From Dissertation to Book

After my defense—at 11:30AM on the day of the solar eclipse in 2017—, I felt a change in the cosmos. Not just because we were actually going to experience total blackout that day in Nashville, TN, but because I was liberated from this document that had been dictating my life. Or at least, that’s what it felt like. The topic I had once been in love with had started to feel less exhilarating and more like a weight. Post-defense, I needed time to reassess, to pursue other projects, and most of all, to go have fun. 

Now I realize that it is typical for such a huge project to lose steam. Especially when the author has difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship to writing and letting the project breathe. Dissertators are not great at establishing either.

Given the arduous writing process, some people walk away indefinitely from the dissertation. Others go on to publish a series of articles based on the research. And then others find a gem of an argument in those hundreds of pages and completely restructure their diss to craft it into a publishable book.

So, the question is, how in the world do you begin to approach this process?

Like other forms of academic writing, the process of flipping the diss into a book seems to be shrouded in mystery. After some searching, I stumbled upon a longer-form piece, From Dissertation to Book by William Germano (once high in the ranks at Columbia UP and then Routledge and is currently a Professor of English at Cooper Union). Germano covers everything from re-reading the dissertation and deciding whether to move forward with articles or a book project to specific suggestions for chapter style and length. 

It is invaluable to hear an editor’s point of view. But I also value hearing from scholars’ personal experiences—especially from those who are in my field. So, I reached out to two scholars who do research in contemporary French and Francophone Studies and feminist theory: Régine Michelle Jean-Charles and Annabel L. Kim. Continue reading “From Dissertation to Book”

To Chapters, New and Old

TasselOne of the nice things about social media is that you never forget an important date, like the one when you defended your dissertation. In the six years since then, so much has changed, but not everything. For example, I haven’t entirely left grad school behind – or at least, I’m still working on what once was my dissertation project. Only now, I have a little more to show for it.

Before I finished the dissertation, before I took my teaching job, I was part of a panel proposal for the 2012 American Historical Association meeting.I didn’t know in February 2011 – when the proposals were due – whether I would even have a job the following school year. I hoped, at the time, that having this as a forthcoming talk would look good to a prospective employer.

Almost a year later, I flew to Chicago for a quick weekend, making sure I didn’t miss any teaching obligations. I hung out with old friends and enjoyed conference sessions on my terms. I hit up the Art Institute in Chicago (and had an unfortunate run-in with a light pole while walking down the street). That Sunday morning, our panel convened in the final hours of the conference in front of a small audience of people. (The panel focused the military’s experiences of integrating women and minorities as a way to manage the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)
Continue reading “To Chapters, New and Old”

Meeting yourself where you are

 

Eighteen years later, I still remember the moment I first told someone I wanted to be a writer. The certainty of that idea developed over a year I will always hold close. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, but it was also the year I learned what it felt like to achieve a dream.

A year earlier, I had been uncertain of what I wanted out of college and unwilling to take out loans without more direction. I left school after my freshman year, and by late October, I was flying east to be a nanny for a family I’d never seen. It was one of the scariest and most thrilling decisions I’d ever made.

Continue reading “Meeting yourself where you are”

Three Tricks to Finishing that Dissertation

Anyone who has completed a PhD dissertation, or who is currently in the throes of completing one knows what it’s like- It’s this marathon writing session that lasts for years. After jumping through multiple supervised hurdles (coursework, comprehensive/qualifying exams, prospectus defense, teaching evaluations, language requirements, etc.) professors tell you to go away and do it. Just do it.

And at that point, you are absolutely qualified to do it. And you are absolutely able. But you spend several days procrastinating and scared of where to begin, and overwhelmed by how much information has to go in, and what the right balance of evidence to argument to sources to lit review should be. And once you do get started, you keep running into places where you’ve written yourself into a corner, or where you discover that you are writing about the same phenomena in every chapter when maybe those phenomena should be their own chapter…

Last month I was invited to speak to Vanderbilt’s dissertating PhD students of History as part of a roundtable on dissertation-writing. While I prepared, I thought through some topics to talk about – do I talk about how to organize your sources? How to figure out the frame that best showcases your evidence and argument? Writing grants to help keep you financially afloat while you work? The digital tools that can help streamline the writing process? How to form and structure a dissertation writing group?

When I got there, they didn’t want to know any of that stuff. These are PhD students at a top-20. They didn’t get there by not knowing how to do this stuff or how to figure out how to do it. Their questions were about the things that no one tells you while writing a dissertation- things that you really only learn by doing and by asking someone who has. Continue reading “Three Tricks to Finishing that Dissertation”

Journaling and My Dissertation

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably seen me talk about how much I love the concept of journaling as a way to nurture my creativity, as well as to process and work through self doubt. Indeed, I journal almost daily, usually in the morning with a coffee – and in these cooler and darker mornings here in Portland – under a blanket on my couch. This is a practice that became part of my regular routine back in 2015 when I was in the last stages of my graduate school.  I began that year with two big New Year’s resolutions: I would keep a regular journal, and I would finish a dissertation that I had been writing for some time and finally receive my PhD. While I suspected the first goal would help to achieve the second one, I didn’t anticipate how important that journaling process would be. In fact, in those last few months before I defended my dissertation that spring, the journal became one of the main tools for success.

Continue reading “Journaling and My Dissertation”