Saturday, March 1, 2008

Writing a dissertation

My advice for those starting out is to write, write, write. Write while you’re still doing research, write right away, just start writing. I dithered around beginning my first chapter and then ended up dramatically rewriting it anyway. Probably half of my initial draft did not make it into the final version, so delaying writing to begin my initial draft didn’t help at all. The real payoff came with the second, rewritten version (and the third). Even now, I’m still tinkering with it as I move along. This may be the way I work: things only begin to gel with revision. But I’ve found that my best arguments emerge once I have big chunks of writing completed. Even when I didn’t know the final outcome of a chapter, these chunks of, say, close readings were essential to completing the final version. I also found that I pursued other research as questions came up - research that I really used - so getting into the thick of things right away works better for me.

The dissertation is like an ongoing mosaic. You keep adding pieces as you move along and recrafting them until you have these large sections called chapters. One begins with some idea of cohesion, but cohesion for me has occurred over time, as I’ve added more pieces to the whole. I think it’s fine if the finished product still looks like a series of pieces, as long as they make a whole at the end – like a mosaic. During the writing process, as well, it has helped to see things as discrete sections or even sections within sections. For example, I might start off the day thinking, OK, I’ve got to get through this “analysis” today, or tackle this part of a novel. So over the course of a week, I have a series of accomplishments that build one on the other. Of course, I’ll probably go back and change things, but it’s all part of the process.

My question now? How do you finish?

No comments: