Writing, writing, writhing

The above phrase is often my Facebook and iChat status, but I don’t really mean it. There are times when writing really is painful, but not because I dislike what I’m doing. I’ve heard horror stories of professors pressuring their graduate students to take on projects that are more for the professor than for the student. I’m so thankful my advisers are not like that at all. They’ve always supported my research interests, sometimes gently and sometimes firmly pushing me to think beyond what I see. 

No, it’s not that I dislike the research topic I’ve chosen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again: I love what I study. No, writing is difficult because I’m so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data I’ve collected (much of which literally fell into my lap) and the need to analyze every last word and illustration (which I’m often inclined to do). I’ve often turned to friends who have gone before, and many gave me advice such as:

“Don’t bother outlining. You won’t really know what the dissertation is going to look like until you start writing.”

“ATC – Ass To Chair. Who cares if you’re thirsty; keep your ass to that chair and keep writing.”

“Just vomit onto the paper. Don’t bother with complete sentences… in fact, if you look up my dissertation online, you’ll find a ton of typos and sentence fragments.”

“You should be reading 8 hours a day and writing 1 hour a day.”

“You should write at least 500 words per day.”

“Most dissertators have a year where they’re sort of ‘lost’ and trying to figure out their dissertations. You’re doing fine.”

“You need to rest one full day at least once a week to behave like a normal human being, spend time with family/friends, recover and get back at it.”  

“Yes, the dissertation you write is going to be incredibly different from your prospectus/proposal. It’s completely normal. Stop hyperventilating.”

“Your advisers will understand.”

“You will finish.”

So the “writhing” part of it comes in in two places: 1. I’m at least a month behind my target finish date (which is completely normal, although unexpected and out of my control); and 2. Even if I have a complete thought in my head, I have a hard time getting it out on paper. I’m usually a decent writer, despite the all-over-the-place nature of this blog as well as my recent spells of writer’s block. But I do love to write; I journal about me and Tim, I jot down notes re: research as they slip into my head, I chat with friends, and I write emails and facebook statuses. But I realized that loving to write is not enough, especially if the machine you write on is a clunky, 4-year old Dell that freezes if you try to run Word, Firefox and iTunes all at once. I writhed with pain on a daily basis. And that, my friends, takes the fun out of writing.

But a couple weeks ago my dad graciously bought me a new laptop: a beautiful, and I mean BEAUTIFUL Macbook Pro. Every morning I wake up and eagerly reach for my new machine. It seriously makes me want to write, and I seriously believe that it’s helping me to write more joyfully. This machine is designed to make you want to work, and to work well. Everything is so carefully designed, efficient and intuitive. It just makes sense. And that’s how I want to be about writing my dissertation: careful, aesthetic, efficient, sensitive. I want it to reflect my precision in research; my ability to write aesthetically; my ability to make my topic accessible; and my heart for my topic and audience.

I probably didn’t write more in the past 2 weeks than I did in the 2 weeks or 2 months before that, but I do believe that I’ve been happier writing in the past 2 weeks that I ever have been in the past. Part of it may be due to the fact that as I get on with it, I’m more and more motivated in seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as far off as it may still be. But the other part of it is using this Macbook Pro. Seriously. It’s just a machine, but it is quite a machine.

My conclusion: any graduate student who advances to candidacy, especially one who is writing a humanities/social sciences dissertation, should be rewarded with a new Macbook Pro 🙂