Sunday, August 2, 2009

Damn poor service here, miss

You'd think, as the daughter of two academics, I'd be the kind who whips out term papers and essays and dissertations with nary a whisper of moaning or complaint. You'd think my papers would get written before I even started writing. I'd be the one from your tutorial that you hated, the one who'd sit down at her laptop, typing out "the whole thing", whatever that might be, start to finish: 15,000 words, 10 hours flat. Then I'd be the one standing up, saying, "There's that, then. I need a cuppa tea."

T'aint so. I'm working on a Master's Degree dissertation, and the words are coming slowly, so slowly. It's like watching a glacier melt. (Quicker now that we've got global warming, but still not particularly inspiring.) And I can't allow myself to do anything else until this blasted thing is finished. So there's not much movement over at my place. Next summer I plan to go outside once or twice. The Vitamin D loss here is worrying.

My slowness? It's something related to perfectionism. I want this thing to be perfect. And I'm terrified that it won't be. Funny, I once (ill-advisedly) wrote a paper for someone else. He was doing a degree in an osteopathic program, but he couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. He begged me, "C'mon, it'll just be a piss-up for you. You can do this sh** in your sleep." True. I wrote the paper for him in an afternoon, knowing nothing about osteopathy other than what I could find on Wikipedia and in a couple of anatomy books, and got two A's and a B on it. Hmmm. I might be a wonderful writer, but you definitely don't want to come see me with any of your medical problems. (You probably don't want to see him either, as I think he washed out.) But it was so easy to write that osteopathy paper, because I knew the tutor's opinion wasn't going to mean anything to me. There was no possibility that I might disappoint.

But now? I'm working on a project I love, about something I've been studying for 3 years, and have been interested in my whole life. And it's just soooooooo slowwwwwww.

I so much want to be finished with this dissertation. I want to drop it in the post and bid it adieu.

Readers: Anyone have any tips, tricks for fooling oneself into writing more, better, faster?

21 comments:

Don said...

Miss E-
Knowing that I have but a fraction of your experience and aptitude, it seems odd to think I could suggest anything of value. But here goes:

Don't worry too much about what you write. Just bash it out, don't correct anything, not even spelling, just go, go, go. Once it's down on paper, no matter how 'ugly', then you're editing, not writing, and I, at least, find that a lot easier.

Again, please forgive my presumption to deign to advise you on writing, of all things!

Lisa Tannenbaum said...

I agree with Don and would add this -- force yourself into some impossible deadlines (i.e., this section or that number of paragraphs by x time). I actually somehow ended up writing a textbook a few years ago. The deadlines were set by the publisher and I missed every single one of them (the only time in my life that I've missed deadlines). I wrote as fast as I could, reasoning that all the other folks involved with the book would catch my errors.

Since then, I've noticed that really prolific blog writers just bash it out too. They get their thoughts out there in a very imperfect form, several times a day. The benefit for you is that no one would have to see your imperfections -- but you'd have the benefit of getting your ideas into words. And once they're in words, I think you'll be able to let the ideas slosh around in your mind, and actually express them more clearly over time. And you can catch your own errors later.

Easier said than done, I know. And I certainly don't envy you -- the difficulty of writing is a large part of why I express myself mostly in photographs these days! Good luck.

Red Shoes said...

I have no answers, but I have great sympathy for your perfectionism problem. Me too, me too.

Amy said...

The best bit of advice I've ever had was it just has to be good enough. So I'm trying to apply that to my thesis. Though I fear perfectionism might get the better of me too. :S

Teresa said...

I think you gave yourself the answer in posing the question: pretend you're writing this for someone else. This technique, more than any other, is what helps me break through writer's block, and was invaluable when I was writing my dissertation - in fact I suppose that's when I discovered it. Pretend you're writing a paper for a friend who doesn't really care what grade she gets, she just needs to turn something in. As a plus, in this case you don't even need to do any research on Wikipedia, you can just write it off the top of your head. Heck, you could even have a drink while you're writing since it doesn't matter, it's for someone else and she doesn't care what grade she gets. If you can really, truly get your head there then the writing will flow and before you know it you'll have pages and pages of new material. Then you can switch hats and edit until it's perfect, but as Don points out, editing is much easier than writing. It's funny, I was going to suggest this technique when I saw the first few lines of your post, and then there in the second paragraph it turns out you've actually done it, you just didn't see that it could apply in this situation. Writing my dissertation was a long and miserable slog and I have the deepest sympathy for you. Hang in there and just churn it out. In the end, a grand total of 4 or maybe 5 people will read it, so write something that's good enough not to be embarassing but save the real perfectionism for when someone wants to publish it as a book. :) In the end, good and finished is better than perfect and not finished.

