Crowdsourcing Dissertation Motivation

Ask any professional writer, and they will tell you, the only way to become a good writer is to write. Write every day. Write a ton of crap whose ultimate destination will be your computer’s trash can. When you have nothing to write about, write. When you are sick of your writing, write some more.

Every writer knows this (or should, since we get told it all the time). As a musicologist, I am a professional writer. True, my productivity is slightly different (read: much lower) than a journalist, essayist, poet, maybe even some novelists. Still, I’m a writer. And it is very difficult to make the epistemological and ontological jump from grad student to professional writer when pretty much nothing has changed. I don’t have a new job, I don’t have hard deadlines from a supervisor, I’m not getting paid any differently, I haven’t moved, and my approach hasn’t changed. Still, sometime in the last five years, I segued smoothly from student to professional.

The biggest problem there is that no one tells you “OK, now you’re a professional and here’s how you have to act.” Because nothing has changed in your occupation, you don’t have a new, clear set of goals. You basically take what you’ve learned – “this is how I write an academic paper” – and turn it into “now write a dissertation.” You have to impose deadlines on yourself (I suck at that), and you have to hold yourself to those deadlines (I suck even more at that). Most importantly, you have to wake up every day and GO TO WORK instead of GO TO SCHOOL. Horrifyingly, in the everyday, lived reality of a Ph.D. candidate, those two activities are identical.

I’ve read all the tricks: turn off your internet, find a quiet space and just allot 2 hours a day to writing, Pomodoro technique, go for a run, and tons more. For me, what it really boils down to is accountability. Who am I accountable to? (just me). Who will hold me accountable? (again, me). And I am not good at that. But I’m trying to get better. This dissertation needs to get written, because I’m not a student anymore. I’m a professional. And I need a job.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do:

I’m gonna Tweet my progress, every day, once a day, at @JakesDiss. In 140 characters, I will say what I did that day that enabled me to get closer to calling myself Dr. Cohen. Reading does not count – I have to do actual WRITING. I will give myself 2 days off a week (usually the weekend but not always). And if I don’t write, I have to own up to it. I still have to tweet every day.

And you, dear friends and stranger twitterers, MUST SHAME ME FOR NOT WRITING!

No, but seriously, help me hold myself accountable. Words of encouragement, words of motivation, and when I don’t write anything, words of disappointment (“c’mon dude, you shouldn’t have watched all those early 90s Reba vids!”). Help me help…me. My hope is that if I ever see multiple tweets in a row that read “no writing today,” I will whip my own ass into gear. But I also know myself: for example, I came up with this idea IN NOVEMBER and established this account. 9 months, 0 tweets. Yeah, that’s #procrastination. Something I’m damn good at.

I’m happy to discuss my diss. topic on my “normal” human twitter account, @smoothatonalsnd, and perhaps a blog entry here from time to time. But I will try to keep @JakesDiss to a once a day progress report, with lots of favoriting and maybe an occasional retweet. So please, , and help me get one step closer to being an unemployed doctor!


~ by Jake on August 4, 2014.

One Response to “Crowdsourcing Dissertation Motivation”

  1. This is wonderful! Good luck and keep writing! Everything you said is so true.

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