Henry Holt. 1998. 184 pages. $18.
I’m usually skeptical of writing guides. I’ve got the basics on my bookshelf – Stephen King’s “On Writing,” Strunk and White, the MLA Handbook – and that’s about it. But several sites recommended this book for the uninitiated and so I took the plunge. And I am SO GLAD I did.
The first thing I should mention – and that Bolker admits – is that this isn’t a how-to guide to writing your diss in 15 minutes a day, despite what the title claims. Rather, Bolker provides practical advice in how to kick-start your writing when it lags and to stay productive even when you feel like spending the day in bed.
Bolker is a writer after my own heart. While she acknowledges that every writer is different, she encourages writers to try out her method of writing a zero-draft first and then polishing it into a first draft (and editing and polishing some more until it shines). Many dissertation writers, she claims, are paralysed by the idea of writing a book. Free writing allows the student to think, and by thinking, create an outline and eventually a dissertation of which they can be proud.
Bolker’s advice is practical. Intimidated/scared/frustrated/stuck writers, she claims, should begin by writing 5 pages a day (about 1250 words) and go from there. In the time that I’ve purchased and read this book (about 5 days ago) I have been successful half the time in achieving this word count. This doesn’t sound like much (and it’s not), but those 2500 words were extremely helpful in figuring out how I want to outline the diss. And, amazingly, they gave me some confidence that I can do this. For that alone, this book is an invaluable resource.
Bolker outlines questions to ask yourself while writing. She includes several checklists for various parts of the dissertation writing process that are designed to guide you to make the most of your writing (and your time). There’s even a section on how to make the most of your relationship with your advisor.
But my favorite parts of this book are the inspirational quotes scattered throughout. Bolker is not a Pollyanna – she knows how difficult this process can be – but she also knows that many people have survived (and even enjoyed) writing their dissertation. She compares writing to running or training for a road race. It takes endurance and stamina, and it may be uncomfortable while you’re doing it, but the rewards are worth the blood, sweat, and tears.
I’m so glad I picked up this book at the beginning of the dissertation process. I look forward to working with her advice as I advance in the project. I would recommend this book to ALL graduate students and anyone who is writing a non-fiction book.