Dissertation Days (55): Where We Are Now

Well, it’s been a hot minute since I posted an update. I guess I got caught up in, you know, actually writing my Dissertation. Imagine that! So, I thought I’d give everyone an update that’s a little longer than usual, in order to tell you how things are going and how they stand now.

Fortunately, the revisions for Chapter 3 are moving along at a brisk pace. I’m actually enjoying slicing out the bits of extraneous material that don’t move my argument forward. For someone who is as word-conscious as I am, that can be quite a liberating experience. Hopefully, by the end of this week (or next week at the latest), the contextualization sections–both historical and theoretical–will be ready for resubmission. Then it’s on to the close readings. Luckily, I think those are in pretty solid condition, though of course a little pruning won’t hurt. That should be done by the end of the month (at the very latest).

Chapter 4 is also coming along surprisingly well, considering this has been the chapter that has given me the most conceptual trouble. Right at the moment I’m sort of toggling between the historical context section and the close reading of the film Cleopatra. I hope to continue making some solid progress on that for the rest of this week. I had to start yet another document that is misleadingly titled “Final Version of Chapter 4,” but hopefully this time it’ll actually turn out to be true (at least until the revisions from the Adviser are handed back).

I had a bit of a panic moment last week, when I sort of forgot what it was that I was saying about Fall of the Roman Empire that set my own interpretation apart from what’s come before, but I think I overcame that little struggle. If I maintain the focus of my chapter on the tensions that I am locating, and on the affect that such tensions seem intended to create, I think I can push the existing discourse in some new and interesting directions.

My Dissertation Days posts may be a bit more sporadic than normal this month, since I’ve basically got my head down trying to finish all of this. Still, I’m going to try to remain at least somewhat consistent, since it does help me keep to my writing schedule if I know that other people are also keeping tabs on me.

So, basically, we’re holding steady. Had some productive conversations with my Adviser about both the Dissertation and the job search, and I feel at least somewhat confident about both of those (as confident as one can be about the job market, anyway). I just have to make sure that I stay disciplined, and that I also learn the necessity (and value!) of pruning my very wordy prose, and I think I might actually have a career ahead of me.

This week is going to be a busy one, but I’m confident that I can meet the goals I’ve set for myself. It just takes a bit of determination.

So, onward we go. Much to be done, but it CAN be done.


Dissertation Days (50): Nothing Motivates Like a Deadline

Well, today wasn’t the best day writing that I’ve ever had, but I still managed to write over 1,000 words, most of which are ones that will make it into the submission version of the chapter. I also worked on my job letter (I didn’t get to revising Chapter 1, alas, but might get to a very little bit of that tomorrow).

I also broke my rule about writing in chronological order. I was just having as sluggish day today, and I just wasn’t feeling the historical context. As a result, I focused mainly on writing a bit of the theory and some of the close readings of Cleopatra. It wasn’t ideal, I know, and I really should get in the habit of writing things in a sequential order, but at least I was able to write material that I was happy with, so that is really the most important thing. Once I return to my office, though, I’m going to really focus on that.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to get much work done this weekend. I’m headed to DC again for a bit of relaxation, and I probably won’t get able to get a lot done until Monday. Still, I’m happy with my progress so far, and being on fellowship this year means that once I return to Syracuse I’ll be able to devote a pretty substantial part of every day to doing nothing but researching and writing.

Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about this chapter. Whereas before the clarity came in fits and starts, at this point it’s starting to be more consistent. What’s more, I actually feel pretty confident in the way that this chapter is working (which, you might recall, was rarely the case with Chapter 3). I don’t know that the argument here is as complicated as the one set out in that earlier chapter, so perhaps that is what has made it so much easier to write now that the block I early experienced has been dispensed with.

One last thing. How is it August already? How is it possible than an entire summer has already gone by? At least I can be content knowing that I managed to achieve quite a lot. The next few months, indeed the next year, are going to be quite hectic, but I suppose that’s for the best.

It’s definitely is true that nothing motivates like…a deadline.


Dissertation Days (43): Scattershot

Well, today was a mostly good day of composition. I wrote the 1,000 words that were my day’s goal, but things were a bit more scattershot and unfocused than I would have liked. Indeed, it wasn’t until I got to the very end that I finally hit something that I think was truly good. Which means, of course, that I’m going to have to go back and do a great deal of deep revision in order to get the rest of the chapter into submittable shape.

I’ve noted a few spots of repetition on the close reading section of Cleopatra, so I need to iron those out. I also have to begin weaving in some of the existing scholarship on the film–and on the Cleopatra myth in general–since I’ve been putting that off for far too long.

I also made some progress reading Brooks’s Reading for the Plot. I was hoping that I would be able to make extensive use of it with the work that I was doing today, but it’s being a bit stubborn. Hopefully, as I finish up the book, I’ll be able to see more clearly how it fits into the theoretical paradigm that I’m attempting to use.

I have to resist the urge to start over with this chapter. I know that if I do that it’s just going to be a delaying tactic, but at least I’ve gotten to the point where I am able to recognize those urges in myself. I don’t want to fall into a circular trap.

Since I feel like I’m spinning my wheels a bit on the Cleopatra section, tomorrow I think I am going to focus on my close reading of Fall of the Roman Empire. As I’ve said before, that’s going to be the most challenging section, but I am hoping to be able to weave some of the existing scholarship

Saturday and Sunday, though, I’m going to have to make sure that I get at least the majority of the Cleopatra section absolutely done, finished, and polished. That’s probably a bit ambitious, but I am sure that I can do it. All it takes is the sort of determination that I am able (when the need is on me) to summon up, and I am sure that I can do it.

From there on, there’s no way to go but forward and upward.

Let’s do this.

Dissertation Days (40): This is Progress, Right?

Despite the title, today was actually a good day, in terms of progress. As I said I would do yesterday, I switched to a bit of the close readings, focusing today on Cleopatra. I think the bare bones of how that section is going to look are almost there, but it will take another few days of composing to make sure that my close reading is both internally consistent and flows naturally from the contexts.

Speaking of which. I actually wrote at least half of today’s word count (a bit over 1,000, thank you very much), specifically in the theoretical context. To be quite honest, I don’t think this section is as theoretically rich as the earlier ones, but I do think that the sources I’m drawing on–particularly David Quint and his theory of epic narrative and Tom Brown and his theory of the “historical gaze”–are useful for thinking through the tension between spectacle and narrative that exists at the heart of the genre of the historico-biblical epic. Well, perhaps tension isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should say that it helps us to think of the relationship between those two seemingly opposing cinematic principles.

Overall, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far on this chapter. I also can’t believe that I’ve already written 40 of these entries! However, I do believe that they have really made this whole progress infinitely less lonely. Just knowing  that there are others out there reading these (or even just skimming them), makes me feel that there just may be an audience for the type of work that we do in academia. As a writer, it’s easy to lose track of that, particularly with everything else going on in the world.

I will, as always, be taking a bit of a break this weekend. I want to focus a bit on the novel, and on cleaning my house. Both of those things take a bit of a backseat when you’re really buried under the chapter that seems to press in on your every waking thoughts. I’ve also got a conference paper set to be delivered in a little under two weeks, so I have to make sure that that is in presentable condition.

Rest assured, though. On Monday I’ll be right back at it, and this time I fully plan on getting back into Chapters 1 and 2.

Don’t quote me on that, though. 😉

Dissertation Days (39): Forward, March!

Today was another good day. I produced 1,000 words of Chapter 4, and I’m actually pretty happy with the form that most of them have taken. I’ve started weaving in some of the research material that I need to set up the context, so that’s a good feeling. I’m really trying to avoid some of the mistakes I made with Chapter 3, and to that end I’m keeping much better tabs on the sources I’m using from the get-go, so I don’t get tripped up when it’s the eve of submission, and I’m scrambling to find citations.

I am hoping that my success of the last few days really does mark a moment when my chapter will take its final form. I don’t want to find myself spinning my wheels with this one the way I did Chapter 3 (which took almost a year to write!) So far, I’m cautiously optimistic, which in academic writing is about as good as it gets sometimes.

Tomorrow, I am aiming to continue working on the historical context, though I might allow myself to wander a bit into the close readings. Though it breaks up the flow my writing process a bit, I do find that it allows me to make sure that I am making connections, both explicit and implicit, between my various sections. Since a critique of the last chapter was that there was frequent disconnects between my close readings and my context, I’m extra close attention to those bits of detail as I make my way through the composition of this one. I’m hoping to get it approved with one round, but we’ll see.

I’m at a little bit of a loss on where to go with my research. I think I’m going to have to dig a little deeper on the historical context, and luckily I have a few places to turn to. Still, I know that it’s far too easy to get so mired in the contextual research that you lose sight of the chapter as a whole. That being said, I do want to make sure that I include as much detail as I can about the geopolitical context of the early and middle 1960s, so that my readings of the films will make sense. I do think that I’ve got enough

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to revising Chapters 1 and 2 today. Tomorrow, though, I will definitely got on that. Honest!

Dissertation Days (38): A New Beginning

Well, I finally had to break down and start a new draft of Chapter 4. The one that I was working on, that I ambitiously thought was the final version, was getting a bit unwieldy, and I could tell that I was started to repeat myself. Once it gets to that point in my composition, I usually find that it’s a little easier to start a clean draft, while leaving open the possibility that I can import bits from the earlier ones.

Fortunately, the one I produced today was one of the most clear-headed that I’ve made so far, largely because I really forced myself to write in a mostly linear fashion. I’m getting to the point where I need to do this in order for the whole thing to make sense, and it actually proved a good thing. It really forced me to drill down into the nitty-gritty, that part of the chapter process that I have always found to be the most forbidding and the most difficult.

I’m really, really hoping that this version of the Chapter will indeed be the one that I end up submitting. I’m going to hold myself accountable to the 1,000 words a day maxim, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are 1,000 good words. If it all possible, I’d like to avoid the type of deep revisions that I encountered with Chapter 4. I think, if I really hold myself accountable, that I can do that.

Incidentally, I’m also working on a few other side projects, notably a conference paper about the role of women’s historical fiction in shaping contemporary understandings of antiquity. It’s not directly dissertation-related, but it’s adjacent (and I’m thinking that it might even be the makings of a second book project).

Tomorrow, I hope to finally take a deep breath and start the revision of the first two chapters. They probably won’t be that deep, as my committee seems to think they’re in good enough shape to pass muster, but I want to make sure that they are as polished as they can possibly be.

Finally, I wanted to note that I finished one of my research books today (the one on Mark Antony). I don’t know that I’ll use it, but it was a good read nonetheless. I’m thinking I might read Peter Brooks’ Reading for the Plot next.

Well, onward we go.

Dissertation Days (37): Back to Work

After a very rough weekend, I got back into the swing of things today with some decent work on Chapter 4. I only wrote 500 words, but I do see the entire chapter starting to cohere in a way that it didn’t before. I’m still not entirely certain that the pieces are all knitted together as tightly yet as I would like, but that should arrive soon.

Nowadays, I’m not so sure that the version I’ve been writing will be the absolute final version. I think it may take one more to make sure that everything appears as I want it to, and a great deal of how I proceed will stem from how much my adviser likes (or does not like) Chapter 3. Still, I am confident that I can have a draft of this chapter fairly ready for submission by the end of August, though I can also push it off to the end of September if need be.

Overall, the chapter is standing at about 9,500 words, so I would say that it’s about 3/5 done (I’m aiming for a 15,000 word limit). This will be one of my shorter chapters, but I’m happy with that. Sometimes, it really is better to focus on writing concisely rather than expansively.

In terms of what I produced today…well, I sketched in a few blank spaces in the historical context section. It wasn’t anything terribly complicated, to be perfectly honest, but hopefully those sentences will be the seeds for future development. More promising was the material I produced about Cleopatra. The more I reflect on this film–its industrial context, the plot, the formal elements that it mobilizes–the more fascinating it becomes. As I’ve said many times before, it seems to me that this film is critically undervalued, and I hope that my analysis of it helps others to see that, despite its weaknesses, it really tries to engage with the historical questions and pressures of the time.

At some point in the near future, possibly as later this week, I am going to go back and start revisiting my earlier chapters. I honestly haven’t looked at them that much since they were approved, and I want to start the revision process on them before it gets too late.

Given that tomorrow is a holiday, I might take a little time off to clean and work on the Novel. Then on Wednesday it’s back to work.

Dissertation Days (33): On the Cusp

Well, today wasn’t a terribly productive day. Had a bit of a gall bladder attack last night that really disturbed my sleep, so I’ve been a bit out of it all day.

However, I did accomplish what I set out to do, which was to read through the whole chapter and make sure that all of the egregious errors were taken care of. I’m happy to say that I excised some extraneous prose and padding, so it is that much leaner. I’m sure there is still much to do, but I’m happy with the way that it stand now.

I also, I think, managed to note all of the sources that I need to complete in my Works Cited. I’ll need to take care of that tomorrow, along with a few footnotes and in-text citations (mostly page numbers). I know those are little things, but I hate doing them. They are always the last thing I do and, to be quite honest, I see them as a huge pain in the ass. But, all the same, I know that they are a necessary part of the whole research process, and so I shall finish them.

