Monday, January 17, 2011

On Writing

Or at least, on writing the prospectus. My program requires a prospectus/dissertation proposal to be submitted within three months of the comprehensive exams, and I submitted it in time for the official deadline, but my advisor wants another draft done with more substance, or lit review, or something. At least he gave me a lot of comments to work on, as per his usual.

My problem is that I lost all my momentum over the holiday. After a series of small but exhausting family crises, I can't get my head back in the right place. I work best when my partner J is at work and I can devote long, uninterrupted blocks of time to writing, and I had that today, but all I've accomplished is rewriting a few pages of my prospectus. My advisor wants me to elaborate on why I want to write what I want to write, which is important to articulate, but so much harder than just writing BS. It's not that I don't want to work on the prospectus, or that I'm tired of my topic, but that I feel like I lost all the words I crammed into my head last semester. I spent the summer and fall semester of 2010 pushing all of these things into my head so that I would be able to cite on command, and I was able to do that at the end of the semester; that's how I passed my comp exams. And now it feels like it's all gone. I wrote the prospectus with authors in mind, but didn't include them because it wasn't required. Now my advisor wants names and detailed historiography, and I feel like I'm back in my first semester of grad school and I have to re-read review articles to remember who wrote what.

The writing is happening, it's just going very slowly. I think the rest of tonight will be spent trying to finish reading my advisor's book; it came out in October, just after I finished my exams, and I didn't feel like I had the brain power to finish it, so I'm only about half way through it. (I'm a bad advisee). It's both a daunting and a boring read. Boring because I can't skim it for major arguments like I usually do, both because I already know his major arguments and because I need to know what he thinks of some details. Daunting because, for good or bad, my research and my advisor's area of research cover the same groups, the same players, many of the same concerns and mostly the same time period, which means that his books feels sort of like a crib sheet for my work. What does he think of this guy? Check chapter one. What does he think this group was doing? Check chapter three. But maybe finishing the book will help me avoid putting my foot in my mouth in the prospectus.

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