I have memories of being utterly paralysed when writing essays in high school. How I ever made it to university the first time around is still a mystery to me, because I completely froze in the statewide tests we took which decided the final tertiary entrance scores.
Suffice to say my fears did me no good in that first attempt at an Arts degree. I think I spent most of my late teens and early twenties in a state of fear, not just about writing, but pretty much everything. It wasn't a happy time at all.
I ended up dropping out of university and working a series of casual and temporary unskilled jobs, before I decided to have another go at tertiary education. How I ever got through my second attempt at an Arts degree is somewhat less of a mystery, but effectively I credit one incredibly supportive lecturer who was prepared to offer me extension after extension throughout the course, and still say things as encouraging as that I had assisted her understanding of the works of Julia Kristeva.
It wasn't until this particular lecturer asked if I was going to go onto Honours that it even occurred to me that it was a possibility for the likes of me. I did go on, first to achieve a first class Honours, then a Master's for which I made the Dean's List for Outstanding Research Higher Degrees, and now I'm in receipt of a second scholarship and completing a Research PhD.
At this point, you think even I'd believe that I could write, but still, this annoying and crippling anxiety about writing persists. My anxieties held up the progress of my Master's and the whole process seems to be repeating itself with my PhD.
One of the things I'm most fearful of is that I won't be finished before my current scholarship runs out. Actually, I've pretty much accepted that will occur, but if I'm feeling anxious now, I know how much more anxious I'll feel when I don't have that $380 a week (OMG, my rent is $270/week and only likely to go up).
In an effort to minimise the time that I'll have to be writing my PhD while trying to look for alternative sources of income, I responded to an email inviting people to join a 15 minute writing group. The idea is that you spend at least 15 minutes per day writing and keep a diary noting the time spent writing, the word count, a brief description of the writing, and any comments about the process. Because it's a group rather than an individual activity, the idea is that the individual diaries are circulated amongst the group members.
I've found reading other people's diaries, learning about the things that they struggle with when getting words on paper/screen, incredibly helpful. I've been more productive, in a substantial way, on my thesis in the past two weeks than I have for a long time. Ultimately, the grand total of my words thus far has been 2000. This does not seem much when I compare myself to what I imagine other, more effective, people write, but when I compare this progress with that I made in the previous two weeks, then I have improved by 100%.
It's this last figure that has me feeling far happier, with a greater sense of achievement, than I have experienced for a long time. Now I don't beat myself up verbally when I haven't written 1000 words a day, but I note how I managed to untangle a particularly convoluted thought process in just one hour.
Here's this past week's diary for your perusal. Aside from my anxiety, you'll probably learn more about my thesis than I think I've ever mentioned on this blog*.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
time: 30 mins
length: 500 words
description: Teaching journal
comment: Anticipating first tutorial tomorrow.
Monday, July 28, 2008
time: 30 mins
length: 550 words
description: Teaching journal
comment: Reflected on first tutorial and meeting with A about my LEX feedback. Turns out my problem isn’t communication, it’s authority and conviction.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
time: 1 hr
length: 220 words
description: Thesis. Explanation of the evolution of another content analysis variable: Occupation
comment: As I was writing I had a thought about another category that needed to be included. While I’ve come across plenty of examples in my coding of patient characters who are either criminals or hospitalised, I’d forgotten about other employment external to the usual understanding of labour markets such as students and people looking after families. Immediately I could think of characters for whom I’ll need this category: Claire Fisher, Carmella and Meadow Soprano, Bree Van De Kamp…
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
time: Not so good at the time keeping today, maybe 2 hrs in total, accrued in 10-20 min stretches.
length: 280 words
description: Thesis. More explanation of content analysis variables, this time in relation to mental health professionals.
comment: If only I could sit still for more that 10 minutes before feeling the need to jump up and hang out the washing or some other domestic chore. I do use that time as thinking/refining time, but I’m convinced more effective writers can sit and concentrate for long stretches at a time. There I go again comparing myself to others. Note to self: ‘Stop it! Just try and think about how you’re on track for another 1000 “excellent and polished”** words’ (fingers crossed).
Have somehow managed to make useful remarks about the various hypotheses the content analysis will be testing. Quite fascinating that even in compiling the variables and trying to come up with categories that are exhaustive I’m getting a sense of the discrepancies between representations in television drama and mental health research as it is manifest in things like the US Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health and the DSM-IV. Also getting a sense of developments in representations over the history of English-speaking television simply by have to explain and revise the categories.
Thursday, 31 July, 2008
time: Stuffed up the time keeping again. About an hour or so?
length: 230 words
description: Continuing with thesis.
comment: So much for the multi-tasking aspirations I started with. It’s all I can do to think about my thesis at the moment. It should be my priority anyway, the other two things are months away. Turns out I don’t have a meeting with my supervisor until next Friday, so I’ll have even more evidence of working, which can only be a good thing. Note: I’m on track for another 1000 words on my thesis this week. Also note: the Film Festival is starting and I couldn’t resist the incredibly discounted film student passes I was offered. Will be interested to see how I balance this extra-curricular activity with my writing goals.
Friday, 1 August 2008
time: 1 hr
length: 260 words
description: Thesis. Up to talking about ‘Site of Intervention/Treatment’
comment: Saw two films at BIFF today, but managed to get myself up to around the 1000 word mark for the working week before I went out. Progress is steady and in the right direction.
Aware that this diary is perhaps a little, nay, a lot, more wordy that everyone else’s. Trying to strike a balance between being overly confessional, yet making it meaningful for me as a tool of reflection.
* Don't pinch my ideas. Please. Although I don't suppose I can stop you.
** Direct quote from supervisor in feedback on previous 4000 words submitted