On Vacation, Kind of

Yesterday was my last day of work for almost 3 weeks. I always have tons of vacation to use up by the end of the year. Even taking today and all of next week, I will roll over a few days of vacation. That’s one thing I would never complain about at work. We get more than enough vacation. It’s a good time to take vacation since everyone else is taking exams, grading and definitely not needing my services. I was able to tie up my projects yesterday and now I’m sitting here in my bathrobe, ready to embark on over 2 weeks of freedom.

Only it won’t be complete freedom for at least two more days. There’s this dissertation thing to finish. The plan is to work on it today and tomorrow and be done. I *must* be done by tomorrow. I can’t take it anymore. I think it will get done. It won’t be the most wonderful thing in the world, but it will get done.

I am so looking forward to really being on vacation. I’ve let go so much and I’m looking forward to getting back to some form of normal. Here’s just a sampling of things I am looking forward to in the days to come:

  • getting clothes out of drawers and closets instead of laundry baskets
  • meals with lower than 50% fat and sodium content
  • no more writing paragraphs in my head
  • baking Christmas cookies and fudge
  • playing games with the kids
  • reading for pleasure
  • time with Mr. Geeky

In 48 hours, I’ll be there. See ya on the flip side.

My writing process

There’s nothing like writing a big long thing like a dissertation to focus you in on your process for getting the thing done. My process has followed the same basic pattern, once I figured out what worked best for me. This is, I think, the hardest thing to teach people, that there is no one right way to go about writing. It’s taken me a long time to get away from that idea myself. I would find out that some writer I respected wrote a certain way and decide, “Oh, that’s how I should be doing it.” When it didn’t work out for me, I’d blame myself rather than realizing that that method just wasn’t working for me.

So here’s the method I’ve developed for myself. First, I must do the reading, thinking, notetaking part. I treat this just as I would writing and I do it every morning first thing. At some point, I will kick it into overdrive and start doing this in the evening and maybe do a marathon session on the weekend of working out what I might want to write. Then I begin to write. Usually, the reading and notetaking doesn’t stop as I find I need to fill in gaps. I write for an hour every morning. I don’t look back at what I wrote before. I used to do this and I found it paralyzing. Often, at the end of a writing session, I’ll jot down a couple of notes about what comes next.

Eventually, these one-hour writing sessions end with a completed chapter, paper, whatever. Then I start reading and revising. I will either do this as a contintuation of the one-hour sessions or, preferably, take a chunk of time on the weekend to read and revise. Sometimes I’ll print out my document. Sometimes I’ll get Mr. Geeky to read it. It depends on how I’m feeling about it. Then I send it off. This whole process generally takes 1-2 months, depending on the complexity of the project.

Between chapters or projects, I find I need about a week of downtime. I might do a little library research to find new sources for the next chapter, but I don’t do much reading and writing. And then I gear back up again.

It’s been interesting to see this pattern develop over the last year. I used to worry about that week off, for example, but then I realized I just need to rest and that I would get started again. It’ll be interesting to see if this pattern continues to work for me, or if I find a new pattern or different patterns for different projects. We’ll see.

Why I’m afraid to do research

Specifically, what I didn’t realize was how much my confidence in my ability to do research had been blown to smithereens and scattered to the four winds.

New Kid on the Hallway: Minor epiphany

I have no confidence when it comes to research. New Kid, thankfully, has regained hers, but me, not so much. And yet, I’m plugging away at my dissertation anyway, as if I had all the confidence in the world.  I mean, really, what else am I going to do?  But, I think my fear of research keeps me from even considering a faculty position. Because what if they ask me to do *real* research? Then what? They’ll know that I’m just talking out my butt.

I think there are lots of reasons for my fear. First, and foremost is that I’m now in a field, a very loose field, that I wasn’t formally trained in. My dissertation is in Composition and Rhetoric, but all my research training in literature. Even in literature, I found research somewhat overwhelming. What if I missed something? What if I’m just saying everything that everyone else has said for 100 years?  There’s just so much to read. 

I have kept up pretty well with comp/rhet research and of course, have read lots more since starting my dissertation. But I again often find myself feeling overwhelmed. I especially feel overwhelmed when I feel like I have to recap the entire research background on topic x before I can even begin to speak for myself. I hate that.  I find myself thinking sometimes as I’m writing, is there research on this particular point? Did I look?

And worse, there’s the quantitative part of my research, which I have *never* done, never had a class in.  I’ve read plenty of articles based on quantitative research, but never been trained in how to do it. So, I had to read a bunch of books about it instead, and thankfully, I had a colleage from the social sciences help me determine what kind of statistical analysis would be useful. Otherwise, I would have been screwed. I also didn’t know how to write that stuff up, so I struggled. I read models of papers or book chapters that had similar studies. I Googled. And then I forged ahead anyway.

Basically, I’m always worried that I’m doing something wrong, like the kid who isn’t sure what the rules are and goes ahead and plays around anyway, but with the nagging fear that she will be punished any minute and not be sure what for. It’s not a good feeling.

And then there’s the informality of my voice.  My writing is only slightly more formal in my dissertation than it is here. I don’t use big fancy words. I feel pretty confident about this most of the time, but then I’ll see a “dialogic” thrown in somewhere in something I’m reading and I think, man I don’t use that word. Am I gonna get dinged for that?

And then, there’s the practical bent of what I’m doing. I’m not a theory person. Although I’m defining a new approach in my dissertation, which is based on a theoretical foundation, my main intent is practical. I want people who read my dissertation to get some new ideas for teaching and to appreciate that they’re based on sound pedagogical principles, both from the realm of writing and from the realm of education more broadly.

So I feel like I’m always doing something wrong and that my research isn’t real because it’s practical and not theoretical and I present it too informally. And while I’d like to call myself a maverick for breaking down some kind of research hierarchy, the truth is, I just feel like a fraud.

I ignore this fear most of the time because if I didn’t, I’d never do anything, much less write a dissertation. But one day, I’m going to face this thing down. I just don’t know how right now.

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17th Century Sex

I spent some time working on the novel. I am somewhat stuck. I am writing about sex–not just any sex but 17th century adulterous sex, from a woman’s point of view. Ugh. There is so little real information about what women were doing in terms of their sexuality that I am at a loss at times of how to describe it. Would they have been on top, for example, or was missionary style pretty much it? Would they have initiated sex or would they leave it up to the man? I just don’t know. And acutally, I think my main character doesn’t know either–how she feels about this sex thing. She wants it, enjoys it (with her lover at least) but worries a lot–about being caught by her husband, about being labelled a whore, about her lover just wanting her for the sex. Okay–probably not a lot different from the way women feel today. Glad we cleared that up. Now if I can just get that into a nice juicy sex scene that’s not too corny, I’ll be good.

I’m making a trip to the library tomorrow to get some books to read for the novel. Research usually helps me focus more. It’s hard to juggle so many things. A job that has nothing to do with what I’m writing, a life that includes children and husband and me, and the mom thing. I was saying to myself today that I should just buck up and finish the novel, but it’s hard. I’ve exhausted myself the last couple of days, reading and writing and thinking, that it’s just hard. Okay, now I sound like Bush.

The writing is going slower though. I was on a roll the last few weeks and now things have slowed down. I had hoped for 10 pages this weekend. I got 5. I guess that’s not so bad. I’ve vowed to write every night this week except Wednesday–the debates. And if anyone has suggestions for this sex problem, I’ll take them.