trying to write a perfect thesis or dissertation? Do you
delay starting to write, or postpone
completing, because you know what you write won't be perfect?
Do you wait for just the right time, right environment, right mood
and inspiration to write?
Hogwash. Just write. Because perfectionism is not possible. And if
it were possible for you to write the complete and definitive
thesis or dissertation, what would you do next? Switch topics
for every manuscript you write because each will be the definitive
work on that topic? (I'm exhausted just thinking about your writing
life and academic career.)
Why are some
of us perfectionists?
Our wanting to be perfect can come from
overly attached to the dissertation or writing project. It is a work of
scholarship; it is not your life. (It just feels like it.) A
dissertation is significant and has implications for
successful and timely degree completion, entry into post-doc
or faculty roles, and the launching of
your reputation as a scholar. Yes, the dissertation may
be your most significant scholarship to this
point.But the dissertation or any other writing project is not
your life and does not define you. Professionally, perhaps.
But life is more than your dissertation and academic career.
(Make sure there are people in your life who will remind
you of this. Regularly.) So don't become so attached to any
writing project that you can't finish it...or even start it.
- not being
aware of how long it takes to complete a project. Yes, you can take
three years to produce your first chapter or ten years to
write a book...but not while the time-to-degree clock is
ticking or the tenure and promotion countdown has begun. At
times, it's better to get it done and get it out the door than
persist in writing the definitive, perfect work.
guidance from our advisor, mentor, or (for faculty) our
Identify the expectations for success. What is necessary to
receive approval for the dissertation proposal? To get your
advisor's sign-off on chapter four. To meet the Promotion and
Tenure committee's standards for retention and advancement?
Meet those expectations. Even exceed them. But no one will
ever tell you that your work must be perfect. (If they do, let
me know. I'm taking names.)
mistaken belief that if we wait for inspiration to write, the
outcome can indeed be perfect. Silvia (2007)
describes this waiting-for-inspiration excuse as a "most
comical and irrational" barrier to productive writing. If
you think you should write only when you feel like
it, "ask yourself... How has this strategy
worked so far? Are you happy with how much you write?"
(p.23). "Successful professional writers...are prolific
because they write regularly, usually every day. As Keyes
(2003) put it, 'Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over
time they discover that routine is a better friend to them
than inspiration' (p. 49)" (Silvia, p. 27).
Is this you?
Is Sternberg (1981) describing you? "The
myth of the perfect dissertation creates problems for graduate
students." No dissertation or book is ever perfect. Every
writer and author can think of changes they would make in
a finished or published manuscript. After a few drafts,
further revisions may produce a different manuscript, but not
always a better one, according to Sternberg. "One is
reminded of Camus' character in The
Plague, who spends his life rewriting the first
sentence of his novel - endless versions of horses trotting down
the Champ Elysees" (p. 160).
There is another reason you may be a perfectionist that has
very little to do with making your writing perfect...and
everything to do with procrastination. Luey (2004) describes
this when she addresses writer's block: "What most people call
writer's block is a variety of minor intellectual or procedural
disturbances. One...is the inability to stop fussing about
details." You don't produce much new content because you think
there are so many flaws in what you've already written
that you are compelled to work endlessly to fix them.
"This is...a form of procrastination; it's much easier to fix
what's written than to create something new. Fight the
temptation" (p. 137-138).
If you have not written any perfectly fine (but
less than perfect) new words today, then set a goal of 500 to 800
new words, and get started.
You can do it!