Am I a Writer if I’m Writing a Dissertation?

poster for writing processes

poster for writing processes (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

I love the bloggers I follow because they are all going through the “path” of writing. Most are writing fiction in some form or another. Some write to go along with their other talents, like cooking or photography.

I just read a fantastic post by Bottled Worder¬†that talks about emotion and distance in writing. In sum, her main point is that it’s hard to write about an emotional scene if you’re feeling depressed or happy, so in a paradoxical way, the only way to effectively get that scene across is to distance yourself from it.

This takes discipline. For the past few days I’ve been in a mental slump. I’ve worked hard all day and then just felt kind of down at night. Certainly not motivated to do much of anything. What a waste of time for me. I got a lot accomplished on Saturday of the weekend but that’s the last time I made any real progress. Does this mean I lack discipline? I mean, how much mental power can one have in a day? Teaching takes it out of me! I have GOT to figure out a way to revive at night.

Another blogger, Seth Snap, seems to add to to his collection at least three times a day. It makes me wonder how he has the time to travel, take the pictures, edit them, post them, and then write creative posts and titles that complement the pictures. He’s amazing.

To do what he does every day takes discipline. Maybe I need to have a time and a place, every day, that I commit to the dissertation. I used to do that when I was studying for my comps but I kind of got off that track with this. With the comps, I had a real deadline. Now, my dissertation deadlines aren’t set in stone so it’s easier to put it off for another day. This is how I relate to my creative writing friends. They have to have self-discipline because no one is forcing them to write.

Here it is, 6:39AM, and I’m feeling motivated to work. Maybe I should go to bed at 8:30 at night and get up at 5:00 and work on the dissertation from 5:00-6:30? Jeez.

Another blogger, Christian, writes about overcoming fear when you write and “never giving up on your dreams”. See his latest post about that to see what I’m talking about. The “fear” theme resonates with me because there are some days that I am just plain afraid that I’m never going to get this dissertation written.

So today, I will go to work, use half my planning to grade and the other half to read ONE dissertation source, annotate it, and decide where to go from there. Then, I will read two more tonight and will write some source notes. This will help me feel like I’m getting somewhere. I will also review the first part of the chapter I wrote over the weekend and will see if there’s something I can add today (after I read).

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8 thoughts on “Am I a Writer if I’m Writing a Dissertation?

    • So true. So true. I know I AM, but am I a WRITER. How do I define myself now? That is the question. A blogging, teaching, mom, violinist, girl with an unfinished novel, dissertation writing…person. What the heck.

  1. I sure know a lot more about how your define yourself now than I did five minutes ago. Carry on – I think you’re a writer. Think of what a derogatory term that has been in some cultures during more than a few eras.
    “Who you callin’ Writer, Writer?”
    Later….

  2. First of all, YES, you are a writer. You just don’t have full control of your writing at this point, as birthing a dissertation can feel somewhat formulaic in the beginning. Now that I think about it, the birthing analogy is probably apropos. Embryos pretty much look the same, but in due time you will have brought something unique into the world, something that is both familiar and foreign to you — the fruit of your labor. Parts of her you will recognize from your dreams, but she will also have characteristics that you never saw coming. I’m guessing she’ll have your eyes.

    Also, be careful when comparing your writing process to another’s. Is writing the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keys), or it taking place in those times your subject speaks to you? Alice Walker once said that she wrote The Color Purple because Celie kept begging for her story to be told. At times the character nudged quietly and gently, but ultimately Celie demanded that she be released from the confines of the author’s imagination. So, who am I to say that Ms. Walker wasn’t writing in those moments her characters were struggling to find their voices?

    As for me, I found that I could stare blankly at a screen for hours on end, or I could give myself permission to “live” with an idea for a little while. In the end, Plan B was much more expedient … and authentic … for it was in those moments the writing flowed.

    My guess? You will find your way, too.

  3. I think you’ve come across the right approach: Break it down and take one small piece at a time. You’ll build momentum that way, and will avoid feeling overwhelmed by how much is still left to do. I used to cut an acre of grass with a small push mower, and that was the only way I could get it done without losing my mind. It seems to work for writing projects, too, especially if the deadline is a self-imposed one. I wish you luck. (But 5:00-6:30 AM? “Jeez” is right.)

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