Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day One, Year One

Yesterday I attended a dissertation writing workshop run by Robert Lucas. The focus of the workshop was on getting writing done, not the format it should be in or what a dissertation is. His biggest recommendation was one that, if you've read any advice on the topic at all, you've heard before - write every day. (You can write six days a week, he said, for at least half an hour a day.) I guess I was finally ready to hear it because this morning I got up, went straight to my computer, set my iPhone for a half-hour timer, and went to work. This was incorporating another of his suggestions - set aside a specific area to do dissertation work. I've been sitting in my living room a lot, so my desk has now been reclaimed as dissertation space.

The dilemma I will face in a day or two is that at this point I'm not ready to write the dissertation every day. There is too much in the way of data collection, etc. between now and then. I could use the time for other dissertation tasks, such as taking notes, but his system is really one for becoming a productive academic writer overall, not just writing the dissertation. (Writing can include revising, brainstorming, drawing diagrams, what have you, but it's about output, not input.) Besides, writing is something I can do well first thing in the morning - surprisingly, given that I am not a morning person. So my plan is to move on to work on one of the articles that's "in progress" on my CV after this chunk is done.

One day hardly constitutes a victory over sloth, but I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't started today, the chance of there being a day two would be exponentially lower.


Rebecca said...

Is your lit review complete? That is something you can always work on writing.

The idea of moving on to an article if you have nothing to write on your dissertation makes sense; just remember that doing things like journalling about the process usually count as well; it can help you organize your thoughts and you may come up with something useful in the process.

turducken said...

The lit review is not complete, but I am not going to write it until I've done more of my reading for it. (Which I am doing - but reading and note-taking is a separate task.) YMMV but if I were to start writing it at this point I'd be writing nonsense I'd have to throw out later anyway.

Dave Daniels said...

I prefer to have a daily word count rather than write for a period of time. May not be applicable for academic writing... dunno... but I can waste half-an-hour better than anyone I know with nothing to show for it.

turducken said...

Lucas gave some good reasons why a time limit works better for most people. For many tasks, what is a reasonable word count - for example revising? Or creating a really tricky graph? I think that's one of those areas where people may vary, however, rather than being a rule that's true whether people believe it or not.

Of course, you know if you're wasting time that doesn't count, right? You have to actually be DOING something appropriate. People have different obstacles to progress, and mine is being easily distracted. So there's no stuff on the desk other than dissertation stuff (well, there's a lamp, pencils, etc., but nothing FUN). My internet connection is off. I can only get out of my chair to refill my cup of tea. And since I live alone, there is no one coming in to the room, and no one is calling/texting me at that hour. I should mention that most of the stuff in this paragraph is not "stuff Lucas said yesterday" but "stuff I've learned through trial and error." If the internet is on, ain't no writing happening.

Other problems he discussed are ones I'm not so prone to so I am not so vigilant about them. I don't have the belief that the first draft has to be any good, for example. (Which doesn't mean I'm going to write my results section up tomorrow - I want a draft, not speculative fiction.)

Tim said...

I don't know if you have this option Eve, but what really helped me was to have someone that I was genuinely accountable to (my chair). We set out a goal date (say for the proposal defense, or Big D defense) and then calendared back to the current day, setting due dates for known products (such as 1st draft of intro chapter, revised draft of lit review, 1st draft of conceptual framework, etc.) Then as I turned things in (such as a 1st draft of lit review) and began working on the next due date, my chair would work on giving me feedback on the last document, and that would help move me forward to the next draft, and the due date assigned for it.

I just found that I really needed a strong external accountability. So much so that we did a directed reading for a semester that was dedicated to moving towards a defense. Probably the most valuable "course" I took.

Good luck! (btw, who's your chair, Caboni?)

turducken said...

My chair is McLendon. Dr. Caboni is on the committee, but as an instructor he may not chair dissertations.