18 June 2009

Writing Panic

My dissertation adviser informed me recently that I'm ready to write a brief theoretical framework for my thesis. In other words, about two pages of text explaining what theories I would like to use, how they are useful for me, and the pros and cons of each. You know, just a sketch so I have something to work with. This surprising and encouraging news. Basically, it means that in my reading and thinking, I've reached a point where it makes sense to stake out a position from which to tackle the rest of my project. Think of it as having figured out the spot where I want to pitch my tent and admire (or in my case, critique) the view for this project.

In reality, thinking about this has sent me into a blind writing panic. The signs of panic are classic. First, there are wildly colorful and superficial notes in my notebook. Deciding to use fun stationary products is a classic writing panic move. Secondly, I started pulling up all the files in which I had written anything at all about these topics. These were read repeatedly and still don't make any sense to me. The third classic move was the research diversion. This is where I start googling the phrase "theoretical framework" and pulling books off the shelf that have to do with writing. One of my favorites is Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, but as great as it is, it's not really an academic writing tool. Another one I got out was The Craft of Research Writing. Finally, this morning I tried the ultimate diversion: reading. In this case, it involved getting out two books on a topic I'm not sure about in order to try to find some grounding. This is a great move because it allows me to forget the fact that there are things that I'm actually quite certain about even if I've failed to articulate them fully.

And then I came to my senses.

I put away all the books and the notebooks and the old writing. I opened my "daily writing" file and looked at the clock (11:20am). Then I wrote, telling myself I would write without a break for at least 10 minutes. At 11:52, after writing a full 22 minutes longer than I had planned to write, I stopped in the middle of a thought (this is a good thing). The just-sit-down-and-write method worked. After ranting and raving about my panic and well-refined procrastination techniques, I wrote probably a good third of my theoretical framework. All the things that have been composting (thank you Natalie and Dad for the terminology), finally broke through the surface and, in rough form, are on paper.

So, the solution for writers block? It's never changed. Write.


  1. I commiserate! I've recently been on a similar journey, trying to get clear the distinction between the 'conceptual framework',the 'theoretical framework', and the 'analytical framework'. If you ever find the ultimate textbook on this, I'd like to borrow it from you. :-)

  2. Layering is the key. Dry brown plant matter, kitchen scraps, another layer of dry leaves followed by another layer of perhaps fresh green grass clippings. Next a layer of those old dead leaves followed by vigorous stirring. The concoction is well blended and needs time to decompose.
    Repeat the process 5-10 times. Sift well and take great pleasure in the bounty of your efforts.


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