As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m writing a dissertation. Most of my posts on that subject have been laments concerning my ineptitude and frustration, and my failure to post more often than not stems from that same ineptitude. (When writer’s block strikes, no genre is safe from its hamperings.) January and February were especially trying in that regard. At one point I almost posted some pictures of my hand-written drafts, many of which included more strikethroughs, scribblings, and half-finished sentences than readable prose. Depressing, to say the least.
Anyway, during this time, my advisor continued to encourage me, regaling me with tales of “the tipping point,” a mysterious moment in time wherein I would suddenly begin to tilt toward completion, wherein inertia would take over and the draft would begin writing itself. Naturally cynical, I doubted that I’d ever reach such a point, but secretly I hoped it would happen.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been drafting chapter three. I noticed that the writing was feeling easier, more fluid, more focused, but I didn’t give it much thought. Like anyone on a streak, I felt superstitious—I tried not to break my routine and I worried about hubris and angry gods. But I kept at it. (Note: I’m a little concerned as I type this post, but I’m hoping a small sacrifice will show my humility and reverence… .)
I finished the draft (due last Wednesday for a “works-in-progress” talk) and I began drafting summaries of my earlier chapters to help my readers understand where this chapter fit into the whole. And, seriously now, all of a sudden it was clear. I could see my whole project and how it might look upon completion. I even discovered what I had been trying to say in my first two chapters and began making notes for revision. Ah! The joys of the tipping point!
In retrospect, I should have known. My earlier metaphors hint at such moments—the peanut butter from the jar, the plane lifting off—but I figured that it would be different for such a big project. And, truth be told, as a writing teacher, I suppose I should have a little faith in the process I teach. I tell my students all the time to keep writing, that drafting is a way to learn what it is you want to say, that writing takes diligence and practice, that we all have difficult moments in our efforts to share our ideas.
Needless to say, I felt compelled to post, not only to share my progress and my thoughts but also to create a record of this moment. I know for a fact that I’ll encounter writer’s block again and again, and that there will be future writing projects begun without a good sense of purpose and focus. But this post will (hopefully) remind me to trust myself and the process.
I have lots more work to do—I still have another big chapter and an afterword to draft before I begin the work of deep revision—but I’m tilting forward and I can see the end, however distant it may seem from right here.