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Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (my reading notes)

The first book in a series of volumes I have been interested in reading is Joan Bolker’s “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis“.

Bolker takes a very similar approach to writing to the one that Joli Jensen preaches: you should have constant contact with a writing project (Bolker suggests at least 15 minutes every single day). For me, writing IS a way to get myself out of a writer’s block. For example, I am writing this blog post precisely to get out of a rut and find the headspace again where I can make final edits to a Revise/and/Resubmit (yes, yet another one!)

Bolker is right and that’s why her book works. You MUST write text for your doctoral dissertation at least 15 minutes every single day. This, obviously, doesn’t guarantee that you will finish the dissertation in 3, 4 or 5 years, but like Joli Jensen suggests in her book “Write No Matter What” (which I’ve also written about here on my blog), gives you constant contact with a writing project, and particularly low-stakes kind of contact. Reading Jensen’s Write No Matter What changed my life and cemented the thought that constant contact with a writing project is fundamental.

On the topic of advisors, I strongly disagreed with Bolker, particularly because I am kind of slightly famous on the internet, and therefore I felt like this was a jab at me. I do remember a professor at UBC telling me “you don’t want to do your PhD at Harvard only to have your advisor be travelling the world and forget about you”. I DO travel the world and my schedule is tremendously busy, but my students are my priority and I make sure to give them time, regardless of whether I am at a conference, workshop or doing fieldwork. As I said on Twitter, Elinor Ostrom was SUPER famous and she was an incredibly dedicated advisor. It’s not about the fame, it’s about making yourself (as a PhD advisor) available to answer questions and help your students.

As I said on Twitter, by now I know just about everyone suggests a daily writing practice, even if it is for just a tiny bit of time. Don’t ask me, ask Dr. Joan Bolker, and Stephen King.

I do not champion the 1,500 words or 5-10 pages a day approach. On the contrary, I suggest that we find a different measure of scholarly writing success: filling up sentences, completing paragraphs one idea at a time, and writing small bits and pieces of text (50-100-200 words a day).

The idea of a Dissertation Writing Group is useful. The main shortcoming with Bolker and just about every book I’ve read on writing is that they devote the least time to the final stages of the PhD dissertation (or of writing a book, like the conclusion, and how to put the book together). Yes, the best dissertation is the DONE dissertation but there isn’t a solid roadmap (or I haven’t seen it yet) for a student in the throes of final submission.

This sentence sums up my feelings about Bolker: A MUST READ BOOK for all doctoral candidates.

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