Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Realization about Writing a Dissertation

After reading Meagan's last post, and after struggling with fears of my own . . . I just buckled down and started to write. It wasn't good writing, but I wrote nonetheless. I wrote about the history of the NCAA, about corruption in collegiate sports, about myths (that aren't really myths) in Division I-A athletics. I wrote about the value of education and how socioeconomic status can factors one's educational preparedness, how race is a part of this, and how high school student-athletes, those who typically need the most help, often have the least experienced teachers. I wrote about 60 pages of work I can't use in this dissertation (at least I can't use it right now).

It took 60 pages of writing to realize that I hadn't written about writing, about the teaching of writing, student writing or anything else that my dissertation is really all about. I got sucked into the machine of college athletics.

That has been the process for me, though. I initially thought I would sit down at the computer and that fairly decent prose would pour out of my body onto the screen or paper. I thought that my writing would be focused and specific because I'd been working at this information for so long. I thought wrong. I think I had to go through the process of writing about these background issues in detail-- in a sense purging them from my mind-- before I could get to the heart of my thesis, the teaching of writing to underprepared student athletes at NCAA-ranked Division I-A institutions.

In a way I feel the time was wasted, but I know it wasn't. That writing time and the pages of prose are important. I can use them later in something else, or I can endnote a bunch of it. If nothing else, it's out of my head so I can focus on the real subject of my dissertation.

Cross posted at PartsnPieces.


JK said...

Billie, I completely know where you're coming from. I, too, had to go through the process of purging ideas before I felt that I could really write and think about my actual disertation study. But, in retrospect, the background issues were what fascinated me in the first place, and they are what made me realize the potential of applying a rhetoric-lens. So far, I've written about fifty pages, but the only good ones are the last ten. But I could have never gotten to those pages without blundering around for the first forty!

Abby said...

This seems a relatively common "problem." A friend of mine, who just graduated, told me that the stack of writing that he didn't surpasses the stack that he did. A little scary, really.

When I was trying to get going on the first draft of my first chapter I wrote about thirty pages that I was relatively happy with (for a draft). I got home, sat down to watch a little Buffy, and realized that I couldn't use any of it. Not yet, at least. And I had to start over.

In the same way as you're both talking about here, though, I realized that I had to write that first thirty to get to the right thirty. So it goes, I guess.

Billie said...

Thanks, Abby and JK. The writing was a good thing, even if they writing wasn't good. :-)

JK! I wondered what had happened to you. If you are on campus, come on by . . . we'll talk about software and writing and dissertations and stuff.

Joy said...

This was my experience as well. I wrote a ton of stuff for this problem chapter -- pretty much outlining a book, all the possible ways that my rhetorical theory could manifest in the classroom. My advisor was great -- really able to deal with people's writing processes -- and she basically asked me what was the stuff that I was absolutely most committed to. She also told me what she found most compelling. I ended up writing a whole new chapter looking much more closely at the three points (rather than 20) we decided were the most important.

Likewise, I wrote tons for another chapter -- many drafts before I could even figure out what I wanted to say. And because it was field research, before I could really even do the drafts, I felt I had to write up all the notes. That was 80 single-spaced pages.

But the bad pages do lead to the good pages. And I think it's extremely helpful if you can have either a really great advisor or a writing group made of some really good readers so they can help you see what's good and what's not. I think a dissertator should just write. Other people can help decide what's "good" and what isn't. Just write.

Billie said...

Thanks for the input, Joy. It's so good to know that what we are all experiencing is somewhat "normal"! :-)