Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Yet another writing rant part I

So now that I have already blogged about the outcome, this rant may not evoke as much sympathy (or happiness, if you're this person). However, the true ranter has to let every rant see the light of the day, albeit belatedly, or else it will keep festering inside. So, kind readers, please bear with me ( or, enjoy, if you're "that" person. :-))

I ranted here about what a bitch writing was. That was my first experience. The second time round, writing the thesis, it was a bit better because I had one published paper that was proof of my capability and I knew what was expected of me. That was about it. It still didn't simplify things any whenever I was faced with a mountain of literature, and a barely filled in outline. The same writers block would freeze up my mind and words refused to make an appearance. The same paralytic effect would take over, and the same urges to do everything else except actually write would overwhelm me. This page had some useful tips on how to deal with writers block and I followed some of their advice.

For me the hardest part about writing the thesis was putting all that work in a finite number of pages. In many ways it's just a bit hard to accept that all that you did is going to fit in a book. After all, there were several leaked gels before you poured that perfect one, several recalcitrant bugs before you learnt to discipline them, several false positives before you found your true hero. You do document the several conditions that you tried and the one final one that worked, but mostly what stand out are the pretty pictures and the stories behind them. The sloppy gels and bombed transfections stay in your notebook, accompanied by a sad smiley. I think I just found it difficult to come to terms with my four years of work being condensed into 150-odd pages, and that turned out to work as a huge psychological block in actually getting to it.

I have actually "written" most of my thesis - i.e. put pen to paper the old fashioned way and scrawled over pages. I found that that helped me clarify and distill my thoughts before I transcribed them onto word. It also helped to look at these notes and revise them while on the bus, in the middle of teaching, etc. I also made use of this mind mapping tool to organize my thoughts - something I've found very useful over the years while preparing talks, posters or writing. When things get into a somewhat decent pace, there's the whole "stand back and look at the big picture" bit, that your advisor will keep reminding you. It is not easy to do, especially when you are deep in the throes of your work, writing it all in gory detail. There is no room to stand back, you're so into it. But that's a learned art, like most anything else. Of course, in an ideal scenario, you would've started this process many months in advance, and you have the time to actually write a few pages, sleep over it and revisit it the next day. In non-ideal scenarios (like mine) you just do it. There is no other way. You tell yourself that if you don't do it now you never will. And I think it is true. A friend told me some alarming statistics about the huge population of Ph.D students called "A.B.Ds" - All But Dissertations- students who've done everything except write the damn dissertation, and end up languishing in grad school for years together, or just quit eventually. I can totally see how that could happen. The amount of loathing and hate that I generated in myself about the writing process, the more I put it off, it would only get worse. I told myself that and it helped to scare the daylights out of me and get some real work done.

to be contd...yeah it's not over!


Shek said...

I went through something similar when I had to prepare my internship report during my engineering days back in Bombay. My idea was a very simple seven step process:
1. cut
2. copy
3. paste
4. font = 14
5. Line spacing = double
6. two pictures per page
7. Kickass presentation so the profs don't read too much.

but that was the Indian psychology where professors generated their first impression buy the size of the project report. Then, they correct silly mistakes like missing page numbers in the appendix, etc.

I like American profs, they actually attempt to read...

Perspective Inc said...

Oooh.. and now waiting for the sequel rant.. hope all this venting is making you feel better!

qsg said...

There are too many books written to help the folks who plan ahead of time etc - I think there should be a cheat sheet for procrastinators - how to whip up something quick at the last minute! :D

Neihal said...

*innocent face*
bhone koshin Daktarnis

Why does the link in the third line show my blog address? Huh!Why?


Rebellion said...

LOL @ Gems
Oye innocent-faced-Neihal, you know the answer to that ok. So don't pull that puppy face of yours :P

@ Lajjo
You're right Lajjo jee. Before the good news, I'd have gone 'awwww' to this post with some nice encouraging words. Now it made me smile :)

Waiting for the other part....

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

hehe. That would totally not cut it here. :-)

yeah baby! very liberating

lol! I am trying very hard not to set a bad example on any future ph.d. student reading my blog. I think writing the thesis is one place you should NOT procrastinate! Ah well..

shameless girl.

daal diya other part. Initially it was one post- but way too long even for me to read. So I just split it in two parts

Shek said...

@Ipanema Girl
You know I applied for a PhD at UFL. It was too late for admissions for that fall, so I didn't make it in...thank god! If I had to write a thesis, you can see that it would be font 14, double spaces with two pictures on each page...Now that review would have been a kick-ass blog.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

LOL! that would've made a real fun read. so much more entertaining than the pathos i'm dishing out. :-)