07 February 2007


Stages of Dissertation Writing
And the Knitting that Accompanies Them

(because I had to get back to knitting somehow, and since I don't have anything worth showing you...)

Stage One

Writing: You have absolutely no idea what you're doing, but you have to come up with some sort of proposal or chapter outline or something or they won't give you any money. So you make up something that you think will satisfy this need, with little or no reference to What You Should Write because you have no idea What You Should Write.

This is a very productive knitting time. It's the kind of time where you start thinking maybe you should knit full-time for a living, since you obviously have no clue what you're doing in your chosen field. You might toy with a design concept, flip through magazines and books a lot, and maybe even swatch creatively.

Stage Two

Time has passed, your stipend check has been deposited, and you realize you need to start working for real. You look over whatever half-assed thing you wrote just to get started, and realize there's actually a few good ideas in there. All you have to do is delete the parts that are ridiculous, and you're left with a pretty good start. This is an encouraging time.

Knitting: Though you've now remembered that it's incredibly hard work to make a living through knitting, and that your shaping skills are really not quite advanced enough to realize some of the design dreams in your head, you're still feeling quite productive and confident about your knitting. You'll probably start a big project, one that involves a skill you want to practice, and devote yourself to it faithfully. Now is the time when you're likely to divide your time fairly and responsibly between writing all day and knitting for a couple hours in the evening.

Stage Three

Now that you've got a fair idea of what it is you're writing about, you suddenly realize how much work is going to be involved in this. You realize how many books and articles you really do need to track down and take a look at. You realize the number of documents you have to go through, and eventually translate, is staggering. You get real, real scared. It might even be a paralyzed kind of scared for a while.

Knitting: FOs start coming out of the woodwork. You whip up some mitts here, some dishcloths there, a few gifts, maybe a quick top...and your knitting blog flourishes. Needless to say, the time you spending knitting creeps up on and takes over some...or a lot...of the writing time.

Stage Four

The puzzle pieces finally start to reach critical mass. You have a file (or two or six) full of things you know belong in this chapter, and as you go through them, you start to see connections and patterns. This is an incredibly exciting and creative stage. You feel brilliant. You start writing the kinds of paragraphs that interpret instead of just latching together series of quotes that may or may not belong together. You wake up in the middle of the night with an inspiration for the intro, and you think almost non-stop about the chapter.

Knitting: You go back to only knitting for an hour or two before bed, but it's still very important - it's the only thing that slows down your buzzing mind long enough for you to drop off to sleep. The only things that can be knitted at this stage are stockinette, garter, or perhaps some very simple patterns that you've done before. It's a good time for an EZ seamless sweater or some log cabin-ing.

Stage Five

The fun part's over, and now you need to make this thing pretty. The stuff you thought was brilliant, upon re-reading, turns out to be rather sloppy, half-thought-out, and unsupported by the evidence you've gathered so far. You have to clean up the colloquialisms and untangle the more baroque sentences just to figure out what it was you were trying to say. Some of the brilliant revelations turn out to be rather pedestrian on further inspection. Even though you're quite far along in the process now and you do have - somewhere in there - enough substance to be going on with, this is still a very discouraging stage. It's the stage where, when people ask "how's your chapter going?" or even "what's the dissertation about?" all you can do in response is growl. The work is an excruciating daily grind of going back to the drawing board, deleting huge pieces of work, and generally feeling worthless.

Knitting: If not for knitting at this stage, you might do something really stupid. Knitting is your saving grace, and the only thing that gets you through the days. You knit during every free moment; while traveling, while waiting for tea to boil, while printing, and you wonder how you're going to get through a meeting with your advisor without knitting in your hands. At this stage, you're likely to concentrate on socks, for maximum therapeutic value.

Stage Six

The damn thing is finally starting to come together. It's reached a stage of respectability that allows you to show it to a significant other or very trusted friend, and when that person hands it back to you without any visible sign of pity or concern, you let out a huge sigh of relief and finally start to feel like it might be possible to do this. You proceed with final revisions - reorganizing for clarity, fixing typos, filling in missing footnotes, etc. This stage is fiddly, but it helps to know you're almost done.

Knitting: You suddenly abandon all projects you were working on before (because they are associated with so much angst and feelings of un-finished-ness), and you start something new. Maybe a couple new things. Something pretty, and soft, and not too hard or too easy.

