This Porridge is Too Hot

Ever see a cat when it gets read to sleep? The way they turn little circles on the selected spot, knead the ground/pet bed, lay down only to get back up again? I’m like that when I try to write. Everything has to be perfect. I can’t write at home because it is never clean enough and it’s so dark inside. Solution? Coffee shop, of course. Perfect – unless the table is wobbly, there are too many people, the roasting room is running, the sun is shining in my eyes or on screen, or I forgot my headphones. Dear lord, the headphones – NEVER forget the headphones.

I used to pride myself about being low maintenance. I realize this morning that I have been living a lie. I had my husband take me to new coffee shop this morning just because the other it getting too crowded and I can never get my favorite table. This means I spend a great deal of time looking over, longingly, at the stolen utopia until it opens up and sprint to claim it. And the tables are to tall. And my students stop by. And I am afraid I’ll be asked how the dissertation is going. And. And. And. So here I am, in a new spot. It’s okay – a little warm. But I can set up and –

Wait.

Oh no.

Dear god no.

No headphones.

How can I concentrate without my ambient music? How can I possibly block out the business meeting at the next table? Or the the fucking up talker ordering the world’s most complicated coffee? Should I just pack up and watch Book 3 of Avatar: The Last Air Bender instead?

The truth is, this cat-like fussiness is an excuse. Yes, I work optimally in a clean, bright, caffeinated environment with my custom writing playlists. But “working optimally” is usually 50% work, 50% trying to find the right spot.

Just fucking write, Macy.

Post Script: If anyone is near Garden District Coffee and has a spare set of headphones, I’ll include you in the Acknowledgements on the diss.

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L’Apéritif

Writing a dissertation is a lot like eating an elephant – you have to do it one bite at time. I know I’ve probably said that here before, but it helps to keep reminding myself of its truth. The dis is huge and terrifying at times. When people ask me how my writing is going, my first inclination is always to mumble and run away. Because it’s not going well. It never is, because “going well” means it’s done.

When I’m staring at my elephant and feeling overwhelmed I turn to “dis hack” blogs for advice and commiseration. I read one somewhere that advised doctoral candidates to resist the urge to write linearly. Instead, accept that the writing process is going to be messy. Work on the sections you can, when you can, regardless of where they fit into your overall research. I tried this. I really did, but It doesn’t work for me. Waking up waiting for inspiration to strike usually means that I will be inspired to binge watch Avatar: The Last Airbender for the fifth time.

No. I’ve found that my process needs a map. I know a lot of young scholars in my situation will put off their introductions until they finished everything else. This is mainly because the writing process will lead to new discoveries, new directions – and you’ll just have to rewrite the introduction. I don’t care. I’ve tried to write my first chapter a few times, and I feel so adrift, directionless, without an anchoring idea. To mix a metaphor, it feels like I am writing in quicksand. This month, I have made it my goal to write my introduction. Today, I just finished the first section, and I am about to move on to the second (the lit review). This means that I will not have anything to show my advisor for some time, but at this rate I was going I was never going to even get properly started.

The introduction is a great first bite from that elephant. It’s has 4 sections, each of which will be 4-6 pages in length . Broken down, my introduction will have a brief overview of the Federal Theatre Project, a Lit Review, Methodology, and Chapter Breakdown. More than just providing me a roadmap, this method will also help to remind that I have “enough”: enough research, enough time, enough to say. The introduction gives me confidence.

My bite plan is to write the hell out each of these sections, edit, add citations and footnotes, then get to chewing the rest of the beast.

Let’s eat.