Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 3: A Deadline and a Schedule

Well, peeps, I'm finally working on Chapter 3...or something similar to working. After I struggled for a while to get this chapter started, I decided one day to just pick a thing and start working on that. So far I have rewatched West Side Story and reread Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. At the moment I am reading Hansberry's informal autobiography, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, in search of leads for my chapter. In other words, I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I continue to read in hopes that I'll find whatever I am looking for.

In other news, I put together a concise outline for my dissertation for the rest of the academic year. My goal is to be Dr. S by May 2012. I am two chapters in, and I have two more chapters left to write. I also have to work on the intro and a conclusion, but these sections don't worry me as much. Honestly, I think I could sit down and write half of the intro this weekend if I had to--operative phrase being "HAD TO." When my advisor saw I planned to hand in my draft of chapter 3 at the end of September, she suggested I be more ambitious and submit it at the end of August. I'm too proud to back off from a challenge, so I agreed to September 3rd. That's the date.

Of course, after I emailed her that date, I panicked. Now I have to write it before September 3rd! Because I work best with deadlines and guidelines, I put together a mini-schedule.

The physical process of me trying to figure out how to write a dissertation chapter in 7 weeks.

This looks a lot better...

Last week was Week 1 of my schedule. During Week 1 I was supposed to put together a work plan and do some research (aside from the writing and reading that are supposed to happen anyway). I have yet to dive head first into the research. I'm not sure why I'm postponing it (does looking for one book in my library's database count?), but it's Week 2 of my fantabulous schedule and no research yet.

Frankly, I'm having trouble focusing and staying on track. I think part of the problem is that I'm not sure what I want to say yet. I have written plenty of ideas, things that I could delve into about both texts: Cold War urban politics, violence against minorities in cities, white flight to the suburbs, Broadway...I know, I know: wasn't I supposed to be looking only at New York City in my dissertation? Yup. But I feel that Hansberry's play is crucial to this conversation about urban space and home, even if I am focusing on New York City in my dissertation. And even though West Side Story is not written by Puerto Ricans, it represented Puerto Ricans in urban space and propelled these representations to a mainstream audience.

So where do I go from there? Sometimes I feel like I don't have a clear focus yet. Other times I feel like I shouldn't even be writing about these texts and I should just start over. (I have written and presented on West Side Story before. It's something I can talk about at length. But for some reason I feel like I am at a loss for words right now.) So I come here to share my ideas and get feedback. I need a sounding board for the thoughts inside my head...

My bigger problem is that I am worn out and feeling more and more anxious every day. Instead of moving my chapter forward, my daily writing just reminds me of how aimless I feel and how I have no clue where this is going. My writing so far has consisted in me talking out ideas and questions I have, but nothing that I could use to start writing chapter 3. Also, I'm starting to feel constrained by the research. I'm avoiding doing the research because I don't know where to go. I am avoiding the writing because I haven't done much research. It's a vicious cycle, as you can see.

I'm hoping by this time next week I am in a better place and that the gears are in motion. So far I've had two suggestions offered to me (both via Twitter):

1) Just sit down and write the chapter (or at least a bulk of it). Do research and insert quotations AFTER you write. (via my tweep @readywriting)

2) Take a short break from dissertation work (a few days? a week?) to stop feeling anxious and reboot my energy level. My tweeps @jovanevery and @escapeivrytower suggested I don't see this break as me being lazy but rather me recharging my batteries.

(Thank you, ladies!)

At any rate, I'm hoping to finish reading Hansberry's autobiography this week and write an abstract of what I think my chapter is going to do. I'm hoping it helps me decide once and for all what direction I'll be taking this chapter in, before I take my break from dissertation work.

Any other suggestions, dear readers? Am I the only one who gets anxious when starting a new chapter? How do you tackle the writing? What's your writing process like?


  1. I always write outlines. I love outlines. I start at the biggest level: I-Intro, II-xxx case, III-yyy case, IV-discussion, V-conclusion. I look at that for awhile, and then start filling in---what do I want to say re xxx and yyy? As I develop that, does it make sense to put xxx and yyy into a single chapter? if so, why? Put the answer to that in the Intro and discussion. I stick in mini-cites at every place, as I can remember them (like "dont forget Clifford here!") Bit by bit, the argument and its sources take shape. Takes a bunch of drafts. It's never 100% finished. As i start writing, the outline evolves. I keep adjusting it until the chapter has such gotten enough momentum that it starts flowing. and then the work of the outline is done.

    that was my system. FWIW. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the advice, Professor. It's funny that I've never been a fan of outlines (I even avoided teaching outlines in my composition classes), but now that I'm working on my dissertation I find that I would really benefit from them. Seeing how you lay it out is useful.

    I also need to just sit down and write. :) This is my plan for next week...

  3. I'm writing one in 3 weeks, I think I have a death wish, but I feel that for Chapter 4 I finally know what I'm talking about! Too cocky??