Where to Begin? How to Start Your Dissertation Round 2

A look at what happens when applying strategies to start, persevere, and complete the big D.

Last fall, Laura, another Emerging Scholar blogger wrote a blog entry entitled Where to Begin? How to Start Your Dissertation where she outlined seven strategies to help people start, persevere, and complete the big D. Well, I officially began writing my big D earlier this summer and found many of Laura’s suggestions helpful. For example, I Prioritized it, Scheduled it, and Freestyled it.
Five days a week I write for at least 2 hours a day (Prioritize it). Typically it is the first thing I do in the mornings, sometimes even when I am still in my P.J.s. I treat it like a class, careful to never schedule a meeting during my writing time. I literally write it in on my calendar (Schedule it) – everyday. I started out just telling myself that I was going to work on my big D everyday for two hours and then just decide on that day when those two hours would be. The problem with that strategy was that I ended up wasting time. Half a day would go by and I still lacked my writing time as well attending to my work-related tasks! So each week, and sometimes a couple of weeks in advance, I schedule my writing time and write it in my planner. Then when I complete my writing time for the day, I check it off my list (I like the sense of accomplishment).

The first day I actually sat down to start the big D, I didn’t know where to begin, so I just wrote (Freestyled it). I started with writing my initial thoughts and questions from an article I had recently read. From that flowed a nice outline that will probably end up being close to the final structure of the dissertation. Now I am focused on finding and reviewing sources for each point on my outline. I still use the Freestyle it technique when I begin a new section. I find that this helps me start critically integrating multiple sources.
In addition to the three techniques Laura suggested, there are two others that I have found helpful.
Time it. Sometimes it is easy to say that I worked on the big D for 2 hours…but did I really? How many times did I get up to get something to eat or drink? How many times did I check my email or Facebook as a “break”? I once heard a professor at my university say that he downloads a timer from the internet and sets it each day for 2 hours. Every time he gets up to go to the bathroom, get a glass or water, or check his email, he stops the timer. The first day I did this, it actually took me almost 4 hours to get in 2 hours of writing time! I guess I didn’t realize how much I get distracted. Since timing it, I am much more productive and am able to get much more accomplished.
Report on it. Once a week I meet with other students in my department who are also dissertating. We set weekly goals and keep each other accountable to those goals. It is one thing to justify to yourself why you didn’t work on the big D for a day, week, or maybe even a month. But it is completely different when you have to explain your lack of productivity to someone else, especially someone who can emphasize with you about the struggles of conquering Mount D.
I can’t say that I always look forward to my writing time, but I have noticed it becoming more of a habit than a chore. I hope to report back to you this time next year with all the great progress I have made. Now back to dissertating.