Recently, a much-loved friend asked me for advice on dissertation-writing, not because I’m any paragon of efficiency, but because she knew I’d struggled myself. She wanted to know if I had any words of wisdom about getting through the process with a minimum of pain.
My immediate impulse was to decline to answer, on the grounds that I am utterly unqualified to advise anyone on writing without pain. My next impulse was to solicit advice from my friends via Twitter, and I got some wonderful responses. There were some terrifically helpful practical tips, but one that really got me thinking was from my friend Franky Abbott, who suggested the importance of recognizing “that the dissertation is antiquated process training and not a reflection of your total worth.”
This is a truth that’s only become fully apparent to me in my post-grad school life, and I thought that this might be something useful I could offer to my friend. While of course I knew in a theoretical way that what I was writing was an exercise rather than a finished product, this knowledge meant little to me in the hothouse of grad school. Now, a couple years after leaving Yale, I see that what I was doing was learning how to write scholarship. My dissertation is no great work of genius, I know that, but I feel no need to apologize. The world didn’t need another dissertation, but I needed the opportunity to learn to write one.
So here’s what I told my friend, and what I would tell myself if I could: You are more important than any damn dissertation.