As I set out to begin this very late post, I started thinking about the future of this blog and of my blogging in general. When I finish my dissertation, I am going to have to either rename this blog or start a new one….And then what’s that new one going to be about?
Anyway, on to the real news: I turned in a good chunk of my work and got some great feedback! My dissertation advisor said I am on the right path and that it will probably be possible (if I keep up the pace) to graduate in December! I am really, really excited. I veered off-course for over a year when I started my freelance company, so it was a challenge to get going again.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for the freelancing. I have so many clips now that I can use in my CV and in my portfolio!
For this post, I would like to share how I got back on track with what seemed like an impossible amount of random pages and sources.
Last year, I spent all summer writing for companies and blogs; therefore, I did not spend much time on my dissertation. I would work hard for a day or two, and then I’d take weeks off, which would cause a huge disconnect when I would go back and try to pick up where I’d left off. Although I made notes to myself whenever I stopped working, it was still difficult to remember what I’d been thinking the last time I sat down at the computer.
From August to December 2013, I struggled with all the paperwork, trying to make sense of it while in the midst of a stressful semester teaching school. It felt like I had random files everywhere, and I was overwhelmed.
Right before Christmas break 2013, a good friend of mine gave me invaluable advice: Organize everything on tables so it is all sitting out chronologically according to the order of my chapters.
After I got organized, I got excited! A spark went off in me again, and I found myself newly motivated to get it done. I made my travel reservations at the ETS headquarters in Princeton, NJ, and was all set to do my archival research. That experience will be another blog post, because there is so much to say about the archival process!
Anyway, before I went to Princeton, I had to find a way to make sense of everything I had. I decided to try backwards outlining, and it was a great strategy for me.
Backwards outlining works just like you’d think: You start with what you’ve written (which in my case was a jumbled mess) and make an outline out of it. So instead of writing a paper from the outline, you create the outline from your paper. This strategy was grueling, but it helped me to see where the holes were in my research.
After I went to Princeton I tried to keep the dissertation at the forefront of my mind, even if I didn’t have time every day to work on it. Of course, the summer off made it easier to get work done. (I can’t believe that my summer is over in less than three weeks!)
I gave my professor about 2/3 of the paper, so now I have to revise, rewrite, revise, and finish the remaining chapters. Most of my issues can be solved by expanding on claims that I make or adding more commentary/analysis. I was so scared that my advisor was going to tell me to throw out half of it, but she didn’t, thank GOD.
One of the hardest aspects of writing a long paper is taking archival sources, raw data, and secondary sources and synthesizing them all together in your own words. For me, it just takes time to read, to understand how what I am reading helps move my topic forward, and then to write about it in a way that informs, is cogent, and is scholarly. Writing is tough! (I apologize for the casual style of this blog Post. The only academic writing I am doing right now is for the diss…)
So now we are heading down to Myrtle Beach, SC for a little family vacation, and I hope to get a little revision done. My goal is to get all my revisions and another chapter finished by the time school starts, so I have my work cut out for me.
If you are working on a big project and are feeling overwhelmed, try backwards outlining….it works! And, if you have any comments or suggestions, I welcome them. At this point I need all the support I can get!