Memo to Myself and Other Fellow Thesis “Fighters”

Written by Eliza on Monday, 12 March 2001, at 1:08 a.m.

Dear all, As I sit here at my desk recovering from yet another round of tears, I will write a memo to myself and to other struggling with their dissertation demons– drawing on whatever reservoirs I have left. This is instead of dwelling on the same question I have in my head, over and over, which is, “will things ever get better?”
This is the memo, this is what I know…
1.Things do get better. Things change. They have to.
2.People who make it to the Master’s or PhD level are smart cookies. (pat on back :-)! They just have to be!
3.They are also survivors. They have learned tricks of the trade to keep on going. There is no way that this could not be true, because they have gotten this far.
4.People who are writing a thesis or dissertation care deeply about issues.. whether that particular issue be hmmm…let’s see…formal interstate cooperation in the Sahel-Sahara sub-Region, post-post-modernism: a comparison of the treatment of dystopian themes in Alice Munro and Margaret Atwoods’s early works, media impact on low-income-group voter preferences in five states, 1975-1982…whatever it is! Caring deeply about issues means caring deeply about life…MAers and PhDers are treasures because they care. They’re passionate! By the way, if you’re looking for a topic, feel free to take one of the above… although they’re a little on the nonsensical side, I’m sure!
5.From Phinished, I have learned that sometimes it is useful to just free-write.
6.Other times, it is good to get the egg timer going for 40 minutes, you can do anything for that long! (this 40-minute method has resulted in somewhat of a revolution I believe, sprung from this website (in particular, the head of Jojo, I think, causing a run on egg timers in various cities…)
7.From Phinished I have learned that sometimes it can be useful to just rant…a rant free of reprimand, because kind ears are listening here.
8.When I’m done I will look back and even be nostalgic for the days of tears in front of the computer screen. I will refer offhand to that period in time as “the days of struggle” —but will say it kind of proudly.
9.Undercutters and phony police are usually just jealous of the wit and savoir-faire of those they oppose. 🙂
10.Framing the situation is everything…I have to remember to re-arrange my plight. I am NOT a worried-looking frazzled thesis student suffering from social! I am a crusader, uncovering truths no one has uncovered yet, a part-time investigative journalist, a late-night bohemian!
11. Things could be worse. Job had leprosy. But still had pluck. Milton was blind, impoverished, and imprisoned. And wrote Paradise Lost in this state…and Paradise Regained.
12.Speaking of imprisonment, there are benefits. Long stretches of isolation can be good. Both The Hurricane and Nelson Mandela have said that parts of them are grateful for the chance they had to grow and think by themselves.
13. Music can be a saving grace in the hard times. I have yelled along to Angel from Montgomery — “just give me something I can hold onto”!! And got pumped up to the Grateful Dead’s “The Race is On.” I have to remember music.
14.And the power of the subconscious. Reading recently a book by that name, I was amazed at how it all made sense. I learned that the conscious mind, that nagging, often despairing voice at the forefront of the brain is like the captain of a ship, assigning orders to a silently obeying subconscious (the crew). If I can change the captain’s orders, I can change the subconscious, and change me. I just have to try to learn to bark a little louder to get the crew in line. I have to learn to say over and over –and loudly — “You can do it!” not…”You can’t.”
15. Also, the subconscious knows a lot of things. So if I’m troubled, I have to remember that the answer already lies within me, and a good time to ask an unresolved question is right before sleep…then the subconscious has all night to work on the problem, and bring forth the light in the morning.
16. I have to remind myself not to think of “finishing the thesis, so I can start my life.” This is my life NOW. I have to enjoy the voyage, or at least try to a little bit.
17.I have to look for small pleasures to keep me going. Treats. Like a Macdonald’s milkshake. One episode of Entertainment Tonight. Or a devil-may-care purchase of a magazine at the grocery store.
18. I have to learn to shut out the voices of the naysayers around me. I will pretend to have a bubble around me, and picture things bouncing off.
19.I have to remember that things always do get done in the end.
20. I will recall that there have been times before, with other challenges before me, when it seemed like all was lost, and all was not. I can’t count the number of crises I had with various term papers or with my Master’s thesis…and what do you know…the crises were proved wrong, based on ultimately faulty doubts. This will happen again.
21. When I make a mistake and go down a dead-end with my thesis, like I have recently, not realizing I needed a separate chapter for a particular section, I have to repeat to myself: so what! YOu can’t change the past. This re-routing happened for a reason. A learning reason. As someone said, “We don’t have mistakes, we just have learnings.”
22. And when I hit a section of my thesis that seems over my head, seems HARD, I have to think: that’s okay. It may very well be that it is hard, ambigouos. What isn’t hard? As someone else said, “Everything is ambigous. It’s exciting in a way, if you can tolerate ambiguity. I can’t, but I’m taking a course where it’s taught, in the hope of acquiring the skill. It’s called Modern Living, and you get no credit.”
23.Writing a thesis on the whole is HARD, and you certainly don’t get much credit. I can’t remember the last time I got any positive feedback from my thesis director or family. All I can say to this is that at least there is a certain pleasure in learning to bite the bullet. To keep on truckin’ without anyone tootin’…
24. The thesis is long, but good things come to those who wait. The pay-off in the end, as triumphantly captured (to me) in the photographs of Sam’s defense, is so beautiful and rewarding, BECAUSE it comes from patience, and not the product of a short-lived dream.
25. As for a source of solace concerning my state of social deprivation, I will cling to the following piece of wisdom said by Lorraine Hansberry — which certainly SEEMS to ring true– “A woman who is willing to ber herself and pursue her own potential runs not so much the risk of loneliness as the challenge of exposure to more interesting men — and people in general.”
26.Last but not least: Oh! I don’t really have a last but not least. I guess sleep. My sister said they did some kind of psychological test, and people’s IQ actually went down a certain percentage for the day depending on the number of hours less then 8 hours that they had got the night before…so…I’m going to bed! I’ve got to get my IQ!
Love, Eliza P.S. I think I may have succeeding in feeling a little less disheartened, which was the ultimate goal of this memo. Thanks for listening


