I’m working with a graduate student who is writing a dissertation about the gamification of professional development activities for teachers. We met yesterday to talk about the status of her dissertation. She has been struggling with the overall project, finding herself repeating parts of her literature review in places where they shouldn’t be and having difficulty structuring a consistent argument over the course of several chapters. I suggested that she create an outline as a blueprint for the general structure of the larger work. A pretty common sense suggestion, I know, but sometimes when you’re in the midst of a large writing project that takes months to complete, you lose track of these common sense strategies and just need someone to remind you of what you already know.
I realized yesterday as I was making this suggestion to the grad student that I need to follow my own advice. I really struggled last week with the introduction to my book. I kept wanting to rewrite what I’d already written. I was struggling with decisions about what to put in the introduction and what should be kept for later. I was nearly paralyzed with self-doubt. So yesterday, rather than write new material, I created an outline for the introduction. I already had a vague outline for the entire book. In other words, I know what I want to say about Freaks and Geeks. I have an argument for why it’s a television milestone (since I’m writing for the TV Milestones Series, that’s the most important point). But I didn’t have an outline for each of the individual chapters.
So I spent some time yesterday refining the vague outline, creating a more detailed blueprint for the overall project. And today, I was able to finish the introduction. I had actually already written everything I needed to write. I just needed to rearrange it, move some of it to later chapters, and write some transition sentences. The detailed outline of the introduction allowed me to see that. Who knows how long it would have taken me to finish it if I hadn’t written the outline.
Even though I’ve written a dissertation and another book in the past, I still struggle with the same issues as my grad student, someone working on her first book length project. Some things never change.
Full disclosure: I’m not out of the woods yet with the introduction. I was going to try to read through the whole thing one last time now that I’ve finished the first draft. Too soon. I was overwhelmed by the urge to start over because my internal editor was telling me that it’s crap. I put it away and started writing this blog entry instead. As I said, some things never change.