Tuesday, August 01, 2006

frustration run amok

I promised myself I wouldn't blog today until I had written at least a couple of good paragraphs of my current paper. And, well, it's 3:44 and I am finally allowing myself to blog. Expect the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next...until this thing is done.

I'm having a hell of a time getting this paper written. Part of the problem is motivation. This is the first time I've had to go straight from one big writing project to another without some fun field work or data analysis to change the scenery. Also, this is the part of my diss. that I have always been least interested in. It's pretty esoteric. And then there's the pregnancy hormones which have the side effect of not allowing me to concentrate on anything at all. ever. Not that I am thinking about baby stuff all the time, because I. can't. concentrate.

Then's there's the problems with the paper topic itself. Like I said, it's esoteric. Basically, I have a bunch of observations of phenomena and then I'm going to wave my arms, cite some other people's phenomena observations, and link them all together as a process. And nobody's written about this process before (except in the most arm-wavy style). And even some of the subprocesses haven't been much explored.

Even before I got to the arm-waving part of the paper I was having problems writing. For a while I deluded myself into believing that I didn't have to arm-wave. Then the problem was that the paper wasn't leading anywhere and I wasn't sure what I had to talk about. I spent several days in this state, redoing an analysis and staring blankly at the computer. Finally, one evening, I got three good paragraphs written on a scrap of paper and I started to feel better.

The next morning I walked into the building feeling quite happy. My advisor was in his office and I stopped to chat. After briefly congratulating me on my paper acceptance, he asked me how this paper was coming. Actually, he asked me how well I was able to constrain the process (i.e., do the arm-wavy magic). Shit. I'd been pretending I didn't need to do that. But he was insistent.

Suddenly I went from feeling like I was 2/3 done with the paper to feeling like I was 1/3 done. I felt like doing an adequate job on the discussion was going to take me a month of paper reading and slowly writing. But in order to stay on the defense schedule, I had to have the whole thing done in 2 weeks. Eek!

I took the weekend off (RaftWoman's wedding party followed by His Dark Materials) and launched myself into writing on Monday morning. Except that I haven't. In the past two days, I've managed to produce about 1.5 pages and cross out two of the nine sub-processes I need to discuss. At this rate, I'll be really lucky to finish the discussion section by early next week, leaving me only a few days to draft figures, finish several other sections, and stay on schedule. And I'm starting to think that the amount of time I've allotted myself to write the diss. intro, conclusions, revise, and format is rather too little. Eek!

Anyways, I'm sorry for venting so long. This post has been building up for a week+ now and it had to come out sometime. All I can do is do the best I can do. If worse comes to worse, the defense can be postponed. But I'm not going to cross that bridge yet.


volcanogirl said...

Whoa baby! NO, DO NOT postpone your defense. You are just panicking. The exam copy does not need to be perfect, just get the general idea out. Get it out in any manner - outline, ramble, sketch, or vomit. You'll get through it, even if it sucks. Remember, your advisor wouldn't let you defend unless he thought you were ready. Plus, you will have 6 whole weeks to address edits, fill in gaps, make extraneous data tables, and rewrite sections.

The week before I turned in the exam copy of my dissertation was AWFUL. I was so stressed that couldn't sleep at night, I had to make a huge decision about where to go next, and my fiancee was unresponsive at first about where to go. (He was super bummed that we would have to leave the PNW no matter how we cut it.)

But then afterwards, it wasn't so bad. My defense went well, of course I blanked on a couple easy questions. My edits were manageable, I moved across the country. And it's history. Mostly, except that my major advisor still has not given me any edits and I defended 8 months ago.

Moral of the story: Stress is unavoidable. But you rock and you will finish your dissertation.

ScienceWoman said...

Thanks for the pick-me up, volcanogirl. I could use that right now. Actually, I do keep telling myself: "At least, I'm not volcanogirl. She had it really really bad at the end."

Rose Connors said...

Writing under all that pressure has got to be either very motivating or, as you say, very frustrating. I wish you concentration and good writing karma.

psychgrad said...

The stress your feeling sounds familiar (shitty, but familiar). I always tell myself that somehow, it will all get done, even though I know that getting it done requires a lot of work. But somehow the knowledge that it will be over is calming.

twf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
twf said...

"And nobody's written about this process before (except in the most arm-wavy style). And even some of the subprocesses haven't been much explored."

That's exactly the point! You're supposed to be publishing something brand new.

I too am trying to get a paper together these days, and having a hard time with it. Not sure if it helps, but at least you're not the only one.

Writer Chica said...

Oh my! i think I got a little stressed just reading your post. ~~~~~~these are good thoughts, happy energy, and lots of hugs coming your way ((()))

And just think, after all that arm waving you will have built up extra muscle for carrying your little one!

Dr. Shellie said...

do you ever exercise in the morning? my perspective on "can't fix Big Mess---AACK"-type problems always clears up magically after a jog. maybe there's something you can fit in before writing.

(did I say congratulations yet? great news!)

Pam said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog the other day.

Wow, hang in there...sending good writing vibes your way.

Narr said...

I am so sorry but I can not delete this smile of my face... because I am right now in the same boat!!! just looking at my files make me panic!!!
It is clear I have no time to waste, but I just decide to take a pair of weeks to myself...
To make my mind clear... maibe you should do the same!!!
Good luck, and go ahead!!! those are clearly the symptoms of the last lap!!!! ;)

ceresina said...

I have nothing more substantial to offer than a cheer.
Go, Science Woman! You can do it! Woo!

Holly said...

Don't push back your deadline and don't take two weeks off to figure it all out. I used to do that sort of thing and I'm still ABD.

I like Dr. Shellie's advice - get exercise and then get back to it.

I think writer's block is a symptom of not really knowing what you need or want to say. By getting away from the problem for 20 mins you will come back to it with a new perspective.

Besides exercise, try getting a massage. Tiffany Field, psychologist and touch guru has shown that even short massages confer cognitive benefits.

Showers are the source of many of my research a-ha moments. Take a dry erase marker in with you so you can write any revelations on the walls.

Good luck and don't despair. You can do it!

PhD Mom said...

I am all too familiar with the problem that you are facing. I agree with Dr. Shellie that exercise helps, perhaps along with some angry Alanis Morrisette type music. But then I think you need to sit down and really figure out what you want to say. Maybe it would help to meet with your advisor to hash it all out. When I get in this situation, I usually take an hour or so to really think about the problem, and then I write an outline of where I want to go. With an outline in hand it really helps my writing because I now know what I want to say and it is just a matter of saying it.

Also, I agree with Volcanogirl about getting the info out anyway you can in your diss. I don't the policy at your school, but at mine the papers didn't have to come out until after the diss. so I actually finished some of them several months after defending and well into my postdoc. If this is the case, you could just relax on the papers and concentrate on getting something down for the defense. You don't want to publish material that you aren't proud of, and if you need time to formulate your thoughts, take it. And remember almost no one will read your defense, including your advisor. I doubt many of my committee members really read it cover to cover. Just get something down.