Suzy said...

I agree with Teresa. I was once BEGGED by a member of my comedy group to write some jokes for a girl in our grouo who couldn't write a joke to save her life. On being divorced, which I had never been.

I sat down and wrote 10 very quickly but by then we had fired her for not being funny. Then I became a divorcee (for the show) and took her divorced role. And never wrote a divorced joke again! But ended up using them as my own.

Island1 said...

Thanks to backroom negotiations between myself and expateek everybody regardless of color, creed, or google affiliation can now comment here. Hooray! Now all I have to do is try and remember what I wanted to say…

mo.stoneskin said...

Can't believe you wrote that osteopathic piece. Smart girl.

Reminds me (for some tenuous reason) of the time in year 9 when I came back from lunch to find about eight class mates copying my RE essay. They only had 5 minutes to the lesson and as far as I remember they didn't even alter the words and got in trouble.

Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

If my brother in law is any indication, don't try for perfectionism because there will be at least one lecturer who'll tear you a new one, no matter how much time or how good you think you've done. He did his Masters degree over ten years and he said, if he had to do it all again, he'd skip the essay and just do course work. Don't know if you're able to do that but the best advice is don't worry.

Corinne McCorkle said...

I wrote a thesis for an MA at Royal Holloway in 2002, but the memory of the agony has faded, sort of like childbirth. I too had nasty writer's block and turned it in late. Everyone here has offered good ideas, and they work. Other things I have tried are just jumping in and writing the parts that are already clear in my mind in no particular order, and worrying about blending them into a coherent thesis later; writing anything related to the subject (notes, etc) to free your fingers and your thoughts; take a green break -- go out into the yard for 10 minutes and look at the trees and flowers, or gaze at a photo a forest or something like that. Something about anonymous nature relaxes the brain. Write hard and fast without rereading for 30 minutes. The key is to trick your internal critic into shutting up. You write beautifully, Ellie, even when you aren't trying. So don't try so hard; no matter how bad YOU think it is,it will be really good anyway!

Expat mum said...

I usually have to wander round for a few days thinking of my "argument". Once that pops into place the rest starts to come to me.
The other thing I do is make sure I'm answering the Who, What, Where, Why and When questions.

expateek said...

All of you -- You guys are AWESOME. I cannot even begin to tell you how much each of these comments has done for me. I'm going to print them out and post them over my desk for inspiration.

I'm cookin' along now, 4,005 words and it's really going so much better. I'm starting to think I might actually finish this thing! Yay!

In the spirit of "not so much procrastination" I'm doing a group reply today for comments, but rest assured, I'll be reading each of these every day for the rest of the month.

THANK YOU!!!!

Hannah Rose said...

Hey Mama. Yup, these comments are helpful for me, too. I'm definitely in Corinne McCorkle's school of thought, in terms of writing it it bit by bit, and then stringing it together later... but the others are really helpful too. Looks like I can't procrastinate with mine either anymore. I guess the only thing I can do now to avoid writing this thing is to.... call you so we can procrastinate together.

Joanna Jenkins said...

I have no answers or suggestions for you but I'm sending good wishes and hope words start pouring out of you!

Crabby McSlacker said...

I am the worst person in the world to advise on this issue, as it's always been a constant struggle for me.

But it sounds like you are getting some excellent advice and that it's helping! Just keeping at it day after day is the best thing you can do, and whatever it takes to facilitate that, go for it.

(Very) Lost in France said...

Hi Expateek, award for you over at mine. VLiF

小貓咪 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christine said...

If it were me, I would just write it and worry about perfecting it later because If I didn't I would just analyze it to death and it would never get finished. You are a great writer. It will be wonderful and you will get top marks so get to work lady.

Matthew said...

First time visitor with no advice whatsoever. I did enjoy reading you though - I'll come back again, for sure.

ladyfi said...

One way to go is to bash it out.. just write and you'll probably find that the words flow after a while.

Another useful approach is to do something completely different - get out of the house, a walk in the wood. I often find that inspiration comes when I am not thinking of a problem...

Good luck!

@eloh said...

I lost count of the times I have gone digging around looking for a good blog to add to my list of must reads...

About the comment a little above mine, did you get hit with oriential porn? If so, my daughter tells me it is a proud moment for you. I got hit a couple days ago and was very lucky she was standing over my shoulder. I was about to open it.

I see more than one similarity, I have trouble with perfectionism. This is one, a comment box where I can't hit the spell check.

I agree with the folks who say just sit down and write it. You can do the spell check and edit work as you proof read. You know you are going to proof read it several times anyway.

I have one on serial murders, if it would do you any good. It was quite well received.