Friday, December 31, 2004

Windows and Documents Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

I don't know if my computer sucks the moisture out of me or I just get so engrossed that I forget to drink water, but I end up really dehydrated when working at it--which then gives me a headache and cuts down on my productivity (uh...not that there was much of it to begin with). I try to combat this by sipping water constantly. It makes for a nice thinking break too. Powerade used to have these awesome bottles that I collected a bunch of that have a little diaphragm thingamajig in the lid that you suck the water through. It was an awesome design, because you could hold the bottle upside down when it was uncapped, and it wouldn't spill. I was very sad when they changed their packaging. I hoarded as many as I could before they completely disappeared. In any case, if you ever see that kind of bottle, grab it! They make for great computer beverages: no danger to your keyboard, papers, or books!

You Only Have to Write One Sentence

So as a way of procrastinating, I thought I'd analyze my particular reasons for procrastinating. But I'm feeling too guilty about procrastinating to do that, so I'm going to procrastinate from procrastinating and do some writing. For my inspiration, I'm thinking this:

In one of Alan Watts' essays, he says that if you have a huge pile of dishes to wash, you just have to remember that you really only have to wash the one dish you are washing. There is only ever one dish. So I'm gonna go write my one sentence.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Some progress

I worked for about three hours this afternoon and wrote about seven useable pages. I keep track of how much I write each day as a motivator, getting a sense of progress. I average about four pages a day, so seven is pretty good.


It's a quarter past noon and I still haven't started dissertation work. I am, in fact, still in my PJ's and with a cup of tea in front of me.
What have I accomplished today? Not too much, scholarly-wise.
I did get some help from my husband on my paper for the Very Important Conference I'm speaking at next week. I'm nervous about the paper, so it was good for him to read and listen to it, look at my slides and add some input.
But even working on that lecture is procrastination.

After reading Pork's post on procrastination, I do realize that I am just looking for "busy work," something that makes me look like I am doing something worthwhile, but in the end is not really necessary. I have a couple of methods of "creative procrastination," like scanning things for my slide collection and organizing those slides, updating my CV, or ordering books from ILL.

I usually feel resistance toward my dissertation, especially when I am starting a new section. I feel it when I've been on a break and I feel it when I'm right in the thick of it. So I don't really know the solution other than fighting that urge to just goof off and sit down and work. Rather than using the one-minute rule mentioned in the article, I usually give myself 20 minutes. I can do just about anything for 20 minutes. Usually by the time the 20 is over, I'm already in a state of concentration that is silly to break. I don't quite get into Flow, but I do get on a roll. Sometimes I even set a kitchen timer to force myself to sit down and work for 20 little minutes.

Okay, my plan is to get a bit organized around my desk, have lunch and then do a good 20 on the painting chapter. Hopefully the 20 will turn into a couple of hours.

One Reason I Hate Grad School

When I started work on my dissertation in earnest (a phase that only lasted a few months), and I was visiting regularly with the head of my committee, I started noticing that she was taking notes on the ideas I was spitting out. She'd never done that before...I took it as a compliment! It was great to see her get excited about my ideas. At the same time, however, there was this one, uh...what should I call phantom chapter...that she kept on discouraging me from writing. This in my head is my First Chapter, but my whole committee is against me writing it (more on that some other time.) In any case, I was going to develop X idea in this chapter, but the Head was like, "nooo, you don't want to talk about that, nooo, just skip that chapter." Weeeeelll...I haven't written it yet. But guess what? We went to a conference last year, and X concept kept on being mentioned OVER, and OVER, and OVER. But NO ONE said the things I had to say about it! A paper on what I wanted to question about X concept in that conference would have been PERFECT! But lo and behold! That's not all! My jaw dropped when the Head gave her paper and mixed in with her research and ideas came out a VERY LARGE QUANTITY of the ideas I had been blabbering in her office that she'd been taking notes on! Did she credit me? Of course not.

So yeah, that's one reason I hate grad school and hate having to write a goddamn dissertation for them.


I just read something on Dr. Rachna D. Jain's website about procrastination that's not new information, but is still great to remember:

"Why do people procrastinate?

Procrastination is another way to describe avoidance- but it's more subtle. Rather than actually admitting that you're avoiding your work, you might try to seem very busy- but in work that's unrelated to your dissertation. Most of the time, procrastination can be understand as a means to cope with fear- and the fear can be that the work will be too difficult, too unpleasant, or too unproductive.If you find yourself procrastinating when you should be working, try asking yourself, 'What am I afraid of?'"

She also has this advice, which I'm going to try out as soon as I'm done blogging:

"Working when you don't feel like it...

At some point during your dissertation process, you will run into resistance: feeling that you should work, but that you just can't get yourself to sit down and do it.
Sometimes, this is a sign that you need a break- and if you haven't taken one recently, go ahead and give yourself one now. Resistance usually shows up when you've pushed yourself really hard to meet a goal, but then haven't given yourself enough time to rest/recuperate before moving on to the next thing. You are not a machine that can just produce endlessly without refueling. If you've just met a major milestone, and are feeling resistance, take a day or two off- and you'll likely feel better and ready to work after that.
If you find, though, that you haven't made much progress, but are still feeling resistant to working, this may be a sign of procrastination. In this case, work for one minute and then stop. Check in with yourself. Can you do another minute? If so, do that, and then check in with yourself again. Can you do another minute? If so, do that, and so forth. If you keeping checking with yourself along the way, you will be decreasing your resistance to working- and still, will be getting a bit of work done where you weren't before.
If you can't tell the difference for yourself, consider always trying to work for 1 minute, and then giving yourself permission to keep going, or permission to stop, based on how you feel. Usually, if you're procrastinating and take one minute to get started, you can keep going.
If you honestly try the 1 minute technique but can't keep going, then don't. You need the break."

