Monday, May 05, 2008

Dissertation Advice, please...

So -- I'm looking at having a whole summer off to write.... but, I need some advise.

How did you get your dissertation done?

I know a few things about myself --
  • I work and write better in chunks of time no more than about 5ish hours.
  • I work better when the apartment is reasonably clean, although sometimes doing the dishes helps me find a new idea...
  • I work better when I get time to go to the gym...
  • I don't work particularly well late at night, unless I'm on a roll or under a deadline...
  • I do work pretty well early in the morning -- when it is quiet inside and out...
So far, I've made a schedule for the time between now and Vegas.... It takes my commitments into account and adds some dissertation time every day. I also have the Gym scheduled 3 times per week -- and I'm more than likely to go to two of the three, as my favorite water aerobics teacher has class at the nice gym :). This week will be about 15 dissertation hours, next week 25 and the following should be 38 hours --

after all of that, I'll need a bit of time in Vegas to read trashy novels and watch beautiful people by the pool at the Luxor....

So, am I not accounting for something I should?
Is there a bit of advise you found helpful that you'd like to share?

In the end, I really don't want to waste this summer. I don't want to spend it watching re-runs of home shows or otherwise wasting my chance to take the whole summer off.

At the end of the summer, I'd like to have at least 4 semi-decent chapters. The first of the four will be done by the end of the month -- and I'll have an outline for the next two in percolation (they are related...). I figure I'll have the next two chapters in semi-decent shape by the 4th of July and chapter #4 in outline form.... We'll take almost a week in July to go to Canada, so the 4th chapter will happen between our vacation and the time school starts -- about 5 weeks.


~profgrrrrl~ said...

In the end, I had to get out of the house. I was working full time, and had mornings free. I'd waste time if at home so I did the following:

Night before when tired
--choose items to work on next day
--pull source files/data files needed
--pack bag
--lay out clothes

Early morning
--put on clothes, grab bag, and go
--at cafe, grab coffee and dive right in (no distractions) for at least 2 and maybe 4 hours

This worked because when I woke up I had no excuses to putter around at all, and when I got to the cafe my options were to work or stare into space. This approach also helped me choose manageable chunks to work on which made it less overwhelming to do and easier to see progress.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, the English prof in me has to tell you: You want *advice* not "advise."

But, now to respond to your question: Like Profgrrrrl, I couldn't really write the diss at home. Not because I was working full time, but rather because I wasn't. I wrote about 2/3 of my diss at a coffee shop, between 1 and 5 in the afternoon (prime writing time for me). This worked precisely because I only had work there, and there was nothing to distract me. I kept a diss journal, and I'd begin each day writing in it. When I got bored of writing about what I'd write about or what I wanted to accomplish, I'd write. Then, at the end of each session, I'd write in the journal again, noting what I'd accomplished, and where I hoped to pick up the next day. When I went home at night I might edit a little, or read through the journal, but the bulk of the brand new writing happened in those 5 hour blocks. The journal helped because it told me what books and notes I'd need to bring with me, and it allowed me to think about the project in chunks rather than as one big mammoth thing. Oh, and I kept a binder that was just the "diss binder" and that had a lot of notes and stuff in it, which helped, too, in keeping me organized and on track. (Another reason I did better not writing at home was that I didn't have the luxury of having every book plus the internet at my disposal. I had to write - not waste time consulting things just in case.

Good luck!

Bardiac said...

Two things I did helped me immensely. One was a dissertation group: four women in my department, all in different fields, we met every three weeks or so to read someone's chapter and respond to it.

