Dissertation Hell Is Full Of Tomatoes

Dissertation Hell Is Full Of Tomatoes

I used to be good at deadlines — they used to be what motivated me, to the point where I’d create them for myself, insisting on increasingly high wordcount totals or number of books read. Of course, that was mostly to do with things I wanted to do, things that were fun, rather than work… but still, sometimes I have to think hard to remember the days before deadlines made my brain shut down out of panic.

Even with last week’s French coursework out of the way, I’m still in uni hell. I have to hand in a first draft of my dissertation on Wednesday, and currently I am … not in a position to do that. I have more than half the wordcount (currently, I’ve got around 5.5k, and the limit is 10k), but considerably less than half of what I plan to write, so there’s going to be a lot of editing happening in future. I know that at this draft stage, that’s not my priority, and I just need to get the thing on paper and try and come up with some conclusions, but… well, that’s easier said than done. Because every time I settle down to work, I uncover something new to add in and write about, and the task just gets bigger and bigger.

I’m writing about magic in Acallam na Senórach and Tochmarc Étaíne, two medieval Irish texts. When I started, I thought the topic was small enough that I would have no difficulty keeping within the wordcount, and would maybe even struggle to make it long enough. After all, it’s only one theme, and only two texts, rather than the far bigger and vaguer topic I attempted in the past.

Yeah, yeah, let’s take a moment to laugh at me. I know. Staying within the wordcount of a major piece of work has never been my skill, despite my reasonably concise style when writing academic essays — I learned this from English coursework essays in sixth form. And there is so much to say about magic, even though I’m trying to keep it limited to just the major stuff (transformation, healing, etc) — I keep coming across other interesting instances of ‘miscellaneous magic’ that I don’t want to leave out because it makes the discussion feel incomplete if I do.

Also apparently handwriting stuff is STILL the only way I can form coherent ideas, so I guess it’s just as well my wrists are better than they used to be.

And all this stuff is coming primarily from my own reading of the texts, rather than any other academics. I’ve read as many articles as I can find, but hardly anybody has written specifically about magic, so what I’m coming across is usually only tangentially relevant. Some of it’s interesting, but when I’m this close to a deadline, I don’t have time to read about werewolves if they’re not the specific werewolves I need to be reading about, you know? I probably could read more of what other academics are saying, as I’m sure there are some good quotes nestled in otherwise-irrelevant books and articles, but I have so many of my own ideas that I’m not going to be able to fit those in — I don’t have time to worry about what anyone else thinks!

The deadline really wouldn’t be a concern — working steadily, I could probably get something vaguely close to a draft handed in on Wednesday without too much trouble — except that I also have another essay to write, which is due in the early afternoon on Tuesday. Plus, on Wednesday I have two lectures and a supervision before the 4pm deadline for the dissertation draft, so it really needs to be done before then. The other essay is for French, and uses some of the same stuff I read about for my long essay, so hopefully I can get away with minimal reading. I have a feeling it’s not going to be my greatest work, though, since it’ll probably be smashed out in a panic on Monday night.

I decided to give the Pomodoro Technique a go. I was looking for a timer on the Windows app store so that I could better keep track of how much work  Iwas doing — I need a concrete way of logging it or I just lose track — and came across one that used the Pomodoro Technique, and I’ve seen my friend Engie @ Musings From Neville’s Navel talk about it and say it’s effective, so I decided to try it. The idea is that you work for, say, half an hour then have a five minute break, then do this three or four times before giving yourself a longer break. I think the name comes from the fact the timer the person who created it originally used was shaped like a tomato.

(Apparently most people do 25 minutes + break, but I count how much work I’ve done in hours overall, so it made more sense to make it half an hour because I’m bad at maths and need easy ways of counting.)

This method both works and doesn’t work for me. It works for me on a physical level: I have to rest my hands periodically, so forcing me to stop every half an hour and take five minutes away from my desk encourages me to do that and not to overdo things physically. Everybody needs to stop and stretch, and I need it more than most people because of my health problems. So that side of things works well. It also works on a motivational level, in that it isn’t as scary to set a timer for half an hour and I get to click buttons and get tomatoes on a chart every time I complete one of those blocks of work, so it has a tangible reward system.

But it doesn’t work for me very well on a mental level, because it takes me a while to get into the zone of working and thinking and every single time that timer goes off, I’ve just settled into what I’m doing and I’m coming up with ideas. I always spend my five minute break trying to keep those ideas straight in my head so that I don’t lose them, which means mentally, it’s not very restful, and even then it takes me a while to get going when I start agin. I’m quite obsessive: in terms of thinking, it’s easier for me to come up with ideas if I do it in a big chunk.

also by hand, and preferably in bright colours

That said, I don’t always need to be coming up with ideas constantly the way I do when I’m at this stage of dissertation; if I were just doing translation or taking notes from a book or something, I can see this method working reasonably well. And as I’ve said, my big chunks of working really don’t have a good effect on my hands and back, so I was trying to avoid doing that anyway.

Using this new timer app, I’ve managed to do an hour and a half of work despite not getting up until lunchtime, and it’s only mid afternoon. I’m hoping I can at least double that before I try and go out this evening — I want to go to the LGBTQ film night in college, not because I’m particularly interested in this week’s film, but because I haven’t done anything sociable in a while and it seems like a relatively low-spoons way of getting involved in college life, with people I already know.

I don’t know whether the Pomodoro technique is going to work for me in the long term, or whether this app will do anything but pull me out of the zone every time I get there, but for the moment it’s a tactic that’s helping me not freak out about this deadline. Just focus on the tomatoes. One tomato after another. Keep racking up those tomatoes and everything will be okay… right?

PS: The world is horrible right now, which is why I’m making a conscious effort not to talk about politics. I just can’t bear it. It’s not that I don’t care — I care too much, and it’s making me want to cry every time I look at Twitter / the news. So here is a better headline. And a cute beastie. And some dramatic cats. I’ll try and bring you some little nuggets of joy / good news with every blog post, although they’ll probably just be fluffy animals. Fluffy animals may be all we’ve got, but at least we’ve got them.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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