Funny thing about accountability: or, what it means to write a dissertation

February 13, 2011 § 12 Comments

While writing a dissertation, a student will explore a plethora of emotions that run the gamut from excitement to ennui to hysteria to antipathy. She (speaking for myself here) will doubt herself, defend herself, trust herself, torture herself. This is all entirely normal and to be expected.

What she might not expect is what happens when she maintains accountability with another dissertation-writer. My dissertation-writing buddy, V, has been…amazing. She pushes me when I need pushing; she supports me when I need supporting. At the beginning of the year, just after New Year’s and before the semester began, V and I met at “our” coffee shop to discuss our graduation plans. Of course, our dissertation lies in the way of graduation, and we must conquer it. We have both made significant steps toward that very regal walk we will take on August 7th, and I for one am extremely proud of us.

What I’ve learned about accountability is just how truly powerful it is. Because V has never belittled me or yelled at me (and I don’t believe she ever would, since she knows I don’t work this way) for not achieving a goal or for having a difficult time getting started on a particular day, I trust her and value her opinion when she helps me to set my next week’s goals. On Friday, she and I chatted for quite a long time about what I am going to do with this 51-page literature review…which is an exceedingly long lit review. She gave me fabulous advice in regards with how to reorganize some of the chunkier bits and where I might start looking to make cuts. And then she said:

“I don’t think your goal this week should be to churn out ten pages. I mean, you can if you feel inspired…but I think you’ve got plenty of work to do here. I’d spend the week getting this chapter ready to send out to your director.”

And when she said that, I felt such a weight lift off my shoulders. V gave me a new goal, one that I’m ready to accomplish, and I get to sort of “take a break” from new writing.

Although…truth be told…I’ll probably finish editing this chapter and just write more, lol.

Thanks, V, for keeping me accountable and for helping me to meet these commitments.

This is what 15,000 words and 51 pages looks like…

February 10, 2011 § 9 Comments

Go on, writer, blissed out of your ever-loving mind with a delightful heating pad on your back!

Boom! 15,933 words, 51 pages, and a fully drafted first chapter! Well…”fully” in the sense that I’m not going to seek out new sources of material to add to the chapter. Tomorrow, V and I are going to sit down with scissors, markers, and tape to put this thing into a cogent order. Right now it’s a glorified annotated bibliography, complete with reference citations and everything. It’s a bit of a horror.

That’s all I can share for today because I’m already late for my evening plans with friends. More later!

This is what 10,000 words looks like!

January 31, 2011 § 7 Comments

10,000 words and 31 full pages! Boom, baby!

I did it! I have officially written 10,000 words on my dissertation! I am super thrilled. Why does this feel so great? Because, after two years of being ABD (All But Dissertation), I can finally say that I am making some real and true progress toward completing my dissertation and graduating in August. Sure, I might cry all the time right now, but who cares? I wrote 10,000 words!

And…this is what 11,157 words looks like!

Do a little dance...write 11,000 words...get down tonight! Hey! Get down tonight!

Okay, I lied. I’ve actually written 11,157 words! Sure, it’s not pretty and needs a great deal of touching up to sound scholarly. Sure, some of those words are quotes from the texts I’ll be using, but they’re surrounded by my own thoughts and explanations…and, in many places, arguments. Like, for instance, I’m currently working on this one really fun argument about how physical location plays a major role in determining the appropriateness of cross-dressing (gender and social). Super fun! 🙂

And, with that, I am out of words for the day. I’ve got about three or four post topics jockeying for the position of forethought, so I shouldn’t run out of things to talk about in the next few days.

Here’s to 11,000!

(Oh…and yes…I had originally planned to take a screenshot at 11,111 words, but I just couldn’t stop typing, so, eh, you get an uglier number than I had planned, lol.)

How would you celebrate 10,000 words?

January 28, 2011 § 6 Comments

Last night, as I saved my latest Word document of dissertation genius (heh), I glanced at my word count at the bottom of the page: 9,937 words. That means that in 63 words (about a paragraph), I will have written 10,000 brand-new words on my dissertation since January 9th. That translates to almost 31 full pages (probably if I had written those extra 63 words, it’d be the rest of the 31st page).

I am ecstatic. Proud. Impressed. Shocked. Stunned.

At times I find myself making statements like, “this dissertation is writing itself really quickly.”

It’s writing itself?

Come on, writer! Take some credit!

So, consider this my concerted effort to take credit: as of Sunday, I will have written over 10,000 brand-new words in January!

How do you celebrate 10,000 brand-new words anyway?

Well, I can think of no more appropriate method to celebrate than by organizing! Oh, no, I’m not even kidding. My office desk is a complete disaster area. I have trouble concentrating in here because I’m surrounded by clutter. And the clutter is entirely the fault of the dissertation–notes, copies, books are strewn all over the desk. There’s hardly any room for my laptop. So I went to Office Depot this afternoon (after my weekly meeting with V, of course), and I purchased two 3″ binders to complement the one 3″ binder I’ve already filled up with copies, a couple packs of paperclips, and some Post-It durable tabs. You can just see where this plan is going, right? All the copies I’ve made will be organized properly: 3-hole-punched, clipped, and appropriately labeled for easy retrieval. I’m actually super excited about my new project.

