What a semester-long undergraduate dissertation has taught me so far
A 12,000 word thesis? Isn't it just an extended essay? With an intro, my main arguments, some data analysis, discussion and a conclusion?
Well, yes. It is just an extended essay. If we look at the amount of words, the only difference is this extended essay is about 6 times longer than any usual essay assignment. And that's okay. I went into this thesis journey thinking I had plenty of time and I'll get there for sure. Well, yeah, I probably can.
It's not the writing that's hard though. It's the entire bunch of non-writing stuff that bogs me down so much. At this point of blogging, I'm one month away from the final submission. But I'm still stuck at my introduction and I'm in deeeep trouble.
At the beginning, I had a really slow start - started off the semester lacking the drive to do anything intensive and also being distracted by other things. Yet, I picked up the pace. But I still didn't really get anywhere. It's only now that I realise why the gruelling hours I put in wasn't producing anything worthwhile or concrete. I was stuck in my own confusion and lack of clarity. I thought I knew what I wanted to write or get out of this thesis, but I really didn't. And I didn't know I didn't know. Mix in the part of me that's mercilessly counting down the days. Throw in the voice in my head telling me "I can't", or that "others are better than me". Dial up this voice about 10 times. Stir all these furiously while at the same time sprinkling in a fistful of frustration - the constant push-pull of "I need to think and do things about the same subject for months on end" versus "I shouldn't be wasting my life like that".
"Oh my god, look at others furiously typing away at their keyboards. Their thesis is doing themselves while mine's staring back at me blankly."
"I am producing words. They fill the pages and look beautiful. Wow. Okay, we're at 3000 words." [Comes back to the completed sections in consecutive days after, making edits and moving things around over and over.]
"Finally, after two weeks of intense shuffling and in-text citations, I think my draft is done. For now."
[Lets prof or peer read it. They point out things I failed to see before. And that means major changes.] "Okay, all that you did before IS NOT WASTED TIME. I know you think like that but you gotta stop thinking like that." (But I still do.)
So that's why I'm still stuck at my introduction. It also doesn't help that I have constant urges to be a perfectionist i.e. my free flow writing has to be backed up by hard, solid references and evidence NOW (there and then at the point of writing). It's a voice in my head that goes: "If you don't cite this now, you aren't really saying anything. What if what you're saying is wrong? You gotta back it up, babe." And so, many hours are spent writing while I cite. Talk about working stupid.
Thesis is an arduous process. And like I said, it's not the writing that's hard. It's the whole package, the challenge of producing an academic article on your own with minimal supervision. It's about going into this challenge with fresh eyes and fresh minds yet everything seems foreign to you. It doesn't quite feel like writing a typical essay either, because now there's sort of a structure to follow to guide you through the entire length of the piece. I'm struggling, and I feel very ungrounded everyday. Being unable to achieve emotional stability, I've been finding it hard to be present - 'presence' be it while doing my thesis, or while eating and hanging out with my friends. It's like the thesis shadow never leaves me. Like I'm chained up by this smoky shadowy cloud only I can see. And I'm aware of that. But I have been constantly making the choice to let my thoughts and feelings affect me in ways that do not serve me well.
It's not the writing. It's the journey of discomfort, of the things I tell myself, and of discovering more about myself that's difficult. I want to achieve so much, but I hold myself back from daring greatly.
Thankfully, I'm grateful that I am aware of where I am at and where I am not at.
It's scary yet palpitatingly exciting how powerful our minds are. They create realities in our heads that aren't in fact tangible, touchable realities. We either make the choice to buy in to such realities or not. And the difference is whether we're aware that we are making the choice. Or whether we perceive these things as being out of our control (but they actually often are within control).
Awareness is the first step. That's good enough. It's good enough.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
Liberate from our own fear, and our presence automatically liberates others.
(Adapted from Marianne Williamson)
How much do I want to put myself out there?