I’m Back? Or, The Story of My Dissertation Journey

*Brushes the dust off her blog and takes a look around.*

–WARNING: Extremely long post… I got carried away —

When I started this blog, I intended it to help me record my journey into the world of writing fiction.  The problem is I jumped into it before I was ready, really.  Way back in April, or whenever that was, I decided that the next thing I want to accomplish is finally finishing a novel.  Since then I’ve also decided I want to try playing Starcraft, so I can write an article about gender & esports.  That was back in June, I believe.  Recently, I’ve added another project to my list: learning SQL.  I’ve always wanted to learn a computer language.  Knowing SQL isn’t the MOST relevant language I could learn, but I want to build my own database to help me keep track of all the resources I’ve found during the course of writing my dissertation.  (I know there are some out there already and I haven’t tried them all, but the ones I have tried, I didn’t like.)

That probably gives you some insight into how my mind works.  I get excited over a new project, but I jump from project to project pretty quickly.  However, since finishing this dissertation and this degree has been  a 10 year process, it wasn’t something I could let slip away.  So, for the past 9 months I have been denying myself.  Facebook.  Video games.  Fun books.  Crafts.  Friends.  All I have done for the past 9 months (well, except for most of June – I took that month off) is sit in this room, in this chair in front of my computer.  But I made myself do it because I don’t want to have wasted the past 10 years.  The Secret World premiere came, I played for a couple of weekends and then had to stop playing.  Guild Wars 2 premiered and I played for a couple of weekends, and had to stop.  Pub(lishing) Crawl keeps posting these awesome-looking new books that are coming out.  Some of the new author blogs I follow announce the release of their book.  I can’t even remember the last fiction book I finished.  Honestly, I think it was The Passage, but I finished that three months ago.

At some point this summer, I started having a ridiculous feeling – I didn’t want to jinx anything  or something.  So I started denying myself writing in this blog too.  I wanted to be able to write about writing, but I wanted to finish the dissertation before I did that.  So, I started denying myself this blog too…except for the couple of unrelated posts I felt compelled to post (as you can see, television is the one thing I did not deny myself.  I did, however, limit my consumption).

Well, I FINISHED A COMPLETE DRAFT OF MY DISSERTATION!!!  It’s not the final draft, and technically it is not “complete” in the sense that it is missing a map I need to draw, the acknowledgements, the abstract, and it still needs a title (something other than the lame one I have been relying on for years).  But other than that, all the body is finished…until my advisor/committee members tell me it sucks and I have to revise it.  Actually, I’m hoping they don’t say that.  I know everyone will find something for me to revise, but I really, really hope that at least generally they like it.  My advisor has it now, so I am waiting for her judgment.  Her stamp of approval is the first trial.  Then I have another committee member (the “expert” on the subject) who also has to approve it.  THEN, I can finally start planning for my defense.  So, while it IS a huge load off my back that I finished the draft, I am not entirely anxiety-free regarding the whole thing.  Only when I finally graduate will I be anxiety free…until the anxiety over finding a job kicks in, anyway.

In the meantime, I decided to resurrect my blog, which I never really intended to abandon in the first place.  So, for anyone out there still hanging around, HI! *waves*

Also, November is just around the corner, and that means NaNoWriMo.   I have never participated before, but I’ve been looking forward to it since April.  My naive plan back in April was to have already spent a summer month writing a novel so I wouldn’t be going into NaNoWriMo a complete noob, but that didn’t happen.  Although, my impression is that in some ways NaNoWriMo is for noobs, so I think I’m okay.

Realistically, I think I know what will happen, which if it happens the way I am picturing it in my head will be okay.  November will start and I will jump enthusiastically into writing a novel.  At some point during the month, I will have to set the novel aside to work on my dissertation again, and perhaps even defend it.  This all means that finding the time to write 50,000 words while teaching, while revising my dissertation, while preparing my defense and while taking care of my family is going to be pretty hard.  But, if I can defend before the end of November, it will all be worth it.  I will just create my own NoWriMo in January or March next year.

This process of writing my dissertation has been hell, but in some ways it has also been like magic.  When I started about this time last year, I had nothing.  No chapters.  No real sense of what the hell I was going to say.  The task was really daunting.  I wrote a 115 page chapter and then got a couple of jobs (retail and administrative assistant).  My advisor wanted my chapters to be 25 pages and no longer than 30.  My brother-in-law read that horrible draft.

And then for months, I didn’t have time to work on it again.  I quit the retail job very quickly because the way they did the schedule had me working both days on the weekends we had with my stepson and off on the weekends we didn’t have him.  I didn’t want to miss out on that precious time, so I quit.  I apologize to the next over-educated person who applies at that store, because it will be my fault you don’t get the job.  Sorry about that.

I did, however, stick with the assistant job until January.  It was only part-time, but it was part-time everyday.  9-12 everyday.  Which meant that by the time I got home and had lunch, there was only an hour or two until my husband got home.  I quickly realized that I was never going to finish my dissertation if I continued working.  So, I requested more financial aid and quit the job.  But, after I worked for two more weeks while she found a replacement, January slipped by and it wasn’t really until February that I started working on my dissertation again.

