When I began writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg eight weeks ago, I had hoped to finish the thing by the end of the semester. Ideally, I thought, I'd like to make it to thirty pages. That'd be real swell, I reckoned. Today, a solid fortnight into summer vacation, I am still writing the damn chapter. I hit page fifty this evening. Page fifty! I'm telling you, this chapter does not want to end. I thought I was running out of steam around page fifteen. When I hit page twenty-five, I thought to myself, whew, I'm almost done. By the time page thirty-five rolled around, I thought, surely I'm a page or two from finishing. And I've felt that way ever since. I felt that way yesterday and I felt that way this morning as I set out to write today's bit. And I feel that way now.
But it's not done yet. The curser continues to blink on-off, on-off, benignly reminding me that there's still a few more letters, another couple of sentences to be typed. And, the closer I get, the more I dread finishing. I mean, I really do not want to ship this hulking thing off to my supervisor only to hear that it doesn't work or that I have to revamp the whole thing. I realize, of course, that revision is a fundamental part of the whole dissertation process, but I've labored on this chapter far more than I thought possible and, to be honest, I'm not too confident that I can do much more with it.
At the same time, I just want the damn thing to be done. I want to type that final period, hit "Save," send it off to the people who want/have to read it, and just do something else.
One of the things I find most difficult is that the further I get into a given chapter, the more I worry about its quality. This seems to happen every time I write anything of a certain length. I suppose it is only natural that, the more one invests in a given project, the more he or she stands to lose if it is rejected. Still, the anxiety that accompanies the latter stages of the chapter can make writing that much more difficult.
Since one cannot know whether or not a given chapter will be accepted until after it is completed, a chart of the progress one makes in writing a dissertation looks more like a set of stairs than a ramp. What I mean to say is that the work one puts into the dissertation only counts after a chapter is accepted. Let's use a really crappy picture to illustrate this observation:
Okay, so let's call the diagonal line "real work" and the steps "validated work." We'll call the base line "perceived work." Every day I work on the dissertation, I feel as if I am ascending the "real work" ramp. Of course, unless I produce something to show for the real work, however, it will be as if I have been walking along the "perceived work" path. Since the "real work" of reading and writing does not count until it becomes the "validated work" of an accepted chapter (at which point the "perceived work" path suddenly leaps to the level of the most recently completed chapter, as depicted below, in red), I feel trapped on the "perceived work" path despite also feeling as if I belong on the "real work" path:
Basically, although I feel as if I am already at the junction of "validated work" and "real work" for the second chapter, in reality, I am still stuck on the red horizontal line a full step below where I feel I should be. And, until my supervisor okays the chapter and the red line sends an arrow up to the junction where real and validated work await, I'm stuck.
And the pattern promises to continue for each damn chapter.
For tomorrow: Either read some criticism or try to finish the damn chapter. For real.