Friday, March 11, 2016

A Quick Note on Re-Writes

What is the most frustrating part of writing my dissertation? All of the revisions.

For example: I just turned in the latest draft of chapter four of my dissertation. It was the fourth rewrite of the chapter. Do not get me wrong - with every tweak, alteration, subtle adjustment of my language, argument, organization, etc. I know the quality of my monograph improves.

Here's the problem: my eyes have begun to glaze over with all of the re-writing that I have been doing. I have devoted more time -- or at least, it feels like I have -- to re-writing and re-organizing my dissertation than actually researching and writing the original draft. I made so many changes to one of my chapters that I completely forgot my thesis for the entire dissertation. I started to wonder: Did my thinking change about the topic? Or did comments from my committee steer me in a completely different direction? (It was both)

I started doubting myself. I fell under the spell of the impostor syndrome (see blog entry from March 9, 2015). Based on all of the comments that I was receiving, I started to question whether or not I was a qualified academic. Where was all of this marginalia on essays I wrote for my graduate level courses? I always thought that I was a halfway decent writer. Was I delusional to think this? Why was I having so much trouble writing my dissertation? It got so bad that I even started to consider dropping out of the program. Why had the department not offered an one hour seminar on the theory behind organizing and writing a dissertation?

All writing is rewriting. I know this. I am in English Lit. I teach composition. Every semester I tell my students this basic fact about writing. Still . . .

When I first wrote my prospectus, I was tasked with designing a calendar of due dates for the rough draft of each chapter. In addition to this, it was recommended that I incorporate potential due dates for revisions. I was told to figure four to six weeks to write each original draft, and then plan two weeks for each revised draft. Needless to say, this calendar was thrown out. My experience for the past couple of years has been to write a chapter, and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite that chapter. I do not move to the next part of my monograph until after having composed a "finished" draft of a chapter -- this alteration in my writing and revising schedule became necessary as each chapter builds on the argument of the preceding chapter. Still, all of the revisions are driving me insane. Even now, with one chapter remaining, I am writing and rewriting, and I have deadlines looming over me that I am scared that I will not meet because I expect to hear my director say, "You need to do another daft." It is as if this phrase has become obligatory every time we meet. What's more is that even though a draft has been deemed "final" by my director, I still have to submit the work to the other members of my committee who may or may not -- let's be honest, they will -- have comments about how the work can be upgraded. Oh joy . . . another round of rewrites.

Just last night I was sitting in Founder's in the dissertation room on the fourth floor taking part in Write Place, Write Now -- the office's writing group for NIU graduate students working on their thesis or dissertation. For two and a half hours I worked on yet another rewrite of an earlier chapter, previously deemed "finished." At some point, I realized that my prose was getting stronger, my thinking about my topic was clearer, and I came across a random sentence that I completely forgot about, yet as it turns out the phrase supports a vital claim that I make in a later chapter.

Here's the thing: I never would have realized this had I not been compelled to perform all of these revisions. For a few minutes, I thought myself rather smart. I've since made a note to myself to highlight this point in my work, thus prompting . . . another round of rewrites.



  1. Well written. You have shared really nice post regarding dissertation. Your experience would inspire other graduate students. Those who want to overcome anxiety and want to learn tips for thesis writing, your post will definitely help them. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Paraphrasing and also outlining are both indispensable writing instruments. There're both techniques of adding additional writers' functions as well as concepts into your current writing in your unique terms.