On Dissertations, Expectations, and a Sense of Literary Scale

While churning out new pages of dissertation text today, I noticed that at some point this afternoon I passed the 70,000-word mark. One of the interesting aspects of creating such a lengthy document is how quickly a person can pass milestones without even thinking about them.

For example, I do not recall the moment when I passed the 60,000-word mark, although I posted about going beyond 51,000 words in September. Some days I am just too busy and too tired to keep track of anything more significant than my daily minimum writing goal. I am currently forcing myself to write at least two pages a day so that I can deliver a draft to my committee members by the beginning of November.

I went back and looked at earlier versions of my dissertation (I save a new version every few days just in case a file gets corrupted) to check my monthly progress this year via the total page count. I was intrigued by the faster and slower paces I set in different months, which of course are in part related to my teaching workload:

January 20 - 91 pages
March 1 - 173 pages
April 20 - 195 pages
June 5 - 198 pages
August 2 - 215 pages
September 7 - 226 pages
October 20 - 288 pages

That being said, I have written 62 pages in the past six weeks while working full time. This is not to say that I was slacking in those previous months, but instead to suggest that with a definite "deadline," my mind is much more focused on finishing this project. I suspect that my last 100 pages will end up having taken only eight weeks or so to finish.

It was not so very long ago when I returned to school to finish my BA that the idea of a 20-to-30-page term paper seemed like a monumental effort, and now I am on the verge of finishing a document that will be over 300 pages including bibliography and appendices. THAT is the surprising phenomenon: in just a few years my horizons have expanded to the point where I know that I am capable of writing as many pages as it takes to tell a story.

Anyways, back to writing. There will be plenty of time to reminisce about dissertation writing in the next few months, unless of course I wind up with an unexpected diagnosis of mesothelioma, in which case I am marching off to a high-powered attorney.