On June 15th, I finished and turned in my first dissertation chapter to my advisors (it is both the first chapter of the dissertation and the first chapter I have written). On June 16th, I threw some clothes in a bag and jetted off to South America for a week-long vacation. Here are some lessons learned over the past three weeks:
1. It is very difficult to work on two different projects--the dissertation and the blog--while on a deadline. For the past few months, I would blog before diving into writing my chapter. It was a balance: one hour spent on a blog post, then a few hours dedicated to drafting a section of the chapter. That balance fell away as my deadline approached, not because I was scrambling to catch up but because the chapter became the singular focus of my life for those two weeks. I devoted every moment of mental clarity to evaluating the structure and argument of the chapter, keenly attuned to omissions or unsubstantiated claims. There was no space in my thoughts for a blog post. My mind could not let go of the ideas in the chapter for long enough to focus on another set of ideas. I continued to make blog-worthy observations and I have a long list of posts that I want to draft this week, now that I'm phasing back into a routine dominated by research rather than writing. Stay tuned for those.
2. Vacation is the best deadline. If you have to set an arbitrary date for completion, apparently it is very effective to set it for the day before you leave for a relaxing trip. I knew that I would not, could not work while touring around a city with my partner and in-laws, and so the work had to get done before leaving. Plus, I looked forward to kicking back and relaxing for a few days! I'm contemplating booking a trip in late August to incentivize myself to complete the second chapter.
3. I miss blogging when I'm pulled away from it! As fulfilling as it is to convey the thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for months about how events in the past played out, most of my daily writing will only be read by my advisors (who will send it back and have me re-write it many more times before it reaches a wider audience). The immediacy of blogging, in addition to the informality and the more expository nature of the form, make it a most lovely addition to my daily writing output. Many scholars blog to share their research or to extend their academic debates beyond the narrow confines of their discipline and the ivory tower, but I think blogging also appeals to scholarly writers in the way an amuse bouche appeals to fine diners. It's a light beginning to a heavier meal, thoughtful and substantive but informal and, importantly, not meant to distract from the main focus.
I'm now back in New York, and I have several projects I'm balancing: an article draft, my second dissertation chapter, oral history interviews, and the "ghetto" corpus analysis. Not everything will get done in the five weeks I'm here but I feel invigorated by the city's energy... we shall see how far this momentum takes me!