The Lady Americanist on Writing.

Things are ramping up here with the Lady Americanist. I finished comps, I defend in a few weeks, and I have to get a chapter of my dissertation ready for presentation at ASA in November. I’m trying to really get through my dissertation now that I’m not teaching, in hopes that I finish my degree either next fall or spring 2016. I refuse to putz.

My dissertation isn’t organized into regular chapters, but rather into “modules” that contain background information, two case studies, and analysis on a media corporation. Each case study will be about the length of an average chapter (20 pages), but the intro to the module will be about 10 pages and the analysis 25 – 30 pages. I figure as long as I draft about one item per month, and keep two others in the cycle, I’ll be done in about a year. I have one chapter near completion, another in rough draft form, and others that are either outlined or planned out. I think this is a doable goal, but we’ll see how research progresses.

When I write, my pieces go through distinct stages. First, I plan. What is my thesis statement? What are the main points of support? I write this on an index card and keep it with my research materials. This helps when I get lost in the research. Sometimes it’s very difficult to see the forest through the trees. My chair is helpful in this regard because he can easily set me back on course.

Next I outline. This is not necessarily a traditional outline with Roman numerals, but sometimes a chart with my points on one side and sources on the other. I used this to propose a chapter about the Pentagon Papers. It helped to show that I knew the important sources and where to find them. The outline is what I need it to be. A method that isn’t flexible isn’t terribly helpful in the long run. It has to adapt to the type of chapter you are writing.

Here is where I finally get into the writing stage. I write everything I already know or have source material for. This helps me see the gaps and get words on the page, which frankly is a major part of the battle. I try for between 10 and 13 pages in this stage.

Finally, I complete the draft, put it through some revisions (which I do almost exclusively on paper; I hate editing and revising on the computer), and create a final draft for my committee to evaluate. They have seen one chapter (well, most of them have…), and I’m hoping to give them another at the end of October. Our department is a little understaffed, so I need to keep myself busy while they work through all of the comps, drafts, defenses, and grading that they have to do (in addition to, you know, their lives).

I have a Pinterest board about dissertations that seems to be getting some followers, so it must make sense to someone. Please feel free to follow me!

– Lady Americanist.

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