Writing is Hard: The Home Stretch

It has been a few months since I last posted about writing, or anything here really, and it feels like the time to update. I have reached month 13 of constant, full-time work on finishing my PhD dissertation and the May graduation deadline is looming. Since I last posted, I have turned in and revised a couple of chapters, but not as many as I had hoped or planned on. A lot of road bumps have materialized, but I’m working on maintaining the structures that have made continuing more do-able.


These past few months have been characterized by an overwhelming exhaustion, and more loss. I tried to concentrate disruptions in a short period of time (3 weeks), back to back, but that kind of backfired. Something about the combination exhausted me at such a deep level that my body started to revolt, breaking out in rashes and chronic pain. Shortly after that I experienced another painful loss, this one more distant and more confounding than the first. My challenge over these past several weeks has been trying to strike a balance between getting what I need physically and emotionally to move forward and achieve my goals, and making adequate progress toward my ever-shorter deadline.


There comes a point in every task where I must decide to prioritize the completion of the goal over anything else, including my sanity. Earlier in this process the deadlines were further apart and more flexible, but with three months remaining, there is no time for leisure right now. I have been working nearly full-time for a year now on the writing portion of my dissertation, and more than 3 years on the project overall, so this is kind of like the last few miles of the marathon. Eating and drinking are easy to forget, rest is not a high priority in my mind, and I understand each thing I do as either helping me move toward finishing or not. Single-minded motivation seems romantic but it also means I don’t notice I’m hungry until I am VERY hungry, I don’t feel physically tired until I am about to fall asleep against my will, and I don’t remember I haven’t socialized in weeks until everyone has long given up on making plans. Don’t mistake this as complaining; I am extremely lucky to be able to pursue my passion as a career, and lucky that my body and mind have been able to weather this abuse so far, but I have made marks on my health to get this far.


What has been the most helpful to me at this stage has been the return of the peer support that had waned over winter break. My online #phdgang group on twitter has been checking in most days of the week, I meet with my writing partner from last semester every Monday, and our group from Dissertation Bootcamp co-works for 5 hours on Fridays. Having these standing expectations means I don’t need to spend as much energy getting started on work each day, I know what to expect and when my body is signaling me to stop because a lot of other variables are consistent.

At this late stage, the structure I’ve described in previous posts is working fine for me but not as well as it used to. That’s fine. This is better than I’ve felt at the end of any other big project I’ve done (example: Masters thesis). I know what I need to do and how long it will take. I get up every day and I move the work forward. I have embraced the process of editing and seen incredible improvement in my work from sharing my thought process with my committee members.

Still, producing clear, well-conceived, succinct insights over and over again every day requires a lot of mental endurance. The closer I get to the deadline, the more I am feeling the jitters and anxiety each day when I sit down to work. Incorporating that frame of mind into planning what I will accomplish each day has been challenging, but I am convinced that the way I’m going about this is setting me up to better handle a career full of deadlines and big projects with minimal chaos. We shall see…

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