As I try to find a dissertation/writing schedule that I can stick with, that is actually effective for once, a few things stand out:
It helps to have a writing group that you meet with once and week. Some fellow PhD friends of mine have started a group we’re calling the “Shut Up and Dissertation” writing group – we meet every wednesday to work, discuss, bounce ideas off each other, etc. It really helps to have someone you’re at least sort-of accountable to to inject a little motivation into your day.
My brain does not function in a linear fashion, but rather in bits and pieces that pile up and never seem to cohere into anything useful.
As a friend of mine recently realized in a small but important personal triumph: “It’s amazing how much you get done when you stop trying to do everything perfectly.” (She even made a little poster for it).
In a related note, I keep having to remind myself: “Any words is better than no words.” Ie: if all I manage in a day is half a page, or a paragraph, or a few sentences, or a few disjointed ideas, ANYTHING is better than not having written at all.
My ideas are WAY too ambitious, and I begin to fear I cannot do justice to any of the claims I keep making in my dissertation prospectus, or a couple conference proposals I wrote.
Resolutions. You either love them or loathe them. Generally, I avoid them because all they seem to accomplish is making me feel guilty. That being said, I am making some plans and goals for 2016. I want to OWN 2016. I want to make it my bitch.
Bluntly: 2015 sucked ass. It was one of the worst years of my life. There were a couple highlights: a conference I love in March, FINALLY defending prospectus at the beginning of December, but on the whole it was absolutely horrifyingly terrible. My mother lost her job. I had a wholly unproductive guilt-ridden jobless spring semester. I spent three months genuinely suicidal. I had a sudden, difficult, painful move. And have been and currently still am living on a very tight budget, paycheck to paycheck, always worrying about how I was going pay the rent or buy food. My oldest, dearest, cat died. My paternal grandfather died. I made some serious mistakes. I was rejected by someone I really care about. All in all, it’s been a SHIT year.
So, I am absolutely determined that somehow SOMEHOW I will make 2016 MINE. Mine, I tell you, MINE! *cue evil laugh*
I don’t want to call these my resolutions, exactly. “Plans” seems more accurate. And I’m trying not to make vague resolutions like “I resolve to be kinder” or whatever, but to focus only or mostly on concrete actionable plans. One thing that helps: I go into Jan 1st already a little better off for a couple reasons:
An article I wrote has been accepted for publication in an academic journal (I’m being vague to keep my half-assed anonymity).
I have applied for two jobs, and if I get either or both I will be much better off for the Spring and/or Summer.
Having defended my prospectus on Dec 9th, I am now in a much better position to work on and finish in dissertation in a timely manner (meaning 1 or 1 and a half years).
So, here’s my list of plans:
meditate 15-20 minutes daily
try yoga or some other simple/basic exercise at least a couple days a week
blog regularly (whether that is here or on my old blog)
listen to 1 audiobook per month
set up a reasonable writing schedule
try to meet with a writer’s group semi-regularly
apply for full-time teaching position
apply for MFAH summer internship
apply for research grant (either the American Association of Academic Women or another one I qualify for)
revise my short story “Gone” and submit it to Conjunctions by end of February
revise one paper for submission to an academic journal
write a short screenplay for my brother to film
go to ICFA conference in Orlando in March (definite)
go to PKD conference in Fullerton in April (tentative)
go to Virginia to visit family in May or June
go to WorldCon in Kansas City in August (definite)
go to Russian Utopia Conference in Paris in September (awaiting acceptance *fingers crossed*)
complete 3 chapters of dissertation by end of the year
At the beginning of October, I made a list of goals for the month. This list was:
catch up on the pile of grading that accumulated while I was stressed with finances and moving
write final draft of my dissertation prospectus
write a presentation proposal for the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts 2016 (just completed an hour ago)
write a presentation proposal for the Russian Utopia Conference to be held in Paris in Sept 2016 (please god let me get accepted to this one!)
write a presentation proposal for the Philip K. Dick Conference in Fullerton in Spring 2016
start meditating again
lose five pounds
read at least ONE book (just ONE damn it!) that is not dissertation-related
I didn’t totally succeed, but I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made. I caught up with the pile grading that had been haunting me. I completed all three of the presentation proposals I had planned on – finishing them well in advance of their due dates. And I am ALMOST done with the revisions for the my dissertation prospectus. I hope to have that done by the end of the week, just in time for the end of the month.
