I haven’t wanted in the past to write a blog about personal resilience, as it seemed self-indulgent. Yes, lining up the pace of the course against client demands and life with a toddler can be hard, but it’s a choice I made.
But this morning, for the first time in my life, I had writer’s block. I thought writing up the dissertation report would be the easy bit. I’ve written and re-written hundreds of documents at speed, to demanding standards, throughout my working life. But this one is different, because it signifies the end of the course. It doesn’t quite, actually, as there is still an e-module to go, but in terms of the self-directed piece of the course, the bit where I have tried to find the subjects that would put rocket boosters under my career, this is the end.
It’s a perfect early summer Sunday in London and my husband is taking our daughter to an outdoor swimming pool. I am looking forward to having my life back.
The wordcount looms over me. I have no trouble spinning words like yarn, but identifying the 15 – 20 key statements that form the core of the dissertation, that will be hard. I gave that a go last weekend – I used Anthony Haines’s report planning tool to force myself to say in one page of boxes and arrows what it is that my dissertation is about. I have a catch up call on Wednesday with someone from the industry whom I interviewed, and wishes to hear how I’ve got on. The timeline, and the world is urging me to more specificity.
But to be specific requires acres of background. I am sitting with my 30 pages of extracted quotes from the literature review, with my transcripts floating ethereally over my head, with notes on methodology. I have to catch sentences from the air and truncate them, squeeze them til their meaning comes out in one short gasp, not several long, flowing lines.
I proofread my husband’s latest blog last night and he admitted that his punctuation can be baroque. He’s lucky though, he’s a scientist. He has been trained for clarity. The last time I was in academia I was studying Creative Writing, and before that, English Literature. I trained my mind through work to be precise and concrete, to spout clichés to staff like ‘what we need this document to do is tell our donors WHAT we are going to do and HOW we are going to do.’
I was foolish in the process of my dissertation. I let myself enjoy exploring a new world. But that is not what study is for, that is what life is for. Study is for the disciplined pursuit of a well-reasoned methodology, in the interests of finding an answer to a tightly defined question that should be useful to a well defined group of people.
This is only for a few more months. A few years ago, after 10 years of physical inertia, a friend persuaded me to run a half-marathon. I did not do well. But I finished. I can draw on my Finnishness, on the Finnish ‘Sisu’ – the ability simply to persist.
The writers’ block should have gone now. I need to write down one of my sentences and squeeze it till the meaning pops out in one gasp.