TSS: This one’s for the grad students
Happy Sunday, all! I am currently writing this while sitting in the Philly airport; I’ve got a conference this week with unknown internet availability, so there’s a good chance that I will be even worse than usual about approving/responding to comments, etc.
So, I purged one of my TBR books this week: Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. While I didn’t read it, I did skim it (and feel obligated to point out that Bolker admits in the introduction that the whole “15 minutes” thing is a marketing ploy, and that at that rate your dissertation will never get finished). Since I know many of you are currently in or thinking of starting grad school, in lieu of a review, I thought I’d present my own version, fresh from the trenches.
How to Write Your Dissertation in Three Months
1. Don’t. Seriously. Listen to your committee when they’re like “well, you’re a few years from finishing, but you could go ahead and write your introductions and methods now.” Give yourself more time, but if you do have to do it in three months, the “I’ve got three data chapters, so that’s one per month” approach works well to keep yourself on schedule, until you remember that you also have an introductory chapter that will get written “sometime.” Also, editing takes longer than you think it will; don’t plan to finish the first draft of your last chapter three days before deadline.
2. Write every day, but not too long. My brain turns to mush after too much writing, so about two hours per day is all I can handle. So, every day (except occasional Sundays off), I wrote for two hours, first thing in the morning – once I had hit my two hours, I was done for the day and could do other stuff. And I mean two hours of actual writing: no write-a-paragraph, go check e-mail, write-two-sentences, see what’s new on Facebook. My method was to turn off everything except Word and iTunes, unplug the internet, set up a playlist of classical music that was two hours long, and write until the music stopped.
3. Write crap. Once I’m writing, I avoid anything that breaks my flow, so my first draft is filled with notes-to-self (bolded for later finding and fixing) that say “citation here” or “better transition” or “is this true??” If I’m struggling with a way to say something, I write it in the least formal, most imperfect language I can (a la “So there’s this theory, and a lot of people still believe this theory, because they’re all dumb. And I’m going to tell you why they’re wrong and I’m right.”), bold it, and move on. Once you’ve done your two hours a day, you can spend the afternoons going back and adding citations and fixing little blips.
4. Back up, back up, back up. I have one back-up hard drive at work in case my house burned down, one at home in case my one at work got stolen, and Mozy will do automatic online backups for free up to 5 gigs (which is plenty of space to back up your “dissertation” folder). Also, make a new Word file for every day you work (and date them accordingly) – this limits the damage if one file gets corrupted, and if you delete a paragraph and then later decide that you need it, you can recover it quickly.
5. Make little goals, and make yourself accountable to someone else. No putting “Finish Chapter 3” on your to-do list (although man did that feel good to finally tick off). Always have a goal for the day, a goal for the week, and a goal for the month. And don’t have the goals just for yourself; tell someone else about them (doesn’t have to be your advisor), make yourself report back to them, and ask them to yell at you if you start falling behind. The desire not to have to say “No, I didn’t do it.” out loud can be a pretty powerful motivator.
6. Hie thee hence to a support group. If your university has a dissertation support group system established, join up. If not, start one, or at least grab a few people who are also writing and so know what you’re going through, will help with the rough patches, and will agree to meet regularly to help kick each other’s asses over the finish line (see point #5.)
7. Give yourself a break. This is *hard*. If you need an evening off to pick up a comfort read, then take it. If you really just can’t write any more and need to get up and take a walk, then do it. Sleep and exercise as often as you can manage. Say no to as many other obligations and responsibilities as you can. It’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to feel like crap, and it’s okay to be a little bit selfish.
Extra Credit. Ph.D. Comics
What say you, readers? Anyone got any tips that I missed? And if so, where were you five months ago?
© 2010 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.