Home > Uncategorized > A marathon, not a sprint…

A marathon, not a sprint…

It seems fitting that my first post in what seems like forever should come after another post about the writing process.  Last time, I tried to express how important it was for me to put away my fears of writing a flawless first draft and just get stuff on a page.  This post tries to build on that.  At least, I think it does…

I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2011.  Now, I am by no means a distance runner.  I’m not really designed that way.  So that meant a long and difficult training process that was exhausting both physically and mentally.  But I worked hard all summer, I ran and ran and ran, and finally felt ready for my first marathon.  Of course, all that training and pacing went out the window on race day and I started off much too fast.  By the 14 mile marker I felt like I was dying, it was hot, and I had twisted my knee a bit.  For the rest of the race, it was about conquering each small, manageable goal.  Sometimes that goal was getting to the next mile marker.  Other times I just wanted to get to the next aid station and drink some water or use a gel shot.  Somehow, my approach of breaking the race into tiny, achievable goals was enough, and I crossed the finish line fast enough to have my name printed in the paper the next day.

I couldn’t help but think of that race this week as I took part in Loyola’s annual dissertation boot camp, an intensive week of writing aimed at giving participants a good jump start to write a proposal/chapter.  I must say, it was a productive week for me.  I wrote my first dissertation chapter (both the first chapter sequentially and the first chapter I’ve actually written).  I’m currently holding a printed copy over my head in excitement.

Almost immediately, however, I deflated at the realization that there is still a lot of revision and additional research needed to make this chapter worthwhile.  Still, it’s encouraging to actually have something completed.  I’ve often been told, and told other people, that writing the dissertation is a marathon.  The deeper into the process I get the more true that statement becomes.  So I’ve been trying to adopt that method of breaking the process into small goals (like one mile at a time) and use it for the dissertation.

I could dwell on the fact that I need to do a lot of editing on this chapter.  Or consult some additional historiography.  Or even that I think there are some places that need a little more research.  But instead of focusing on the magnitude of the process still ahead of me, I’m going to celebrate the minor victories.  I’m going to do my best to focus on the fact that I’m writing, even if it is only a little portion.  Saying I have 1/5 of the project done has helped put it in perspective.  Now, it’s time to move onwards and focus on the next goal, which for me will be another intensive period of primary research in Chicago before I head off to Philadelphia for a semester of research in the fall.

All I can do is keeping running one step at a time, one chapter at a time.  It’s not perfect, and there are certainly moments where I let the process become too big and overwhelming.  But I’m finding those moments are coming less often.  As long as I keep setting small goals and appreciating the little victories, the 26.2 miles that are the dissertation will be over before I know it (at least I hope).

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