Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Diss Handoff, Part Deux: On Strength Training

So I've been thinking a lot lately about page counts. Page counts have always been my nemesis. This story is perhaps best told in numbers:
  1. Undergrad: 6-8 pages in about 10 hours. Much angst. Best push ever in undergrad: 21 pages in three different papers in 10 days. Thought I was Superwoman.
  2. MA in English papers (yrs. later): 12 page paper in about 12 hours, though still only 1 or two days of that a week max. Feeling proud, though--not only coming back, but getting faster.
  3. MA thesis: still about 1 page per hour, but simmering and analysis, so 100 pages for a single large writing project produced in roughly 4 months while working 12 hours per week. Doing well and happy with the results.
  4. PhD papers: getting closer to 2 pages per hour when under the gun. During final month of the semester produced 70-80 pages for 3 different final papers. Best day: 18 pages of a single paper.
  5. PhD preliminary exams: Many were in-house in 2-hour chunks, so I pushed the amounts up to 3.5 pages per hour. 70-80 pages produced during about 30 hours spread out over the course of a month while teaching 20 hours per week. Feeling good and strong.
  6. PhD dissertation (while teaching 3/4 time, roughly equivalent to 30 hours per week):
  • As of December 2010, 90 pages of prospectus (half, approx., to stay in the dissertation, as it turned out) had been approved.
  • In a two-week period in March/April, I wrote 65 new pages in 2 weeks and 1 day. Personal record.
  • As of last week, I deleted 55 extraneous pages I knew didn't fit but had been saving up and edited the other 230 remaining pages of text. Then I finished writing the final 30 or so pages, finished adding 140-some references for my primary data, and handed in 302 fully edited pages (including references and appendices) this past Monday.
  • Best dissertation day: wrote 16 new pages and edited 120 pages to final form in one day.
If you were to have told me 4 years ago I'd be able to produce 370 pages and edit it down to 302 in such a short period of time, I'd have looked at you like I feared you'd had--or were about to have--one too many books dropped on your head.

But it's true. While my physical muscles have grown rather sad and pre-spinach-Popeye-like from sitting in front of this screen this past year (a condition I hope to fix this summer), my writing muscles have grown strong. I've gotten much faster, not only in pages per hour but in pages per day and pages per week. And for that, I'm thankful. One of these years I might actually be ready for NaNoWriMo.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflections on the Diss Handoff (Pt. 1)

So the reason I've been absent from the Internets for so long is pretty predictable: I've been too busy writing and editing to write. The dissertation project was huge and nasty, and it's not entirely done until it's successfully defended, formatted, and deposited.

But yesterday I passed a huge milestone in this pursuit: I turned in a full dissertation draft to my doctoral advisor, a full 4 days ahead of the end of the window we'd talked about.

I've worked tremendously hard in the last couple of months, especially in the last week, to get ahead of schedule so that I could shoo away this little dark cloud that's been following me everywhere for the last year like some sort of cartoon menace. I've given up days off. I've stayed up repeatedly until 5 a.m., giving myself only a few hours of sleep.

But it was worth it, all the pain. The cloud isn't gone, but it's moved over a few feet, allowing for the sun to peek through. And the draft feels good. I won't know whether I truly successfully communicated until my advisor tells me I have (followed by my committee), but this feeling, the feeling that I've discovered new insights and was able to put them on paper in the right sorts of ways--this is my "crack" that keeps me coming back again and again to writing, no matter what kind.

It's interesting, because of course there were huge chunks of time during this process when I absolutely hated it, when I despaired of ever moving the black cloud even an inch, when only having one of my dissertation support group (brilliant invention, by the way--thanks Pamela for starting it!) come over and make me write worked to keep me going. But the payoff is worth it.

Anyway, more thoughts on this soon--there are many churning around in my head about the dissertation writing process that I need to, well, process. For now I'll say farewell, and promise that this blog will become more active again this summer, because now that I'm done with the bulk of my writing I have time to write again.