I started writing this post in an empty apartment. My husband got a job in California and so the last few weeks were busy with preparations, both material and emotional, for the “big move” West. Moving takes up emotional space: when you’re not filling out change of address forms and canceling utilities, you’re running “the list” through your head and expectedly, my dissertation has slowed to a crawl. Big life changes are always a challenge when working on a thesis or dissertation, but they don’t have to be fatal for your project.
Here are some steps to keep up with your dissertation during major life events:
1) Don’t overpromise. We went to Oakland to house-hunt and when I returned I thought three weeks was sufficient time to complete my next chapter. This, in a nutshell, was wildly optimistic. We had movers and packers come and having never experienced this before, I thought my job was done — that whatever we had to do in the three weeks before our move was marginal, leaving plenty of time for writing. Ridiculous! I barely scraped together a 4 page outline for my final writing group meeting. Lesson? Don’t do this. If you’re moving, give yourself a month before and a month after to get back into the swing of things, and if you can help it, don’t promise ANYTHING.
2) Check in. When going through a move, you don’t have to abandon your work, at least, not altogether. It helps me to check in with my work, as a reminder. I make it a point to write a 200 word abstract on my current chapter as a writing exercise. I keep that abstract in it’s own scrivener page and check in to read it as often as I can. When I do read the abstract, I jot down a few notes and questions in the same document so I have a record of my thoughts. This counteracts a major hindrance to writing: momentum loss. If I’m away from work too long, I forget what I was working on. And when I forget, I grow increasingly anxious about where to go next because I don’t remember where I was going when I started. Checking in keeps your head in the game.
3) Meet with your committee and/or writing group. I met with two committee members before I left New York and they gave great feedback for next steps. I also presented a 4-page outline to my writing group for feedback on next steps, clarity, and organization. I recorded all meetings and once we’re settled, first thing on my “To-Do List” is to transcribe those meeting notes. I will then form those notes into a to-do list that I will use to get started again.
4) Be easy on yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’re scared to death of taking too much time away from your dissertation, for fear of losing “it.” But listen, a move is a BFD and incredibly stressful, so get a new shower curtain and welcome mat, the work will always be there.