Now, I had heard stories about people rocking out their drafts in 12 weeks or less.  I (naively) figured I could do the same.  I have always been good writing under pressure.  Well, by the first week of April I had cannibalized that 115 page chapter and had written the bulk of my dissertation.  But my advisor informed me that there was no way I would be able to graduate that semester. She suggested I do it during the summer, but of course, two of my committee members would be out of town the summer, so that was a no-go.  Which, I suppose, in the long run allowed me to enjoy some of my summer (see June reference above).  And the analysis I had to do for one of my chapters took much longer than I anticipated.  I probably could have plowed through it to get it done faster, but I may have gone insane in the process.  In July I start working on it again, thinking I’d be done by August.  At the beginning of August I was saying the same thing: “I only have one chapter and the conclusion left.”  What the hell had I been doing?  Well, I think without the pressure of a deadline, I was taking longer to revise chapter than I should have.  I allowed myself to be meticulous and do things right, instead of rush through and fudge some things (not factual things, just style/organizational thing).  I read through each chapter multiple times. I checked my footnotes, re-checked each in-text citation, re-checked my foreign words glossary and made sure everything was formatted prettily.  (I imagine that is one of the HUGE benefits of being published by a publishing house and not self-publishing – a professional does all that formatting stuff for you…although, I guess with a fiction book, there’s probably a lot less formatting to do…)

At the end of August, I acquired not one, but two teaching gigs (adjunct positions) – much better than the jobs I had acquired the year before.  Although, at both gigs I had to pretty much build the classes from scratch.  Four classes total (one of which hasn’t started yet).  This meant that much of the beginning of September was spent on classes and not on my dissertation.  I tried.  I really did.  And I suppose during my days here and there, I did get stuff done.  But it took a month and half to finish that last chapter.  Had I not had a job, I believe I could have leisurely finished it in a week and a half.  But life happens and I need these teaching jobs for a variety of reasons.

October hit and I started to freak out because the longer I took to finish, the greater my chances were that I wouldn’t be able to finish this semester, and that was going to be a huge problem in a number of ways.  So, last week, just before the weekend, I decided I was going to plow through and finish it…but then stuff happened and I lost a day.  I did spend 12 hours on Sunday working and I got a lot done.  I finished the last chapter on Wednesday.  It was a weak end to the chapter.  Yesterday, I spent 6 hours writing the final 4.5 pages.  It was excruciating and so hard to get my words on paper.  I think mentally I just wanted to be done, which made it hard to find the words, or something.  But, it is complete and those stiffly written last 4.5 pages can always be revised.

That brings us to the present. Last night was SO exciting.  After 9 months of denying myself things and always feeling like I should be working on my dissertation, I felt so free.  I caught up on some friend-email.  I read about the wholly unscientific science of astrology.  I watched some television guilt free.  I broke out the yarn for the first time since January.  I tried to enjoy it, because I still have a ton of other things to do.  Some for classes, some for life-bullshit, some for the dissertation still.  But last night, I let myself swing in the breeze and followed my every whim.  Obviously that has flown over a little into this morning, since my brief blog post just turned into my life story for the past 9 months.  After this I need to give my home a sorely needed cleaning.

Oh yeah, magic.  THAT was the point of recounting the last 9 months.  Writing my dissertation in some ways felt like magic.  It wasn’t when I consider all the things I just wrote.  And it DID take me 9 months to write 90,000 words.  But now, towards the end of the process, I go back and read some of my chapters and I thing, wow, that was really interesting.  Or, I realize that I AM an expert on this subject.  Only a handful of people in this country know as much as I do about this topic.  At this time last year, the thought of trying to get published seemed impossible – what could I possibly have to offer the academic community?  Well, now, I have a few ideas for articles and I KNOW that, even if people disagree with me, I have some valuable, innovative ways at looking at some things.  I can look back on all I’ve been through during the last 10 years.  My innocent days of being a fresh-faced, wide-eyed new graduate student; if I had only known… The days-long tests I took.   Pushing through personal tragedy, like the loss of my father and the horrible accident of my father-in-law.   Life changes, like getting married and becoming a (step-)mother.  Figuring out how to maintain my intellectual pursuits without the benefit of being in an academic environment.  Figuring out how to get to my field even though I couldn’t find grant money anywhere.  Getting married and then leaving my new husband for 9  months while I did fieldwork.  At each stage, continuing to move forward so that, even when I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, I was still moving towards my goal.  All those tiny steps got me to where I am right now.

Maybe it’s silly, but it amazes me sometimes.  10 years ago is was a dream that I would ever get this far.  Hell, 9 months ago, it was STILL a dream that I would ever get this far.  But now I’m here, and I understand the reason for this dissertation as the last step of my graduate career.  It completely changed my perspectives about my capabilities and my qualifications to become my professors’ peer.  So many people start grad school, but never finish.  So many people pass their prelims and never finish.  So many people get to that stage just before the actual writing of the dissertation and never finish.  And with my situation – being far from my department, married to a non-academic, with little academic support – I kind of had the cards stacked against me.  But, I’m me, and academics/schooling has always been the one area that I don’t discard for something shinier.  And my goal is so close now I can smell it…

In order to avoid babbling any further, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  Thanks to those of you who made it the end of my post.  And I look forward to getting back to writing less rambly posts in the future, and start engaging more with the creative writing community.

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Categories: Miscellaneous, The Process, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “I’m Back? Or, The Story of My Dissertation Journey

  1. Very long post which challenges even my chapters in length. Good read and I am glad to see you are still willing to write. Congrats for progress on your doctorate.

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