All in all, I’m on track to submit it either Wednesday or Thursday. Then it’s onward to Chapter 4.

I think tomorrow I am going to spend mostly researching and possibly doing some free-writing on Chapter 4. I didn’t get around to re-watching Cleopatra as I had hoped, so hopefully I’ll get around to doing that. Once I’m finished with the current research book I’m reading about empire, I hope to move on to one about the role of Antony in popular culture. He is, after all, a key part of the film and of Cleopatra’s iconography more generally, so I’m hoping that it will be useful.

All in all, I still feel pretty good about the project. Things slowed down a bit today, but I just have to remember that I have all of July (though I have a couple of other projects that are clamoring for attention). I may even start my introduction later this week. I’m thinking it will help bring Chapter 4 into closer focus, as well as show how it connects to the other facets of the argument.

Dissertation writing is hard, y’all, but I know that I will get through this process, and one day, hopefully soon, I’ll see it in print.

Dissertation Days (32): Increments

So, the pendulum has swung back the other way and, having taken another look at Chapter 3, I’m actually pretty happy with how it’s turned out. I’ve tweaked and tightened up some of the prose. It always feels good to see that something you’ve laboured on for so long isn’t as horrible as you’d been dreading. Of course, the adviser hasn’t seen it yet…

Today, I focused mainly on doing a verbal read-through of the chapter. I often find that forcing myself to read things aloud allows me to hear mistakes and awkwardness that my mind would automatically correct if I were reading it silently. It’s quite time-consuming, but overall I find it a very useful exercise, I have noticed that it really does help smooth out the prose problems that repeatedly crop up. It’s amazing how those tics continue to creep in despite your best efforts.

I’ve also been doing some compiling of the bibliography. While it’s always satisfying to see the number of sources you use (a big bibliography, in my mind, suggests the heft of your research), it’s also something of a pain in the ass to compile it, especially when you never seem to learn the value of keeping track of your sources as you are composing the chapter.

In terms of Chapter 4, most of today was spent doing some research. Sometimes, when I find myself running up against conceptual walls, I find it very helpful to take a breath and just do some research. This not only takes me away from the writing for a while–which can be very helpful–but also gives me more substance on which to base the composition of the chapter itself.

I did, however, manage to write some parts of the historical context section. A lot of this new material came out of this book I’m reading that compares the imperial programs of the American and British Empires. Once I return to working on this chapter exclusively, I’m going to ramp up the schedule so that I’m writing 1,500 words a day. That’s quite a lofty goal for me, but I really do want to bang this sucker out as soon as possible (without sacrificing quality, of course).

This weekend, I’m going to be taking a bit of a break, working mostly on the read-through of Chapter 3, re-watching Cleopatra and, believe it or not, the Novel. I’ll return to Dissertation Days on Monday.

Dissertation Days (28): Chipping Away

Today was a remarkably productive day, considering the fact that I just got back from traveling and that I had to take Beast for a vet visit. I managed to chip away at Chapter 3, getting rid of some extraneous sentences and other bits of fluff that were clogging up the works. I am still not as happy with the prose as I would like to be at this stage, but I’m also realistic enough to know that at some point you just have to move on. As one of my committee members always says, the best dissertation is a finished one.

Fortunately, I’ve been in an editing frame of mind lately–thanks to an editorial project I’m still interning for–so that has really helped to hone my instincts in terms of chopping out bits of Chapter 3 that aren’t necessary and finessing some of the clunkier bits of prose. Despite the challenges, it actually feels good to be at the point where taking stuff out is actually a good thing rather than an absolute pain.

Chapter 4 is also coming along much better than I had expected it would, given that I have a few key concepts that are forming the core of the chapter. The historical gaze has actually proven to be more central than I had realized, and it fits in pretty seamlessly with my dissertation’s emphasis on the unknowable and inexorable power of history. I’m still fleshing out the links between the various parts of the chapter and how they work together, but today for the first time it felt like I was really making some genuine progress.

To that end, I focused most of my writing energies today on the close reading portions. I’ll get back to the historical context soon, and I still have to figure out how exactly I’m going to work in a theoretical context, but it’ll get there.

Tomorrow, I need to make sure that I stay a little more focused than I did today. I sort of was writing all over the place, but I want to start writing enough in each section that it begins to fill out. That way, I’ll have a stronger sense of how each part will look when it’s fully developed. Now that it’s the final draft (hopefully), it’s time to get really serious about this.

Onward and upward friends. As the lady says, tomorrow is another day.