For days you had a plethora of brilliant ideas spinning in your head. Eventually, you make your way to the computer and write two or three sentences or perhaps a few paragraphs. Then, you read what is written, and the negative thoughts overtake you.
“This is not good enough” you exclaim! “It doesn’t make sense!”
So, you decide to take a 15-minute break for a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts as you say to yourself, “I’ll get back to work after this short break”. After a “short break” that last 10 days, you make your way back to the computer and struggle through writing once again.
However, after repeating this ritual several times you finally complete your first draft of your first chapter and decide that it is good enough to send to your committee chair.
“I’m happy with it,” you tell yourself. “If I can get a few helpful comments I can begin writing the next chapter.”
Of course, you need to reward yourself for this momentous accomplishment, so you text a few friends to meet-up at the local Starbucks for a Frappuccino and blueberry scone. Achievement is always sweet and should be rewarded with the sweetest treats!
When you arrive at Starbucks, you meet your friends and their first question is, “how’s the dissertation going?”
After you swallow the first bite of your scone you proudly reply, “Pretty well. I just turned in my first draft, so I can mellow out a bit while I wait for feedback from my chair. I only have two more chapters to write before the proposal is done. If I write a good proposal and it is approved, I’ll have three chapters completed and will be more than half way done with my dissertation. Then, I’ll only have two more chapters to write before the whole dissertation is completed. The final step, of course, will be the defense.”
“When do you plan to defend?”
You smile as you sip the frap and say, “Hopefully within the year. I’m on a roll now!”
After a few days, or perhaps several weeks, your chair returns the review of your first draft of your first chapter. You eagerly open the file and you are flabbergasted to see a superfluous amount of corrections, comments, and markings, with perhaps several sarcastic comments, throughout the document. As you choke-up with a sense of discouragement and failure, you collapse head down on your computer keyboard. You finally lift your head up and looking at your computer screen blurt out to your chair (who, by the way, cannot hear a thing you say), “Where were you when the page was blank?”
You attempt to look over the comments, but there are far too many for you to absorb after the initial shock. And then, you’re stuck. Your “gear is in neutral”. Your shoes are “gummed down”. You don’t feel like reading your chair’s comments to make revisions and you quit jotting down some ideas for the second chapter because you are too fearful that whatever you write will not be good enough. Thus, the “roller coaster ride” of the dissertation process begins.
It is not uncommon for some of the brightest and best researchers, writers, or anybody who has an impending project such as a dissertation, to get stuck with fear. Unfortunately for some, they never get moving or at best, they prolong the process and spend an unnecessary amount of money, time, and energy before they complete their goal. Also, for many, their family responsibilities are woefully neglected, their career suffers, and their health deteriorates.
I had gone through this very experience when I was working on my dissertation at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I still go through a similar process whenever I have the pressure to write—whether it is a report, a problematic email, or a peer-reviewed academic paper for a presentation or publication… Eeech…I’m going through it now just writing a blog that I hope will capture somebody’s attention. (And the only reason I haven’t gotten into my car and driven down to Dunkin’ Donuts is that I am still in my pajamas).
So, I hope you figured out by now that I am incredibly empathetic to your academic journey. That is why I started On Q Educational Consulting. With a very empathetic heart, I want to come alongside you and help you fulfill your academic goals.
I can blather on about myself and my work, but I know you are busy and need to get back to your project. Hopefully, we will get to know each other in future blogs and replies, but let me give you a couple of points now to help you “unstick” and move forward today. . .
- If you are at the dissertation stage, I want to congratulate you. You have already accomplished a lot and have some knowledge and a passion for your research focus. Take heart! You can complete this major project!
- Remember this saying, “It is better to ‘ink it’ than ‘think it.'” Everybody needs to write and go through the AFD—awful first draft. Expect the first draft to be awful, but once something is visible and tangible, you will see logic problems, poor sentence structures, flow issues, and occasionally signs of brilliants. Also, another reader, like your chair, will see more problems. Revise it and revise it again! Remember that every time you write and “clean-up” a sentence, a paragraph, a page, and even a chapter, you are growing as a scholar and getting closer to your desired goal.
- Scheduled breaks and rewards are necessary, but you must be mindful of your long-term health and wellness. Generally, it is better to reward yourself with a 20-minute walk, jog, or any other physical activity than a slice of chocolate cake or cinnamon roll (although an occasional bite will not hurt). During a walk, you can clear your head and even think of new ideas to write. When eating a chocolate cake, you may enjoy the first bite and get a sugar high. However, eventually, you will crash and must think about buying a new wardrobe—two sizes larger. Here is my discloser as an emotional eater–I didn’t learn this until about ten years ago but consider my “words of wisdom” and get an early start on health and wellness for your sake.
- I mentioned that you are on a “roller coaster” ride. Just like a roller coaster, when your car drops down quickly, there is momentum for the car to climb up. So, after you receive your first review, (and after you yell at your computer) read the comments given by your chair and use those comments to provide momentum for a “climb up” to the next written goal and revise.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for support–from your chair, from committee members, from friends and family, and even from a dissertation coach (by the way, I’m available and would like to be there for you when the page is blank). Through the dissertation process, you will hone in on your skills as a communicator and collaborator that will be an asset in your profession.
Now, how about if we both take a 20-minute walk and then get back to work?