Thursday, June 30, 2011

The End is Near (The Thesis Version)

No, I am not writing about the second coming. I have done that before, but this time my purpose in writing is not nearly as lofty.  

Forgive me.  I am about to embark on a fairly narcissistic reflection of the last year.  And after that, I think I will be done whining about my thesis.  

I have turned in what may be the last version of my research on Internet churches.  And now I'm waiting. Waiting to hear if I'm done.  Waiting to hear if I can get a signature from the department chair.  Waiting.  

Ironically, as I tagged the printed copy for review, I penciled in two slight (but not insignificant) changes.  

Both my department readers said the same thing to me when I met with them last week: Writing a master's thesis is more about the learning process than anything else.  Their remarks have prompted me to reflect on the process of writing this thesis and the things I have learned.  

On writing and the writing process.
  • I use the same words over and over and over again.  This is not the same as deliberate repetition, which can be a rhetorical strategy.  No.  This is laziness.  For example, in one paragraph I used the word "claims" three different times.  The same goes for "notes" and "observes."  I like the word "indeed" as a transition.  I had to go through the thesis with the search category, highlight the guilty words with different colors and then go through the printed text looking for too many of the same color on the same page.  As a result, I have developed a long list of optional words.  This may be very useful in the future.  Like when I start writing my book.  
  • I'm only partly joking about that last part.  I've always wished I could write a book, but frankly, the length of a book scares me.  I have writing ADD.  And I tend to walk away from things that get difficult.  Writing two-to-three page academic reflections and lengthy blogs on any topic are significantly easier than 100-page tomes.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to write a dissertation.  Or a book.  Carrying ideas through from beginning to end is more difficult than I ever imagined.  I critique other people's writing when they don't do this well.  And now I find myself guilty of the same writing weakness.  I suppose I might get better at this if I had more practice.
  • Another way to avoid this is to examine other people's writing to figure out how they avoid this weakness and others.  In fact, I've started doing this to learn more about the writing process in general.  How do authors introduce their arguments?  How do they incorporate multiple ideas?  How do they use other people's research?  And then extend it?  How do they end their articles?  I've definitely learned more about academic writing in this thesis process than I ever did in the papers I wrote for my graduate classes.  
  • I absolutely love research.  I want to know more about everything.  I want to continue this process forever and ever and ever.  However, at some point I just have to pick a direction and go with it.  In addition, I have to figure out what I want to say and say it.  I can't just ramble forever, which is my tendency.  Rambling only works for writers like Donald Miller
On my own writing process.  And about myself.
  • I love to write.  More than that, I need to write.  But writing takes a great deal out of me.  I haven't written in this blog because it just takes a lot of time.  And I needed to focus on finishing.  
  • I don't finish well.  I know this is true with cleaning and organizing.  I will do an impeccable job until right at the end, and then I walk away.  The closer I got to finishing this thesis, the more panicked I got, and the more I just wanted to quit.  I doubted that I would ever be done.  
  • I am easily distracted.  More than that, I crave distractions.  When I'm working on long-term projects, I prefer to do little tasks that I can finish quickly.  Or that make me smile.  I also like projects with visible or edible results.  Sometimes distractions help me focus.  And sometimes they keep me from focusing.  I think I need to learn to discern the difference. 
  • I also need to exercise self-discipline.  I need to make myself keep going when I want to walk away. And when the task of explaining myself seems too daunting, I need to create strategies that help me keep moving forward.  This summer, my tutoring job, that got me on campus before 8:00 in the morning forced me to create a writing schedule.  I won't always have that kind of forced discipline, which means I need to invent structures in my life that allow me to set goals and see them through.  
  • I need deadlines.  Knowing that I didn't have any more schedule extensions kept me in the office writing every single day.  I don't know how to create artificial deadlines for writing, but apparently I need to do that.  
  • Oh yes.  My friends are amazing.  I had a handful of women in my life that lovingly harassed me so that I wouldn't procrastinate.  I can't say enough about these women.  (It's all good.)  Thank you.  
Something else I learned about myself:
  • Sometimes I get so focused on what I'm doing that I forget to pay attention to friends and family.  Or God.  Oh, I never forget.  But I don't nourish those relationships.  They have all given me grace and love and have put up with my self-focused attitudes.  In the future, I want to learn to balance life and goals and achievement. I haven't learned that in 51 years.  But I think I might be a little better than I used to be so I am hopeful.  
Ideally I will take what I learned and use it in the future.  We shall see.  


nancy b said...

I know I'm not technically part of your family, and we really haven't known each other for that long, but I feel so proud of you! You're amazing and I'm so glad you pushed through to the end. Or the almost end.

Erin Flew said...

Nancy, you are among those women who have lovingly prodded me to keep working. Thank you.