It quickly became more than a litany of complaints. In the diary, I was able to work through critiques of my work. I began to make connections between what seemed like disparate topics in my dissertation. As I wrote about the interviews I was conducting, I gave myself the opportunity to revisit them and identify what I could have done better, and consequently be more prepared for the next interview. In essence, I was giving myself a workshop to think through the various elements of a very large project.
What I realized while keeping the dissertation diary was that I felt liberated from the shackles of perfection. Working on drafts, I always imagined what my committee would say, or what a reviewer would say – to the point that I became paralyzed, and unable to write. This paralysis was what I had mistakenly labeled writer’s block. In my dissertation diary, I could write whatever I wanted, and however I wanted. Nobody was watching. With this freedom, I wrote more than I ever thought I could.
Not everything from your dissertation diary will make it into your dissertation, but I guarantee you much of it will, albeit in a very different shape. You might devote 4 pages of your diary to dissecting one piece of literature, and improve your understanding so that you can write a more sophisticated literature review. The dissertation diary enables you to write out your ideas in whatever way you desire, helping you to understand what you’re actually writing about.
Writing is ultimately an act of revision. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft, so your focus should be on getting your ideas on paper, no matter how inelegant they may be. As we approach Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), where many of you will pledge to write every day, consider creating a dissertation diary not only to write more, but to think more – without concern for everyone else’s opinion.