Stage Seven

You give your finished draft to your advisor. You get back any number of utterly unsatisfying responses, as I described previously. Meanwhile, you've realized you're running head-on into another deadline ALREADY and this one's looming even closer than the last one and your last chapter was crap and you have to totally re-work it and this new one is a complete disaster and you have no idea where it's going and what the hell is the point anyway and oh god please help me I hate this and you have no idea where to start because you have way too many balls in the air all at the same time and you've got so many notes and drafts and printouts and files accumulated that you don't know what anything is anymore and why oh why didn't you come up with a system from the start and what happened to that damn book and HOW DARE THEY recall that other book now when I NEED IT and the whole world is against me and this thing will never be done.

Knitting: You schizophrenically jump from one project to another, none of them making any sense. You pick up a WIP or start something new, work on it for half an hour in a daze, realize you %$@&^ed it up, you stick in the closet and cry for a while, then decide that some nice garter-stitch knitting will be just the ticket, and you do that for half an hour and then you suddenly realize, in a moment of clarity, that if you have to do one more row of garter stitch you're going to stick one of the needles in your own eye just to make it stop. And so you open up an old issue of IK and decide now's the time to start that huge complicated sweater you've been lusting after for a year, and you decide swatches are for wimps and so is math and measuring tapes and so you knit away for another half hour until you realize that you've created a hideous monster. The thought of frogging it, though, makes you cry. And so your spouse takes you off to bed so you can get a good night's sleep. And start it all over again the next day.

Guess which stage I'm at?

Seriously, though, my troubles have been miraculously lightened every time I check my mail and see a new comment from you guys. I've been loving your blogs, too, though for the most part I've been too frantic and frazzled to comment. But I am reading a bit here and there to keep my sanity. But my sanity break for today is done - back to the grindstone I go...


Wendy Dorrel said...

Hey you! :) You're a woman I really admire and hope to be like.

Sending good thoughts your way,


Dharmafey said...

Aw man! You are fabulous and I love your blog. Dissertation I don't know about, but who cares anyway? Just thought I'd send you a little Lurker love,

miss ewe said...

You are SO going to make it. The fact that you can outline the stages you've gone through (and the corresponding knitting) proves to me that you haven't gone crazy (yet). I've lived with a dissert-er, and it's scary... but you are to going to make it.

hege said...

You can do it! I am looking forward to hearing about Stage Eight! It will be brilliant, I know!

Vivienne said...

Thank you so much for this and the January 31 entry - I've finally realised that my (tiny, insignificant, guaranteed to be over by September, masters) dissertation might be doable - I'd thought the sheer stark terror was a symptom of not being capable of working at this level, as opposed to a necessary part of the process.

Best of luck with yours - it does have the advantage of sounding fascinating. I'm off to knit more socks.

MagFly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MagFly said...

Stor klem!

Bare litt til nå, så er du over i neste steg.

historicstitcher said...

Hang in there!!! It will be over and done with, never to be visited again!!! It just takes time....

Don't worry about the knitting. Just knit what you feel like doing at any given time. It's not important whether you finish UFOs or start 17 new projects. Knitting is your RELAXATION, don't allow it to become stressful, too. When the dissertation is over, you'll be able to look at your WIPs, and be more ruthless in deciding what remains and what goes. For now, just make sure you're getting that time away from writing. (Even if your brain never really shuts off anymore)

Ginny said...

I'm in stage two, cranking out socks but need to get down to the reading. shit, September's not that far off! (first draft deadline).

Laura said...

There are some similar stages in studying for the bar exam. I am currently in the "what in the hell ever made me think I could do this now" stage. Frightening, yes. But I know we will both make it through successfully. (Especially you!)

May I suggest mittens? I'm getting a big kick out of them right now.


K8 said...

So so true. Hang in there :)

Juti said...

My crafts during the dissertation were a quilt top (although I'd never made a quilt before) and hardanger embroidery. Never did finish that hardanger table runner. Every time I get the quilt out and start thinking about backing it, the memories wash over me like a tide and I have to put it away again. It's been nine years.

You have all of my sympathy!!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog and sense of humour. You will make it ... keep on knitting, writing, knitting writing ..... and you will be fine.

All the best.


KER EXP+ STASH+++++++++++++++++++
and I love to read!

Juti said...

Me again... I just ran into this article and thought of you. You might have seen it, but just in case... and by the way, number 2 works.


Juti said...

Rats! It cut off the last bit of the URL. Add /0612gra1.cfm to the end of the link. Sorry!

Kim said...

Nice parallel knitting stages! I never made it to the dissertation writing stages but my DH did. Boy, was he batty! I should've taught him to knit. Hang in there- there is an end!

Olga said...

I just found this post through Yarnival, and I have to say thank you! I'm right now at the very first stage and am pretty scared, but excited, too. I could probably write about knitting and the prospectus; I was unusually productive with the FOs last fall, when I was getting close enough to see the end of the thing, but not enough to be done.