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.