I didn’t read an entire (non-diss-related) book, but I did start and get about halfway through Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hahn, and I’ve been reading through Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush. I have not started meditating again. I really need to get on that. But I did lose some weight. I’m not sure exactly how much because my scale broke (not because of my weight, I swear!); but my pants fit better so I think I lost at least 3 lbs, maybe more. All in all, not a bad month.
So, I’m making a plan for the rest of the year now. 2015 has sucked ass, but I want to make sure I wrap it up as productively as possible. Some things I have to do for work, like keep up with grading through to the end of the semester, and defend my prospectus in the first week of December, but the rest is just for me.
So here’s my to-do list for November and December:
keep up with grading
defend my dissertation prospectus in the first week of December
finish reading Fear
read one other non-dissertation-related book
post on the blog at least 5 times a week
finish Christmas shopping well before the week of Christmas (unlike usual)
submit an application to the Museum of Fine Arts internship program
clean/organize my room
revise my short story “Gone” to submit for possible publication *fingers crossed*
Judy Garland singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic
dark nights lying awake at 2 in the morning
my dad’s enormous house
waiting for text messages from the woman who broke my heart
knowing my dad is a great father now, just not with me
missed and ignored opportunities
The Lord of the Rings
silence in a church
singing in a church
the last night before the school year starts
the box of ashes that sits on my mantle
driving down Cypresswood Road
a rosary made of roses
I tend to know the signs that mean I’m starting to get better again.
I’ve woken up several mornings at 7:45am without an alarm and without the imperative of NEEDING to be awake.
I’ve been wearing my nicer clothes and heels more often again.
I painted my nails last night for the first time in months.
And I’m spending money. Lots and lots of money.
My “ooh! I need it!” mentality comes out most when I’m feeling better, which is great because I’M FEELING BETTER, but it’s a big problem for my already strained budget. I wouldn’t say my spending habits are quite serious enough to be considered a sign of a manic phase (I’ve always been very one-sided depressive, not bipolar), but it is enough of a problem that I have had to fight to keep it under control.
Between Thursday and Sunday this past week, I spent $500 on things I DID NOT NEED and probably should not have bought. Part of me feels guilty. But frankly, part of me really DOESN’T. I feel that I deserve some nice things for having survived the last nine months of stress, physical and emotional pain, being broke, my mother losing her job, and frantic and difficult move, and being suicidal since June. So, you know what, on second thought: No, I do not feel guilty.
I have an obsession with lists. Especially but not exclusively to-do lists. I started making to-do lists when I was 12 or so, writing them on post-it notes that I would stick on or near my bed before I went to sleep so it was waiting for me when I woke. I especially did this during the summers, when I was younger and both determined and actually very good at getting as much productivity and fun out of the summer days as I could. I was that person who woke up at 6 or 7 in the morning all through the summer, forbear of wasting it. I did this even through high school. It didn’t start to change until college, and part-time jobs, when my depression got progressively worse, and I was more isolated from friends who had moved away for college, and “wasting the day” seemed less of a worry when all I really wanted to do was sleep.
I still write lists compulsively. I’m just not so good at doing anything about them these days.
some actual lists I’ve written in the last week include:
Monday’s To-Do List:
do a load of laundry
Call help desk to fix problem with [redacted] account password
pour bleach down upstairs toilet and bathtub to kill the goddamn silverfish
pour bleach down my throat
write 1000 words
or don’t, whatever
Tuesday’s To-Do List:
Pay [redacted] account fees
fuck the dishes
no seriously, email K–
Wednesday’s To-Do List:
Get out of bed
just get out of bed
Thursday’s To-Do List:
Possible reasons to get out of bed today include: you have to feed the cats; maybe there’s a tennis match on?; so you can crawl back into bed in a couple hours
try not to die
youre having lunch with your brother tomorrow, as long as you’re still alive
I made it to lunch with my brother, just barely. I’m not sure what kind of motivation will get me through the weekend though. And I still haven’t emailed K.