My exams are done and passed. My prospectus is all but done, awaiting only the official word of my committee. But while waiting for that official word, I did get the go ahead from my adviser to just keep going. He said that he is glad I learned not to wait around, and that I should continue to just forge ahead, and not worry about hearing the official word. I am taking that to mean that the prospectus has met his approval, meaning it will eventually get the official word.
That’s both liberating and terrifying. It’s liberating because I am finally able to start on my dissertation. It’s terrifying for exactly the same reason. I have to write a dissertation. This is a book, and a scholarly one.
On a certain level, I have been preparing for this for a long time. I knew as an undergrad that I wanted a PhD. I knew I was going to have to do this. I’ve been collecting advice on the subject ever since. And I’ve been teaching myself to write in a way that would make a dissertation easier for years now. So, for example, I know that I shouldn’t look at it as a single 160 page paper. Instead, I should look at it as 8 papers of 20 pages each (I have 8 chapters planned). Writing a twenty page paper isn’t scary; that’s just a few days of work, along with a few weeks of research.
Lucky me, I have the research already. I’ve been researching and thinking about this topic to the exclusion of all other scholarly work for almost a year now. Since mid October of last year, when I failed my specialty exam, I’ve been focusing on this topic with all of my academic strength. That’s about eleven months of research. Which is great; I have a stack of books and papers that I’ve gone through. I have pages and pages of quotes. I have a bibliography that has more than fifty sources in it.
Unfortunately, that means I don’t really have any excuse NOT to write. So I have to do it. Which means I have to give myself permission to write. I’m told that’s the hardest part: giving yourself permission to write. And I don’t seem to have a choice. Which is good.
Something else I learned is that I am not writing a final draft. I’m not writing a rough draft (I’ve talked about how I hate that term), but I’m not writing a finished product either. Right now, I’m just writing. I’m putting quotes where I can think of them, but I’m also putting in notes to myself (like to FIND a quote). I’m letting it flow out, getting the ideas down on paper (figuratively), but I’m not thinking of this as the final project. While the end result may be 160 pages, I’m expecting to write about five times that (which would be 800 for those of you keeping score). Large chunks of that will be repeated pages, but that’s okay; the idea is to set things down, then go refine them.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve got 5 pages of chapter 1 finished at this point. Which means I have 5 out of 800; a little less than 1%. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve been doing this now for exactly two days. At this rate, even if I spend as little time every week writing that I have been this week, I’ll be able to write about 8 pages a week. That’s 1% per week. Which means it would take almost two years to finish. But I’m not going to keep that slow of a pace.
For one thing, as I get farther along, I’ll be editing as much as writing, which will rack up ‘fresh’ pages pretty fast. For another, I know myself; I tend to write with a slow pace at first, then increase it almost exponentially, eventually sprinting to the end. I think I can probably safely say that I will do 8 pages this week, but next week I expect to hit 20, then 40 by the end of September. That would 5% in one month, which would mean 20 months… though I don’t expect to stay that slow. I’ve planned out 9 months for myself (starting on 9/20 and hopefully finishing by 6/20).
First, I’ll get it all written out. Then it’s just a matter of expanding, of editing tone, and of rewriting. Maybe I’ll throw it all away and start over at some point. Maybe I’ll do to myself what my adviser and mentor did to me with my Master’s thesis; I’ll look at it, then say to me “this is good, you’re on the right track. Now throw it away and start over.”