Finally, she says to remember that your dissertation is not your life's masterpiece, that you'll write much better things during your career (a much more elegant version of my friend's Words of Wisdom). My problem is that I don't ever, ever, ever want to have to write anything like a paper or article or chapter again in my life. I've hated it for years!!! And I really don't want a career in academia. Not that I don't like teaching, and I would certainly teach under the right circumstances.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Francesca, co-blogger

First of all, I'd like to thank El Puerco ;) for inviting me to add content on this blog.

Second, I must confess that I spent ALL FREAKING DAY procrastinating on this, this, and sadly this. I did not write a single word of the dissertation today and only half-heartedly worked on bibliography and polishing up the conference paper I'm giving next week in Boston. Shout out to you archaeologists in Bloglandia--I'd love to meet you at the AIA Meetings.

So, what's my dissertation situation? I'm getting my Ph.D. in Classical art and archaeology, specializing in Greek and Roman stuff. My dissertation is about a Roman-period house at Pompeii, in Italy. I passed my orals in March 2002 and had my dissertation prospectus approved in October 2002. I didn't actually start writing until February 2004. Why, you ask? Because I ignored a Golden Rule of dissertation writing--take your diss. topic, chop it in half, chop it in half again, then start working. My topic was too huge. Even as it is now, I could have made the topic more manageable.
As of today, I've got three chapters written and approved by my main dissertation advisor. I have one more chapter to write and then the conclusion. I've been working on the conclusion all along, so I think I can churn that out in ten days or so. This last chapter, though, is going to be a bitch. I've put it off till now because I'm not really jazzed about this aspect of the research--poorly-preserved wall paintings of mundane subjects, for the most part. The paintings that aren't mundane are really problematic, so I know some of that stuff is going to be hard to write.
The hardest part is starting. We know this. Whether it's the first sentence of a new chapter or the first word of the dissertation as a whole, it seems like we are all loathe to just apply our fingers to they keyboard and get going. I started on the hated painting chapter last week, which was a relief, but I've done nothing on it since then. I've been distracted by the dreaded conference paper. So tomorrow, I vow to start again.

Susan Sontag


Even when I didn't like everything she wrote, I have to say I admired her critiques of academia, and her success in becoming a public intellectual, something of which I feel the U.S. sorely needs more.

I Know, I Know!

I'm not supposed to be on here now. I was really trying to work. OK, so I wasn't actually writing, I was carefully typing in references to my new Endnote Program (free courtesy of my university, I guess they're good for something). I think it may save me time in the end, but I'm very much fumbling with it now. When I'm not very inspired, I try to do the dirty work like formatting, bibliography, footnotes, etc. so I'm being at least somewhat productive. Subconscious evasion strategy? Perhaps. I do need to check my organizational skills. It's kind of like how the house gets reeeaaalllyyy clean when something is due.

Working up the Gumption

OK...I'm about to start writing. No, really. I'm going to do it! I'm just taking a quick break to write about it here first as a last ditch effort at procrastinating. I mean, who am I kidding? This whole blog is an attempt at procrastinating...a very succesful one I might add. Oh why do I hate this process so?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Words of Wisdom

A friend of mine wrote me the most excellent "pep talk" on writing my dissertation I've had to date. I hope you find it as illuminating as I did:

"OK, now listen to me puerko. Write your f*cking dissertation. Sit down and write it... it doesn't even matter what you say or how you say it, it doesn't have to be a work of genius, but you are making yourself sick not having it done.

You are a couple hundred pages away from having a PhD, so all you have to do is write them. You've been in school so damn long that they will be glad to give you a PhD, even if you give them a piece of total shit.

IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT! So stop procrastinating, because waiting isn't going to make it any better, waiting is only going to make you lose your chance.

You can always revise it later if you need to, decide to, or if by some chance they ask you to. But, you need to shit out a big long paper, and go collect your PhD. It will be like "here's my paper," and they'll be like "Thank you, here's your PhD". There's no reason to keep dragging this thing out any longer... even if you deliver a complete piece of shit, there's an awful good chance that no one will understand it either way, and they may even think that it is good.

I'm sure at this point you have thought about it enough to have some idea how you want it structured... so just start filling it in- even if its total shit. You could literally write the entire thing this month if you had to... did I say, it doesn't matter how good it is!!!??

OK, enough, I'm only distracting you... start writing NOW!!! Just write, and don't sweat the details... just get it done... revise later, write now."

Too Many Years of Hell

About four years ago I reached ABD status, and how I wish that were a degree in itself. But no--I have to write a goddamn dissertation to get the Holy Grail. Four years, and yet I have only managed to squeeze out one chapter. I know about 200 pages is what separates me from long dreamed-of freedom, and yet I struggle terribly to write anything at all. The process is incredibly distasteful for me. And yet I can't give up, because I suffered too long in graduate school to leave without my little piece of paper. Too many tears, too much blood, and a fair bit of sweat have been shed in pursuing what I thought at one time would be a quick "backup plan." Having spent as many years as I have in the halls of academia, I no longer desire to be a professor. But I refuse to leave without acknowledgment of my years of suffering. How will I get over this horrible wall that separates me from The Rest of My Life?