Gunlord’s Dissertation Saga, Episode 5: The Christmas Special

Back again for another update on how I’m doing, brothers and sisters. As usual, there’s been good and bad since I got back from Washington.

First, the good. My dissertation advisor told me to “do at least one real thing for your project every day.” And I’ve been doing that! Ground on my actual dissertation has been BROKEN, my friends.  Though I took a bit of rest on the day of my return (the 20th) and the day after, since then I’ve gotten a reasonably consistent amount of work done every day on the actual project, having set down actual words and citations for the first (intro) chapter and the second. So at the very least, my dissertation is no longer a fever dream bopping around nowhere but the recesses of my mind 😀

Now, the bad news…I haven’t been getting as much work done as I’d like. So far, I’ve gotten about 1000 words done every night on my dissertation. That’s not terrible, but it’s less than the 2000 words recommended in a lot of places for daily dissertation work, and certainly less than my 8000-10000 words per night records.

In fairness, an upper bound of 8k to 10k is unrealistic for non-fiction. Yeah, I could write ten thousand a day for my fanfic, Wayward Son, but there I could just slam the words onto the page straight from my mind, exactly to my specifications. When you write history, however, you have to be looking at your sources constantly (whether they’re the books lying next to you or the articles on JSTOR), carefully transcribing quotes, and of course citing as much as you possibly can. So that alone is harder and more time-consuming than writing fiction. So I think the most reasonable maximum amount of words I can hope for is 3000 to 4000 a night.

Even so, 1000 words a day is a little less than the ideal of 3 or 4 thousand. I’m just not in the same zone as I was when writing a lot of either fiction or non-fiction, feeling absolutely sure of what my arguments are and where I want them to go. So that may be another reason progress has been sort of plodding. As mentioned earlier, I’m not even sure which primary sources I *should* be looking at (aside from the ones I already have or can access easily, of course), so I started writing in order to help myself focus. That, as you can see, has its own set of problems, it’s harder to unleash myself fully and go all-out in writing if I’m unsure I’ll change my arguments later.

However, I think this may pass as I write more and more, I’m already feeling a little more confident now that I’ve got the first few paragraphs of the second chapter out of the way. On that note, I’m also not starting my dissertation writing “from the beginning,” I’m instead starting with chapter two. The guidelines for my dissertation actually say that’s OK, and during the first in-person conference with my committee it’s perfectly fine if I show them the second or third chapter rather than the very first. The reason is because the first chapter, or introduction, of the dissertation sums up the arguments you make in the subsequent chapters, and that’s harder to do if you haven’t written those yet! So I think starting a little “in media res” (so to speak) isn’t the end of the world.

And in general, I have a *lot* of leeway, since even plodding progress is better than none and my advisors themselves said they’re not expecting me to write 10,000 words a day! My main advisor said my pace of work would certainly vary over the months, and that while I should try to get one thing done per day, that’s sometimes easier said than done! He also told me that the first chapter always takes longer than you anticipate, and hoo boy, am I finding that’s true! Still, that just makes it an obstacle I should try to clear sooner rather than later…

So if I keep up on my current road, I think I’ll be able to get more and more written every night, maybe reaching my 3 to 4k per night goal after a few days or a week or two. This is pretty cool, because if I do that I’ll already be significantly ahead of schedule for my dissertation. Again, looking at my uni’s policies, I’m supposed to have a draft of my first chapter written up by the end of my ninth semester, that is to say, by the end of the first half of my fifth year. If I can get a draft of one chapter, perhaps even a sizable chunk of the dissertation as a whole, done by the end of my fourth year, I’ll be pretty ahead of schedule! Now, it’ll be a rough rough draft, of course, and I’ll probably have to spend no small bit of time wandering off to other places to do research after receiving guidance from my advisors, but still, at the very least, it’ll make me feel as if I accomplished something 8) So I think I’ll try to aim for having a rough rough draft of the second chapter done by January 1 (next Friday, when I meet y’all next ;D), within a week. If I hit that goal, great, if I don’t, no big deal. But hopefully at the very least, regardless of what happens, I can try to get 2k words done per day rather than 1k.

Not today, though…it’s Christmas, so I think I can be forgiven if I spend the whole day resting and enjoying myself. And on that note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an update on how my Christmas was going! Well enough, I’d say…Lord, is it warm. I live in a place legendary for its cold weather, but I haven’t seen a bit of snow yet and the weather’s warm enough to be confused for spring! Jeez, seems like global warming is real indeed. Well, at least I got some presents–a hundred dollars and some chocolate from my parents. My real present, of course, is the new Digital Storm computer I got on sale for 2900 dollars 8) I’ll make a review of it when I receive it ;D

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