The other way I’ve celebrated 10,000 words is by changing my blog appearance. I’ve been working on it essentially all day–I realized that some of my pages were absolutely atrocious and in desperate need of attention. The HTML/CSS was just absolutely all over the place, so I’ve reworked the pages to clean them up, and I’m quite pleased with the outcome.

Thanks to all of you for your unflagging support for the first 10,000 words. On to the next 10,000! 🙂

The Princess of Planning strikes again

January 24, 2011 § 13 Comments

These past couple of days, I have struggled to come up with interesting topics to post. Some days are better than others–some days the inspiration flows freely and other days I’m parched. Unfortunately, even the parched days require a post, especially since I have accepted the Post a Day challenge. Although most days I find myself glad to accept the challenge and impressed that I have gone three weeks and have risen to the occasion, there are the days when I feel too mentally exhausted to write, or when the great post idea never comes.

Enter: Freshly Pressed.

They featured a blog this week that talked about Bloggiesta, an annual weekend-long blogging extravaganza…something I had never heard of, but then again I’m new to the blogosphere. In this post, the writer, Leeswamme, offers wonderful tips to help sustain a blogger throughout Bloggiesta, but I bet these are tips that can help sustain a blogger even during the dry days. A few of the tips really leapt out at me, and they’re so simple that I can’t believe I had never thought of them:

  • Write backup posts for a rainy day.
  • Write that great post idea from three months back.
  • Work on series posts.

Of course! So now, this Princess of Planning is going to start working on ways that she can improve her blogging experience by keeping either a handwritten notebook of topics or prewriting posts that she can publish on those rare but excruciating parched days. The funniest thing is that when I accepted the challenge to post every single day in 2011, part of me thought that that meant that I should compose brand new posts every single day. Well…already I’ve scheduled two posts to show up on my blog the day after I actually wrote them. For both of those posts I chose this option because I wanted to write them while I still remembered the topic.

But what this approach is suggesting is to take stock in the fact that writing every day is difficult, particularly when you are attempting to write on topics that will attract readers. I want to write every day because it keeps me writing at all (and that’s precisely what I need to be doing at this time in my graduate program). But, I am learning to accept my flaws and forgive them in myself as I approach my thirties, which means that complete honesty would force me to admit that coming up with ideas isn’t as easy as it seemed on the outset.

In order to help myself come through on the challenge, then, to get me to the point where I can proudly exclaim that I succeeded, I will actually set myself up for success. I’m going to take Leeswamme’s advice of prewriting entries to post later and to work on the blog posts I always intended to work on.

No matter what, I will write every single day–either on my blog or on my dissertation (most days both), but, dammit, I will write every single day.

Let’s Talk Semantics 1: Goals vs. Commitments

January 8, 2011 § 12 Comments

Considering that one of the things I love to teach my students is the power of words in general, I have decided to begin a series of posts. From time to time, as the mood hits, I’ll add to this series: Let’s Talk Semantics. In this series, we’ll play with words and their individual power, as well as the meaning behind them.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Let’s Talk Semantics!

Yesterday morning, I met with my friend V over coffee to discuss some dissertation writing plans. We agreed that if we wrote two pages a day, five days a week, and turned in 10 pages every Friday to each other, by the end of April, we’d have every chapter in a full draft form. Considering we’ve been in academia for over a decade, and that we’ve studied English literature/composition for the majority of that decade, we can compose 2 pages a day with little trouble at all. We feel confident we’ll be able to meet these self-imposed deadlines and that we’ll hold each other fully accountable.

And that’s what brings me to today’s topic.

While V and I were writing down our deadlines in our calendars, I glanced over to V’s calendar and saw that she had chosen a very specific word. Rather than choosing to write “Writing Goal: 2 pages a day,” she wrote “Writing Commitment: 2 pages a day.” In that moment, it suddenly struck me that there is a clear difference between goals and commitments. Here’s what I mean:

Goals: something often vague, abstract, and in some distant future. We might say something like “my goal is to lose 100 pounds,” but we haven’t necessarily mapped out exactly how we intend to achieve that goal. So, fine, we map out our plan to achieve it. But does that plan automatically suggest that the goal will be met? I’m inclined to believe, no.

Commitments: something concrete, specific, and immediate. When we make commitments, we are holding ourselves responsible and accountable for meeting those commitments. If we fail in our commitments, we are often held responsible and accountable for them by others as well. For instance, if we commit to raising a puppy, we commit to feeding it, taking it potty all the times it rings a bell needs to go out, walking with it to keep it exercised, socializing it with other dogs, and playing with it to keep it people-friendly. If we fail in these commitments, we reap the consequences of that failure. We might have a poorly-adjusted dog, or (even worse) our dog might be taken from us.

Commitments are more serious goals. Goals say nothing about our level of interest in completion. Making a commitment says to all who are aware of it: “I mean to see this through to the very end. I will not give up.” Goals say: “I really hope/wish I could achieve this.”

So what? Anyone can hope and wish and dream. But commit?

To commit takes some real gumption.

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