So, what did I take away from tonight’s discussion (which of course included doing worksheets and sharing responses in pairs)?
I am going to try to stick to the first person, so I sound less pedantic and more accurately convey that this is all my interpretation and reflections on my own experience.
Think of all the things I do in preparation to write: read primary and secondary sources, take notes, make outlines, do brainstorms.
All these things can be, and have been means of procrastination at some time or another. But the view to take now is, how can all of these things be “pre-writing”? How can they be writing that, by undergoing one or more iterations of rendering, become writing? Become prose that takes me a step closer to the finish line?
Any reading or note taking that isn’t leading into writing somehow is generally a waste.
How do you go from these “pre-writing” activities and turn them into composing? Come up with strategies to make this less of a barrier, less of a concrete obstacle, or leap between prep and actual writing. How do I think, research, and write all at once? How do I stop reading and start writing?
Basically, the answer to is to write your way out of it, to turn reading into writing, turn research into writing. Here are some concrete strategies I am going to try:
Dedicate a set time per day to read a book and write about it in my own words. Like, in the span of one hour, read something, take some notes on it, and then sum it up in my own words in complete prose. See how that worked? I am not left with a list of quotes from the text, some dry notes that reflect none of my own thinking, or are too detailed to be useful. I am left with a paragraph that captures the argument or whatever I deem most important in my own prose, which could go straight into a piece of writing. Do some additional thinking and editing, and it becomes a reaction to that author that situates my own work in relation to that piece. I am going to do this when I write my introduction. I am going to do one book a day, then string them together and write and edit it until it is a larger statement about my historiographical intervention.
Take notes on my notes. I do this already. Like, I will cordon off a chunk of related sources, say 10 documents, and take notes on them. Kind of rough notes that cover all the bases, but are not too detailed, but don’t rule anything out because I don’t know what I will need to use yet. Then I put them all in one document and print THAT out. Then I read that and take notes on that, trying to pull out what the big picture or important issue is. Then I start to turn it into writing, just using the notes. As the writing gets going, I realize what I do and do not need from those sources, and can go back accordingly (to the original sources) to get any details I need.
The theme is getting down to to work in a way that is intentionally moving towards writing, and incorporates writing. “All writing is pre-writing.” There is no way to get around the fact that I must read, research, and think before I can get to any writing. But the reading, research, and thinking need to be turned into writing regularly–like, on a nearly daily basis–to create a writing practice that is consistently productive. If I try to do all the reading and research and thinking all first (and this is the trap of that first year you really start to try to write your dissertation), it is simply impossible. First, it makes the hurdle from “pre-writing” to writing to huge and daunting. Second, there is no way I could remember, or even take good enough notes through that whole process to actually be able to then move on to a seamless, pure writing stage.
Other random things:
If I am stuck (like taking too many notes, not knowing where to begin, etc–and if whatever I am doing is not leading to writing, I am stuck), it is a writing problem. I need to figure it out (like is it procrastination, lack of clarity on the next step, etc?) and then figure out a strategy to get around it.
I have to plan and be strategic and be metacognitive about figuring out my own process.
Someone shared that their adviser told them to write one thesis statement per day and this has helped her a lot. Like, your argument can change constantly, and if you keep generating these thesis statements, you always have a lot to choose from. I think I might start some version of this, because I am finding one of my tendencies at the moment is to really put off the big picture. I am good at just GOING, writing whatever next thing I know is going in the diss, but I am really putting off thinking about larger arguments, I always feel I am not ready to make any big claims.
I have to find a rhythm I can live with, and even reward myself for. The goal on any given day is not to finish my dissertation. There will only be one day where that is actually the goal. The goal is to establish a practice in which I write regularly and productively enough that I am able to finish on that one day, next spring.