Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rough draft, rough road

Hear that? Those are my teeth grinding.

All quarter, while learning to be a mom, TA'ing for two classes, and sending out job packets about which no one apparently gives a damn, I've been working on the third chapter of my dissertation. My goal was to finish said chapter this quarter, which would mean I was more than halfway finished with The Project. Unfortunately, life (i.e. exhaustion and its accompanying depression) intervened, and I wrote only 30 pages of the chapter (which now, BTW, looks like it will be long enough to be two chapters, but I don't know how to divide them). I handed this chunk to my adviser on Friday.

My adviser has been incredibly helpful, a good mentor. She's given me tips on how to best conduct archival research, how to freewrite, how to write cover letters for jobs, etc. She's friendly, sympathetic, honest, and firm. And I appreciate that--especially the honesty. I don't want my dissertation to be rubber-stamped by my committee. If I'm going to spend this much time on it, I want it to be a decent piece of scholarship.

That said, I was blindsided when I received my adviser's comments today.

Backing up: I like to fancy myself a writer, an idea bolstered by one of those Master's degrees in creative writing that schools apparently hand out like candy these days, as well as by positive feedback on my writing from professors across many disciplines.

But reading through my adviser's comments, it becomes clear that while I may be a writer, apparently I am not a thinker. I can't organize my way out of a paper bag.

Her criticism on this chapter is for the most part constructive, and I agree with much of it, but damn, I feel low right now. I thought I had made an organizational breakthrough in this chapter, laying out the sections in advance--whereas usually I freewrite my way through a chapter, then revise once some kind of structure emerges--and carefully (I thought) plotting my argument.

Ends up the chapter exhibits no such clarity, and is in need of a complete reorganization. And I don't mean merely moving paragraphs and sections around: There's little to be salvaged here.

Ten weeks gone.


Worse, my committee needs to be reconstituted, and I'm casting about for a new reader. I met with a candidate a couple days ago, but nothing really came of it. And the clock is ticking.

This is my eighth year in grad school, the fifth year in this particular program. I just want this damn thing to be finished. By June. I'm sick of being poor. I'm sick of being a student.

I just want. . .out.


Caleb McDaniel said...

Just a note to say, "Hang in there!" I also have a Chapter That Shall Not Be Named, and all summer it really looked like it would be my Waterloo. It went on and on and on, didn't make much sense, and I kept scrapping the whole thing and rewriting it without feeling any better about it. Finally, one day the clouds of angst disappeared and I was able to do it! I have no good explanation for why, other than that all of that wheel-turning somehow gave me some traction, even though it didn't seem like it at the time. It may seem like your 10 weeks was wasted, but it wasn't: that was what you had to go through to write the brilliant next draft.

So hang in there!

Fang Bastardson said...

What Caleb said.

I got dissertation in Acapulco once and didn't leave the bathroom for a week.