Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From the dissertation journal: Fear and Trembling

So, I've started writing a dissertation journal (again). Essentially, I'm trying to take the advice I give to my students about freewriting as a good way to get started, particularly with projects we don't know how to make heads or tails of.

My plan (as per the "ideal schedule" I mentioned in the last post and which I have very little chance of actually achieving in this space-time continuum, but which nonetheless helps me get at least a few things done every day) is to spend about an hour on Tuesdays and Wednesdays writing something-or-other related to some kind of project which will actually help me to finish my degree. That's not nearly enough writing time, in general, but given that I'm just getting started and really need to do a lot of reading before I can write anything even reasonably well informed, it ain't bad. It's also a whole lot more writing than I usually do this early in the game, since I have a tendency to "research" projects to death before I put a single word down on paper. I do plan to increase the amount of time I spend writing as I go along.

Today, I spent some time writing about why I'm so afraid of this damn thing, hoping that being honest about my fears might help me get started. In a best-case scenario, I thought my fears might even look so foolish once I got them typed out on the screen that they'd be dispelled. Well, no luck there, because they pretty much all still look like legitimate fears to me at this point. Here's a slightly edited version of what I wrote:

What am I afraid of about this dissertation?
--writing a book-length project, particularly when I haven’t yet managed to get a shorter project ready for publication
--that the precept that the dissertation will be radically different from the proposal won’t actually come true. And that the diss will, therefore, be pretty damn boring, won’t cover much new ground, and won’t have anything particularly fresh to say. The prospectus was fine for a prospectus, but an expanded version of it would not make for a good dissertation. I’m praying that I’m going to start finding some new angles on this material—and perhaps even some new material—pronto. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll be so demoralized that I won’t be able to make any kind of progress at all.
--that I won’t be able to churn out pages fast enough and that, if I do, they’ll be of very poor quality.
--that my adviser and I won’t see eye-to-eye on how to tackle the topic.
--that it will drag on for more than two years and I won’t be able to finish.
--that it’ll be a poorly executed mix of theoryspeak and the worst kind of deadly boring traditional scholarship, that both portions of the mixture will be wiltingly pretentious and vacuous, that the seams will show, that I’ll be exposed as a fraud and a fool by my own prose.
--that I’ll betray the Middle Ages by somehow reifying mistaken popular conceptions of them.
--that I’m not really a Medievalist (with a capital "m"), anyway, and that everyone (including me) will know that for certain well before I get to the end of this project.
--that I’m really just an intellectual dilettante/butterfly who likes to know little bitty things about a lot of stuff; one who doesn’t really have either the chops or the inclination to spend years on one project.
--that I’m not smart enough to pull this off.
--that I’m not disciplined enough to pull this off.

I'm trying to set some small goals, mapping out a couple of potential ways into this dreadful thing and associating a book or two with each. I'm going to start reading a little bit this week: that might at least give me something a bit more concrete to react to in my next dissertation journal entry.