My PhD thesis, which was going along swimmingly (old chaps) until the beginning of this year, has been stalled for a while, trying to negotiate a speedbump called Chapter 6.
Chapter 6 is one of my data chapters. I have three chapters where I present my data: 5,6 & 7. As mine is an anthropology thesis, there is no strict format to the thesis. Another unique feature of an anthropology thesis is the convention of first person narrative, permitting the humanizing, thick-description minutiae of cultural experience.
And this, dear reader (if indeed there are any readers out there), is where it all went pear-shaped.
Writing is no problem for me. Give me a keyboard and I will punch out sentences, willy-nilly. But writing that I am happy with, that has the strength and purpose and the magic a-ha! has often eluded me in my thesis.
Quite simply, I am capable of writing an entire chapter and then looking at it and knowing that it’s wrong, wrong ,wrong. It’s crap and I will hit delete on huge chunks of it. I know this perfectionism frustrates my main supervisor, but it’s also meant that I’ve produced work that requires relatively little re-writing.
And Chapter 6? I got caught up in writing the narrative of organisational experiences (and my own experience within the organisation I’m studying) as the new joint management arrangements began in the NT in late 2003.
To be blunt, it was plain boring. Well written, but boring and I really had no idea what point I was trying to make.
I ruminated on this, as PhD students are wont to do, for several months. I tinkered with this chapter round the edges, and went on and wrote parts of chapters 7 and 8. I avoided writing at all once the winter fieldwork season arrived and my real work got busy with bushtrips.
Of course, time is ticking away. I am supposed to be submitting the thesis by 31 December this year.
In frustration, I decided to print it out and look at it on paper, which is a method often I use to edit and overcome problems with my thesis structure.
This time, it didn’t work.
I cut some extraneous blah blah blah from the narrative, but it was really just tinkering. There was still something deeply wrong with the chapter.
It took me three months to figure out what it was. What triggered it in the end was a simple piece of advice that my supervisor gives to all of his students beginning the ‘writing up’ phase: start with your data.
You see, originally – way back sometime last year when I rewrote my thesis outline- Chapter 6 was supposed to present data that answered the questions: how do staff at PWS (Parks and Wildlife) define and understand joint management? And: how do Aboriginal people define and understand joint management?
So I went back to my data, in particular to the structured interviews I’d conducted. Of course, the solution was in the data, just as it was in my initial plan for the chapter.
Giving myself two weeks to totally revamp the chapter (14 September marks the deadline), I’m doing well. I’ve started with the PWS staff understandings of joint management, just setting myself 200 words to write everyday.
It’s amazing how well this strategy works: just saying, oh I’ll spend 20-30min writing until I’ve got 200 words (incidentally, write 200 words everyday was advice from another ANU scholar). Not once have I ever actually stopped at 200 words, and with the ‘knowing’ what I’m writing about and where I’m going firmly in place, I should have it all done by next Sunday.
To reinforce what I’ve just written, today I received an email from a clutter-busting newsletter I subscribe, stating that 20 min per day on any put-aside task will help to overcome procrastion. As this information is timely for me, and I’m sure that others will benefit from it, so I will put it up in its own post next week.
Well, I’m off to a yoga workshop for the weekend, namaste and chat next week.
Hi! Although finding your blog was in fact yet another form of procrastination for me as I re-start my PhD after almost a year out while I had my now 6 month old little girl, it actually now has more of a hint of promise of being the kick-up-the-rear-end that I need! Thanks! I feel I may have found a kindred spirit – well at least someone in very similar circumstances to my own – but further along the road than me – I am 42, in the middle of my PhD in anthropology and have just had my first baby (timing has not always been my strength!) I am attempting to start writing something but making very little progress……. Thanks anthroyogini for the inspiration and look forward to hearing more of your progress – now I am actually going to write something – even if it is just for 20 minutes! Would love to continue the chat and compare notes in the future!
I’m Amanda – AnthroYogini- I’ll email you tomorrow and let’s chat. There’s nothing like a friend to help out.
I’m so glad you’ve found this advice helpful. You’ve made my day!