I am in the stage of my PhD candidacy where I am expected to write and defend a dissertation proposal. This gatekeeper of a document serves several purposes, including serving as a sketch of what your project will do/be and showing that you have thought about how you will get answers to your questions and have the skill set to do so.
Admittedly, I have been in this stage of the process much too long. It was not so much that I did not know what I wanted to do, rather I couldn’t seem to actually write anything (besides notes from reading) down. I could talk about the prospective project. I could add to sticky notes and disjointed paragraphs and voice recordings in OneNote. I could not type a document that resembled a proposal.
I felt stressed about wasting time and my tendency towards perfectionism and fear of failure was strangling me… not the best conditions to write under. I sent my major professor something anyways. It was eleven passionless pages.
Then my major professor told me to try something odd. She asked me to write a pre-proposal with my left hand. No explanation, just the suggestion. I wrote this in my planner a few times but didn’t do it. Then one night, I was thinking about my elusive dissertation – as I often do when I should be sleeping – and took action. I grabbed a notebook and pencil and sat there in the dark writing. I wrote a bit with my left hand. I wrote ugly. I wrote in spurts. I wrote as I thought. And it looked awful. BUT, that one-pager had more passion and vision than could be found in those eleven pages. My major professor agreed (I even sent her a little video of the writing space and page).
Because my brain was forced to concentrate on actually forming letters, it was less cluttered. My dissertation notebook is a mess of a thing. There are phrases written sideways. Words I have to stare at to remember what they would look like if I had written them legibly. There are mind maps and arrows. There is a dissertation being born in those messy pages.
I am now working with a draft that is “close” to defense, which is exciting, and I owe it all to a suggestion from my advisor and the willingness to create something ugly.
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