I was in LA, which is hot, and didn't have air conditioning. So, once it started to warm up, I'd take the part of my dissertation I was working on, and a book if needed, and go to the Beverly Hills library which had two hours of FREE PARKING and air conditioning (which my local library didn't have). Once there, I gave myself 5-10 minutes to fart around (hey, maybe a star will be at the library... never happened), then would sit down and reread what I'd written, and make changes, and then move to freewriting about what I wanted to work on that day. After freewriting, I'd be ready to really write. When I got hung up, I'd turn back to freewriting. After my two hours were up, I'd take my stuff and go home. Then I'd type into the computer what I'd written and the changes, and if I could, keep writing. Once I couldn't write anymore (and usually two or three hours in a day was it), I'd print the whole thing out. Then I'd read for a couple hours (dissertation stuff), and then goof off in the evening, usually.

If I could write for two good hours a day, I could really make progress in a week. But I pretty much had to do it every day.

My alternative was to go to the Huntington Library, and work in their air conditioned room. Heaven in all sorts of ways!

Good luck :) I'm glad for you to have the summer to work on it.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Y'all are great!! I can use all the advice I can get!

timna said...

I also wrote much of my dissertation - away! I would housesit for a friend who went to San Diego at least once a month. Those weekends were very productive. Actually, the last semester of writing, I went away every weekend -- some housesitting (amazing how many places just came up when I'd mention it to people), once a hotel. Just to have Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon entirely to myself.

Another huge section I did in Israel. It meant reducing the number of articles/notes etc to something that I could carry. I didn't have a table there, so I would only get out the section I needed and worked through the day on the dining room table. The kids went to kibbutz summer camp and everyone would ask me what kind of progress I made during the day. No pressure there!

I also read good books -- I esp remember The Midwife's Tale (I think that's what it's called) that helped me remember what good academic but accessible prose looked like.

Finally, yes, a writing group. Since I was alone here in the midwest (we moved as I was finishing prelim exams), I found a great group at the U. Once a month hearing from people at all levels of academic work -- profs, post-docs, grad students, -- struggling with writing -- was very helpful.

Good luck!

tomorrow said...

Oh, my diss experience was odd.

If I could not sleep, I'd work on my diss (sometimes from midnight to 3). If I woke up with an idea, I'd write (sometimes from 4-9).

I'd walk with my mom and chat through parts of a chapter. (She really didn't understand what I was doing, which was also a plus.)

I'd always leave myself a place to *start*, when I stopped.

When I submitted a chapter, I'd buy myself a present.

Debbie said...

Putting it on my calendar - visibly setting aside the time - was hugely important to me. I did all of my first draft writing in binges. I would set aside a long weekend or two each month (because it was during the year - and debate season!)and really not do much of anything else during those days.

The first day was always like slogging through frozen mud - everything I wrote was just awful. I just kept forcing myself to write, as bad as it was, because I reminded myself that it's easier to edit than to write.

The second day would always start out bad, but then begin to improve at some point. By the third day I was actually writing some almost-decent stuff.

I also did my really major editing in binges, because I needed lots of time to do the "big picture" stuff, which required sustained reading. However, I did the picky little stuff, especially checking references, neatening up sentence structure, and so on, in the one or two-hour chunks I could fit in during the week.

Actually, once I really got going I just loved writing mine - hope you enjoy yours too!

Jennie said...

Sounds like you have a great layout already. Unlike the other comments I wrote (am writing) my dissertation at home. However my office is separate from the rest of the house by a few stairs so I don't always feel like I am at home. I've struggled a lot with writing so I may not be the best for advice but what has helped was setting a timer. I'd work for 45 mins and then take a break for 15, i.e. search the internet, do dishes, but sometimes after 45 mins I'd be really into something and I'd reset the timer.

It's great that you know you work best in the morning. Plan all the hard activities for then and then do what you feel are easier tasks for you, maybe formatting references, in the evening when you don't usually feel so productive.

Meagan said...

I like this post-- not b/c I have any advice, but b/c I'm in the same boat-- I need to be productive this summer too. I'm keeping an eye on the comments for this one.

Oh, I do have one piece of advice. When I don't know where to start writing, I remember this bit of writing advice: "Let it be sh*t." That helps me get rolling when I don't have a specific direction.