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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.It is important to understand that short breaks in writing will happen, and you can take those breaks without feeling guilty.
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.
There will be times where you have to focus your energies elsewhere: teaching, the job market, writing publishable articles, sitting on committees, taking care of your family, watching cartoons. Sitting down to write, even when it seems like you can’t, is the only way to get anything written. Read this post by Terry Brock on “The Dissertation from Afar”, or this one by Micalee Sullivan on getting started writing.
At a time when I needed encouragement, hearing any criticism, no matter how constructive, hurt my productivity. Find out what your committee wants and expects from your work. Don’t get distracted by small feelings of accomplishment: finishing one page means that you are now ready to write the next one, after all.
Knowing yourself and the kinds of feedback you need as you write is important on a project like this. Following the advice about feedback above, find out what kind of writing your committee expects.
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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.