Thursday, November 8, 2007

Moving the Goalposts

Today's writing did not completely suck! Hooray! I am thrilled and pleased. Unlike yesterday, I got out of bed on time and went in to school right away, and unlike last week, I remembered lunch! (Note to self: packing up all your bags the night before really does help.)

I wrote a very rough start to a little paragraph (we'll deal with questions of quality rather than quantity later), boiling down the argument of a couple books and defining their terms and then explaining why they would be important to my actual points. I haven't actually gotten to my points yet in this paragraph, but that's ok ---- boiling down a book-length argument, like reducing a sauce, takes some time. And stirring. No, wait, that's only for the sauce.

If you count the footnotes (some of which are genuine footnotes and some of which are more "yeah, remember to figure out how you feel about this sometime" comments to myself, I wrote about 500 words! Whoo-hoo! That took about an hour and a half, and then I was wiped out. So I ate an early lunch.

Then, of course, I felt all sluggy and sleepy, like I usually do after lunch, and so I did a little bit of errands, tried a bit of reading, toodled around on the internet a bit, and finally ended up typing in more piles of quotes from this other book I will need to deal with. At last, happy in my amazingly-productive-for-me productivity, I called it a day and cheerfully went home early.


You know, I do this to myself all the time. More than anxiety or writer's block, I sabotage myself by upping my goals and increasing my minimums before I ever meet any of them. This morning, I went for a caffeine break almost floating with happiness, wanting to stop everyone I knew and beam at them, "I'm writing, I'm writing!" Twenty minutes later when I hit the word count button I'm thinking only of the 6 or so days this month I didn't produce anything and beating myself up:
Only 500 words? That sucks. You suck. You should produce at least four pages of useful writing today for you to even consider yourself having a semi-decent day of work. And what is this with taking "breaks" for frivolous reasons like "eating" or "going to the bathroom"? You should be sharp as a razor, focused as a laser, and working like a machine, nonstop.
Walking down the halls again I imagine everyone I know coming up to me and saying, "If you worked today, why is your dissertation still unfinished?" Or, "jezus, Cog, how slow are you?"

That's what I've got to stop. Somewhere there must be some useful middle ground between "I thought about my dissertation today; guess I'll go back to bed" and attacking myself because I set impossible goals that are, like the horizon, forever out of reach.

So ... 500 words. That's a good, solid amount of writing for me. Nononono ---- [holds up a hand] Shhhh. Stop. Stop. That's a good, solid amount of writing for me. I'm trying to keep my brain at the pleased enthusiasm level and not let the criticism kick in.



Margaret said...

I actually think this is the reason many people have trouble finishing their disses-- the self-criticism, moving-the-goalposts voice is overwhelming, and drowns out rational thought!

500 words in a day is GREAT. Give yourself the credit you deserve!

Maude said...

yeah, i totally agree with maggie! uh, i don't even have word one written yet, so you're 700 words ahead of me!

azoresdog said...

Oooh, I like that number: 4.7%. That sounds like real progress. Very, very solid. And I like your choice of significant digits.

Renaissance Girl said...

yay is right. 500 words is better than fantastic. a paragraph a day is a reasonable expectation, and you've, like, exploded over onto the next page! you're a machine!

gwoertendyke said...

you've no doubt heard of the 20-minutes a day rule--well, it may seem like very little, but twenty minutes of writing a day is serious. usually, it means more like 2.5 hours of writing. and if you're lucky, those two plus hours produce 2 working pages.

maggie is right: the beating up process is what disables writing period. find ways of tricking yourself. sometimes writing long hand works--it is less threatening, less permenant, but no less writing and real. you transcribe it and there it is!

and don't worry about all the people in the halls. they are suffering too!!

Belle said...

So, the consensus is that dissertating involves self-dissing. So quit beating up on yourself, accept and enjoy the praise, and keep on keeping on!

Charles Montgomery said...

As I struggled with my measly 1500-2000 word review for Acta Koreana this evening I realized that any writing is good.

And once you have some writing? You have something to edit if you aren't exactly writing. And then I find that editing makes me think of something new and another little spurt of writing comes along.

When I was doing my thesis I went away on weekends to hotels ("Hotel Medicine" as I came to call it) and discovered that while it came hard on the credit card it really stomped on the "distracting time-suck" things. I also created an "official" start date for my thesis some two weeks *after* I began writing. A truly lame trick, but it let me "start" writing "ahead of the game" and that gave me some peace.

That and the laudanum.

Hang in there!

And no self-dissing.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

God: I *LONG* to write 500 words a day on my diss! You should be proud of yourself.

Sisyphus said...

heh, thanks everyone!

You'll notice that it was 500 words, not 500 words consistently. I notice that if I let myself, I'll have a good day or two but then get depressed because a couple good days didn't finish the dissertation instantly (hello ADD-goal-setter!) and then get depressed and not work on it a while. Which is not at all what I did this weekend by not doing any work, even though it may look exactly the same on the surface. heh.