Assuming I have avid readers who read every post I submit here on my writing blog, people will know that I am currently neck-deep in writing my Postgraduate dissertation.
The subject matter for this focuses on showing meaningful excerpts of my debut novel, ‘Life Before Death’ in the ‘Shattered Destinies’ series of books I have planned for young adults.
But, that is only really the tip of the iceberg.
Also included in the (highly long-winded) title of my dissertation is reflecting on historical concerns of the time, gender issues or differences, and illustrating the research I did in order to make the piece as accurate as I can.
(However, as historical fiction, there are some elements of creative thinking and license that I can exercise as well)
Regardless of the type of dissertation you’re writing, you will all probably have the same initial thought.
“How am I ever going to write that much?!”
10,000 words at undergraduate (for most courses), and 15,000 words at postgraduate (on average) seems insane. You feel the need to choose a very wordy and involved project, because you think that will be the only thing that will fill your word count.
What your tutors probably won’t tell you is how horrendously easy it is to reach that word count, and then some, when you choose a project like that described above.
The dissertation answers an academic question of some sort, and if that question has too many possibilities for a tangent, you will find yourself forever editing and cutting the monstrous document.
Aside from that huge question which you slowly start re-phrasing as the proper one (“How am I ever going to cut the right amount for it to reach much?!”), there also a lot of other things that your tutor will never say or mention.
They will never tell you that the project will become your literal life.
Between spending long hours writing and editing at a desk, you’ll find yourself unable to stop thinking about it in your down-time.
“I can’t just leave it there, there’s more I can write…”
“I’ll just edit that in two minutes…”
“Damn, this movie really reminds me of (insert wildly specific dissertation question here)!”
Everything will remind you of it.
The shape of your morning croissant will morph before your eyes to resemble the shape of that one country you mention in Chapter Six of it. Your favourite television series will start having episodes with character development which you can relate directly to that one theory you mention in your introduction.
That, and you’ll start to guilt yourself for not working on it more. #
While you’re having fun with family or friends, your mind will be racing thinking of further things you can add to that monstrous saved file.
You may even start having dreams about missing the deadline because you’re editing so much. It has to be just right.
It will be the first thing that people will ask you (if you’ve told them about it).
“How’s it going, that dissertation of yours?”
“What’s it even about?”
“How can you write that much? Isn’t it a real chore?”
After holding yourself back from assaulting them at the last question, you try to stop unloading every tiny detail about your work. Because you find it fascinating, doesn’t mean that Barbara from next door with the great homemade biscuits will.
And then you realise something else.
You’re immensely protective of it.
Chances are, if you’re writing a dissertation, you’re an undergraduate student or postgraduate student in your twenties. As such, you won’t really know about being protective of a child.
But you start asking your parents if they were as protective of you as you are of your dissertation.
The project becomes your child. Because you spend so much time tending to it, improving it, and reading it on a daily basis, you would rather smack somebody upside the head than listen to them tell you it’s boring or ‘interesting’ in that falsely engaged tone.
(Most people who write a dissertation are not violent souls; at least, not when they propose their question for the first time)
((Side effects after starting the project may vary))
In spite of this protectiveness that urges at you, the parent of this monstrous thing, you can’t help yourself despising it with every fibre of your being.
You see it and work on it so much that you hate it, and you hate yourself for ever formulating the question that you’re slaving away at.
Why couldn’t you have just chosen a safe question about Jane Austen or something?
But, you bitterly admit to yourself that you would probably hate anything you set up as your dissertation, no matter how ‘safe’ the option is. You would start rabidly snapping at anybody who bad-mouths your creation, and then secretly shed tears over the comments and the pain it causes you.
Now, I digress.
What they probably will never tell you is how exhausting the whole process is.
It sounds ridiculous; sitting and working on something all day should leave you feeling refreshed, surely! You’ve not been anywhere all day. You’ve been sat, with tea or coffee, at a computer with a serene, studious look on your face.
But you can think of nothing worse than going into the outside world and interacting with…
The truth is, the dissertation is so mentally exhausting that it has effects on your body too. You obsess over it so acutely, that when you admit defeat for the day you want nothing more than to veg out on the couch with a show that can help you disconnect.
As such, you can easily become a hermit.
Why go and hang out when all you’ll probably be thinking and talking about is the dissertation?
What you’ll never hear your tutor say, ever, is probably the biggest and most important thing you’ll ever consider:
At the end of the process, you will feel immeasurable pride.
It is something you have written, poured hours into, probably cried tears over. And it will matter more to you than any graduation certificate at the end of the day.
Because this huge academic work is something that you have direct ownership of. You didn’t have to write it to a brief. You looked inwardly at yourself and asked the question that it always come back to, in some way or another.
“What do I feel passionately about?”
The dissertation will likely drive you to distraction, yes. But above all, it is a whole 10,000, 15,000, or even 30,000 summation of your passion for education.
Your tutor will never tell you that you’ll make it through, but you will.
I’m rooting for you.