In the sticky, sweltering heat of late summer, I wrote a little post called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dissertation, ” which translated my writing struggles into a therapeutic list of writing tips. This post was written as I despairingly grappled with many of the negative emotions that can accompany slogging through a long form project like a dissertation (guilt, self-loathing, and a healthy dose of but I don’t wanna, primarily).
The final tip was “You can do this, ” a hopeful message to not give up. I am proud to say, at this point, that I have, indeed, mostly done this. There’s still a long way to go between here and the final submission. But I have an actual draft! Whole and complete. Sitting right there on my hard drive (and in dropbox, and on a USB drive, and my backup hard drive, and on my friend's computer...).
This post isn’t just to brag about my accomplishments, but to offer tips for getting through the dissertation process from someone who mostly has and is now looking back on the places where I struggled the most. The (occasionally contradictory) tips below represent the things I would have done differently, if I could have.
Set deadlines early on in the process. Having a goal to work towards is incredibly important for sustaining motivation over a long period of time. As someone who needs the pressure of a deadline to get anything done, I found that a list of due dates was essential for keeping me on track.
But make sure those goals are flexible. That said, I pretty much immediately blew past my deadlines and had to keep adjusting them back. Life unexpectedly happens often over a year-long period (or more!), and knowing that your deadlines will likely change will help to prevent you feeling guilty about that. If you’ve set early deadlines, you should be able to move things around without throwing off your schedule.
Ask for feedback early, and often. The sooner you can be communicating with your committee about your writing, the smoother your editing stages will go. Sit with your advisor with just a rough outline of the chapter and find out if it works. Send partial drafts to anyone willing to read them. This will not only prevent feelings of isolation as you write, as it will keep you connected to your committee and other writers, but it will also help prevent situations where you have to rewrite entire chapters.