We can’t deny it: writing your dissertation is hard. All that time you devote to research is a worthy endeavor but, no matter how many plums you’ve collected, at some point you know you’re stalling. In my longtime dissertation coaching and editing practice, I have witnessed, cautioned, and counseled many dissertation writers on the difficulties of the actual writing. Peter, a new doctoral candidate who came from the corporate world, confided, “I struggle daily with understanding the shift from business and occupational writing to writing as a researcher according to certain expectations and standards.”
The holidays can be wonderful times for reconnecting with family and friends, taking breathers from the daily-weekly-yearly chase of accomplishment, kindling or rekindling feelings of love, warmth, and generosity even to those who have published much more than you, and indulging in delectable seasonal goodies. But we academics often feel conflicted about how much time to “take off.” Maybe we’re feeling the pressure of having to participate in holiday events. Maybe we’re worried about being grilled by well-intentioned family or friends about the progress of our dissertation, article, or book. Maybe we’re very aware of the dangerous loss of momentum from our work. Maybe we just don’t like all those jolly gatherings.
Here, from clients who have suffered through such “maybes,” I suggest three holiday strategies you can apply, depending on the severity of your “maybes” and your fortitude. We don’t have to be at the mercy of the holidays!
If you’re beginning or in the throes of your dissertation, you may know from other long-suffering students that the work engenders a love-hate relationship, with all the exasperations, frustrations, teeth-clenching, and eye-rolling, and occasional affection, elation, and fulfillment (eventually) of a primary human relationship. Therefore, your topic, like your partner, should be one that initially excites you and sustains you throughout the inevitable rages and reconciliations, desires to divorce yourself from it or run back to its scholarly arms, and finally settle into a consistent satisfying relationship.
As you undoubtedly already know, writing a dissertation is different from anything you’ve ever done. This enterprise requires you to adjust, if not radically change, your lifestyle. If you ever really want to complete the dissertation, and in a timely manner (if that isn’t an oxymoron), you need to rethink your priorities.
Your a full-time job, of course, should be high on the priority list. You may have been used to putting family first. But rethink this priority. Heartless and psychologically suspect as this statement may sound, you can make it up to them in many other ways—later (that’s another article).
My writing buddy’s face turned dark pink as she shouted over her latté. “No one can do anything worthwhile without a private writing place!” She thrust her face into mine. “It’s gotta be your own!”
I was as adamant. “Oh, come on. All you need is the desire and will and your stone tablet and sharp tool. It doesn’t matter where you write!”
Our little debate embodies two often-discussed viewpoints about writing. Despite my vehement response to my friend, I have long puzzled about the most effective place to write. If you too are in a quandary, or lament you have no writing spot to call your own, I’d like to help you enlarge your perceptions about your own physical and mental writing places, spaces, and times.