waning motivation

31Oct10

It turns out that trying to write a chapter (technically revise but the first attempt was woeful so really I’m doing it from scratch) that you know has no business being in your dissertation and will be dropped from the diss the second you defend is bloody difficult.

I could not have less desire to do this if I tried.

And trust me, if I could jettison this chapter right now, I would but I can’t have a three chapter diss and I don’t have time to come up with another case study, let alone research it, so I’m stuck with it. Not to mention, I’m wary of making choices that make it appear that I’m doing less work lest I come in for more false criticism that I’m lazy and not worthy of being a grad student at my institution.

I’ve been reading William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book over the past few days. Just like planning my acknowledgments, thinking about publishing a completed diss is extremely useful, given my situation. Germano makes a ton of good points and breaks down thorough revision processes. He also talks about how to be a good writer, which I appreciate. It’s something I think about constantly. One of Germano’s points is that one of the problems inherent to dissertations that must be fixed in a book are their haphazard structures. “Dissertations often grow piecemeal, inside the heads of inexperienced writers,” he writes (81).

I certainly feel this way about my project. I can tell that my project was developed poorly. It’s clear to me now that projects should perhaps just maybe be constructed around a question or series of questions, not around four or five randomly selected events. And, because that’s so clear to me now, I wonder why nobody mentioned that this was going to be a problem before. And then I remember that I’ve never actually had a conversation with anybody about how to structure a dissertation, or how to structure this dissertation, nor has anyone asked what the core question of my dissertation was.

Huh.

It’s amazing, when I think back, the numerous times when some fucking guidance would have been nice. Maybe I wouldn’t be saddled with this chapter that I know doesn’t belong in the dissertation but there aren’t really any other options that don’t add time to the process.

But, as it turns out, it’s really hard to force yourself to spend months/weeks writing 50 pages of twaddle. And actually, I’m not even writing right now; I’m reading fucking sources that I failed to read the first time I drafted this thing. (And here’s another thing, perhaps this chapter wouldn’t be such a chore if I hadn’t been forced to waste valuable research time to write the damn thing to please people who are convinced I’m worthless.)

Also, I’d like to make an announcement that when no guidance is given, no punishment for going astray (even when the astray-ness isn’t made up) can be meted out.

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2 Responses to “waning motivation”

  1. I remember that shock of recognition when I read that portion in the Germano book. Of course, I read it long after I’d defended a dissertation of exactly the kind he describes. I think it’s pretty common, actually. This doesn’t address your concerns about guidance, but at least know you’re not alone.

    But there are up sides to this. When I finally went to pitch my book, I could confidently say that the MS was very different from the dissertation, especially in terms of the way I’d framed the argument.

    As for the crappy chapter: can you just chuck it? I know it’s hard, but sometimes getting rid of something that’s not working can be like dumping a bad boyfriend: difficult at first (“But I worked so hard at it!”), but quickly shifting to a feeling of liberation. I had to do this once during the diss (35 pages: poof!) and once again during the book MS (8,000 words or so). Both times, it was terrifying for about 48 hours afterwards, but when I saw how much better things worked, it was totally worth it.

  2. 2 thefrogprincess

    About the chapter: I’d chuck it except that I’d then have a 3 chapter diss. Looking back on it, case studies probably aren’t the best way to organize a diss. Each chapter correlates to a case study and I researched only those case studies so I don’t have anything else to fall back on. Also, for reasons I won’t get into, the topic of this chapter has suddenly become quite timely so there is some advantage to that.

    Right after I wrote this post, I had coffee with a mentor of mine, who suggested that I consider making it an article. Whether I do that or not remains to be seen but it added some motivation at least. And, like I said, the topic has suddenly become timely so that could work to my favor if I try to shop it as an article next fall.

    And as for the MS revisions, that’s been my attitude as well: the book will be pretty different from the diss and I’m viewing that in a positive light. Overall, I like my project but its haphazard formation has made it unwieldy. I had an overarching framework in my prospectus that I wasn’t particularly interested in and that didn’t really work. I got rid of it in the middle of research but what replaced it was the recognition of a pattern in the case studies, rather than a new research question around which I organized the diss. So the last few years I’ve spent trying to create an argument from a collection of case studies that were put together because they happened in the same place and were the same kind of event,in the broadest possible sense. So I’m looking forward to being done with the diss and then starting afresh with a research question that salvages at least half of what’s in the diss but in a way that makes more sense and feels less like shoving a round peg into a square hole.


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