Encouragement/Motivation on Writing (excerpt from Writing habits)

Professional writers don’t wait for inspiration. Sure, there are times when they stare out the window waiting for the muse to whisper, but it’s somewhat controlled. Rarely does it go on for more than a day, because they know what’s at stake and that their job is to write and come up with material by a certain deadline. Many have likened writing to a muscle: the more you use it, the easier it gets to use. So writing every day on a regular schedule is the best habit you could ever develop. The difference between working writers and dreamers is that at the end of the day, they have more pages written than the day before.
1. Write every day because you love it
2. Write because it’s your job
3. Write or die
The process of writing is so joyful, so satisfying, so necessary for me that I would do it even if no one else in the world but me was ever going to read it, let alone pay me a dime to do it. Aside from the pleasure I get from interacting with the people I love and care about, writing is the most intense pleasure I could ever have alone.
-Ron Bass in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
This is for all writers who truly feel they have to write. It is attributed to prolific author, Isaac Asimov, for whom writing was a life or death activity. Writing was like breathing, sleeping or eating. It wasn’t something he forced himself to do every day. It just was. Most writers have to force themselves to write amid constant life distractions. For Asimov, it was the opposite; he had to force himself out of his typewriter in order to be social.
-Karl Iglesias
Unless you have a wealthy spouse or live off a trust fund, chances are that as an aspiring writer, you’re juggling a day job with periodic bouts of writing. As you’ll see, if you really want to write, you make the time. Most beginning writers don’t make writing a high enough priority. They intend to write, but their desire is not enough to keep them from doing more pressing things. Professional writers make writing an excuse not to do other things. They view their work as a job they get paid for, that has deadlines, and that demands a schedule.
A writer I know used to make herself write one scene per night before going to bed, until she finished her script in about eight weeks. Sometimes it took her 15 minutes to finish a scene, and other times up to four hours, but she made herself finish the scene before rewarding herself with a good night’s sleep.
-Karl Iglesias
When I had a day job, I found the time to write. I’m awfully disciplined. I always say to people at seminars that if you write two pages a day, five days a week, you’ll have a hundred pages in ten weeks. So if you can be disciplined enough to just do two pages a day, and I think anyone can find one hour to do two pages, even if you have to do them on a cocktail napkin.
-Eric Roth in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
I had the pleasure of hearing Ray Bradbury at a book festival where he shared his writing ritual. Asked about his preparations for writing, he said that waking up was the number one, and then lying in bed and listening to his voices. He calls it his “morning theater.” Inside his head, his characters talk to one another, and when it reaches a certain pitch of excitement, he jumps out of bed and traps them on paper before they are gone. So Ray never worries about a routine because his characters are always in there talking. As to how long he writes every day, Ray said a couple of hours. He can write three or four thousand words, which he believes is more than enough for one day.
-Karl Iglesias
Although some writers view this stage as a joyful opportunity for exploration, many complain about the mental torture of having to face the blank page every morning. Regardless, successful writers have learned to minimize their anxiety level by not leaving the page blank. They’re either prepared for it—perhaps by having already developed an outline or a rough sketch of the scene the day before—or they read the previous day’s work and the light rewriting of it gets them warmed up.
When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then, gradually, I write one page, and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.
-John Steinbeck
When you’re hungry, do you put off eating? When your favorite television show is on, do you put it off to a later time? Chances are, when you want to do something, and you’re not afraid of it, you just do it. Although many consider procrastination to be just another word for fear, it can also be part of the incubation stage of the creative process, where ideas simmer in your subconscious. So it’s not all that bad for you. In fact, all writers procrastinate in one way or another to alleviate the pressures of writing, or simply “waste time” puttering around in order to warm up into the day’s work. The difference is that they control how long they procrastinate.
Having trouble keeping on task? Give yourself the following marching orders: You may not check your email, play Solitaire, surf the Web, or do anything else on your computer except write–until a certain time in the day. My time is 3 p.m., which is email time. (I deleted all the games that came with my computer, which is a little extreme, but after kicking a “Doom” addiction a few years ago, I remain a bit squirrelly.) Stick to this edict and you’ll be shocked at how much more you produce. This means you!
-Monica Wood
If procrastination is an issue in your writing life, and you’d like to overcome it, try to understand the root cause of it. Procrastination experts say that there are six main reasons why we put off things: 1. We’re bored. 2. We’re afraid to write; our low-self-esteen makes us doubt our talent. 3. We’re easily distracted by things around us. 4. We’re just plain lazy. 5. We’re overwhelmed by the task at hand; it’s just too big to tackle. 6. We just don’t like the work. When you truly understand why you’re procrastinating, you can do something about it, especially if writing is important to you.
Sometimes, your mind gets foggy. No words or images come to mind. It’s just a complete blank. Some writers panic at the first sign of block and rush to their shrink, while others believe it’s only temporary and have a bag of tricks to overcome it. There are literally thousands of tricks employed by writers, while other writers believe block doesn’t exist! For them, block is just another word for fear. Fear of failure, of being exposed as a fraud, or feeling your writing isn’t good enough.
1. Feel the fear and do it anyway
2. Jump to another part of the story
3. Have the courage to fail
4. Retype and keep going
5. Get inspired by art
6. Pick up a crossword puzzle
7. Listen to music