know what you need to write. As Katy Meyers mentioned in her post last week, taking time off is important to personal happiness, and you should do so as guilt free as possible. We likely all know that guy who is on his 7th year of writing because he “can’t find the time” to write. My friends often struggle with the fact that I don’t have the free time to spend with them that I used to, but it is important to my sanity to say “no” every now and then, as much as I hate it. Writing often happens in little bits spread out over time. If you write about a page a day, you can finish a chapter in a month. There will always be a million reasons to not write. Read this one by Kaitlin Gallagher about Ph D thesis project management, or the one she wrote on sucstress. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing work when you read a book about dissertation writing, but reading Grad Hacker won’t code your data, compile your sources, or write your literature review. Take time to appreciate all of the little accomplishments as you write. After all, the dissertation is the beginning of the end of a graduate career.When you finish your dissertation, you have to change your life pretty dramatically —you may go on the job market, begin work as an independent scholar, develop classes, move out of a community that you have grown to love, and so on.Life unexpectedly happens often over a year-long period (or more!), and knowing that your deadlines will likely change will help to prevent you feeling guilty about that.