Fighting Fear and Frustration in the Writing Process
In my program, each student completes research called a ‘publishable paper’. This is an independent research study that allows us to get familiar with the research process in preparation for the dissertation--and often provides an opportunity for publication. For some, this process is quick, only taking a school year to complete, from start to finish. For others, including yours truly, this process can go on and on and begins to feel more like a hurdle than an opportunity to develop your research skills. When I entered my program in 2015, I had my mind set on researching students on academic probation. By my second semester, I wanted to research the experiences of first-generation doctoral students. This changed in the summer of 2016 when I took a Whiteness and White Privilege course. At that point, I knew that I wanted to do research that focused on Black women in higher education and decided that colorism would be where I focused, as colorism is a direct result of whiteness, slavery, and the rape of Black women.
I felt good knowing that I finally had my topic and would be moving forward and made plans to shift my focus.
As I started my second year, I had plans for when to turn in parts of the paper, including my introduction, literature review, and methodology sections, to my advisor. However, I continued to miss deadlines because I just could not find the time to write with everything else I had going on. In addition to that, I struggled with feeling like my writing was not ‘good enough’. Given my previous difficulties with some in-class writing assignments during my first semester, I found myself questioning my ability to produce strong writing more than a year later. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was also afraid to disappoint my advisor, as I felt like I had with my previous topics (I was not giving adequate time to writing and turned in half-done work).
I worked slowly during my second year, writing the methodology and introduction sections first because I saw them as easier to complete. The literature review was the more difficult section to write. I felt that I needed to continue to read to have a better grasp on the topics that I was writing about. I needed more time and more articles. By May 2017 I was still working on my proposal and getting stuck on my literature review. One day my friend/sis and cohort-mate Brittany Williams text me to ask how writing was going. I responded by letting her know that I was still working on this last section and that I was still reading. In Brittany fashion, she responded by telling me that I had read enough and needed to write. I cried, one, because I am a crier and that is how I have always let out my emotions, and two, because she was right. I was letting fear stop me from moving forward. After I dried my tears and talked with my mom about the anxiety I felt around writing, due to imposter syndrome, I began to write. That was exactly the verbal push I needed.
When I got my completed proposal to my advisor and got the okay to schedule my defense I was elated! This process, that had already been a year in the making, was moving ahead. I successfully defended my proposal in August 2017 and moved forward with IRB, recruiting participants, and collecting data in the fall. I had hopes of analyzing the data and defending before December however that did not happen. The stress and frustration I felt with the writing process again stopped me. I took a break from writing. I had other academic and personal things that I needed to focus on and again writing took a back seat.
When the new semester started this past January, I had my heart set on finishing this thing. It had been too long that I had been working on it and at that point, I was truly over it. I went on a writing retreat with Brittany and was able to flush out a lot of my findings section, which was exactly what I needed. Still, my frustration over the process and feeling like I was not moving forward led me to tears and the following tweet.
The next day, I met with Brittany for our Monday night writing section. Again, she bluntly told me that I was finishing that night. LOL! And that is exactly what happened!
Get you a Brittany, folks. I finished the last little bit of my paper, sent it to my advisor, and cried. A year and a half worth of work, late nights, stress, anxiety, fear, and tears, was DONE! I felt so good! And TIED (not tired)!
The feeling of relief that I experienced was amazing! Finishing was a reminder that I CAN do this! This PH.D. process is not about being smart! It is about persevering even when it is SO hard. In a course journal where I reflected on my journey in my first semester, I wrote that PH.D. means perseverance happens daily. That is exactly what this process is about. Surrounding yourself with people who will give it to you straight (like Brittany) and encourage you to continue even when you want to quit is EXTREMELY important in this process.
PH.D. means Perseverance Happens Daily
I received the following message from my advisor a day and a half after I emailed him my completed draft.
“Hi Lamesha, Excellent work with your publishable paper! I’ve included my feedback in the attachment, but most of my feedback, if not all, is pretty minor. Let’s schedule your defense….”
My year and a half research project is FINALLY coming to an end. I will defend my publishable paper in March and move forward to preparing for preliminary exams and my dissertation defense in the fall semester! Know that you CAN do this! I am proof of as much. Good writing takes a few drafts-- but drafts won't come unless you sit and write them!
I hope that my story provides the inspiration that you need to move forward!
In Sisterly Love,
University of Georgia
Tweet Me: @AndrewsLamesha