The hardest thing about writing a dissertation is just buckling down and getting the writing done—and it really helps if you have a designated place to actually do it. A writing sanctuary to retreat to, or, perhaps more accurately, to go to, every day, at an appointed time, and hammer out some paragraphs. A cave, a cafe table, a library, an office—whatever you can get ahold of. It really helps.
One of my biggest difficulties finishing up my project away from my home institution has been finding the space to do just this. I’m not particularly good at working at home, as I find there are too many distractions, so despite the fact that I have a lovely little office space in our apartment, it’s usually a better idea if I go somewhere else to work. Middletown is not exactly a coffeeshop mecca: despite having a few to choose from, none is a particularly good place to get work done, and none have really stellar coffee. Libraries, either one at Wesleyan or Middletown’s fabulous Russell Library, are the next best thing, but for some reason I have not gotten into a good routine of actually going to them. (Plus, at Russell, I usually get distracted and end up back at the house with a stack of DVDs and crocheting books. Not very good for the productivity.)
Other dissertators say that it’s the internet that distracts them the most: email, Facebook, general web surfing and procrastinating. For me, I think the web is a small problem, but nothing compared to whatever malaise creeps over me in Middletown, keeps me at home, requires a great deal of energy to overcome and get going. I suspect it has something to do with meals. When I’m at home, I can spend half my day working out and executing the day’s food for me and Paul; but going out to get work done is just as bad, since there are only a couple of places I might want to grab lunch from in Middletown, and if that’s the case, isn’t it just more economical to stay at home? This is at least how the reasoning goes in my brain when I am trying to plan my day. The other challenge to leaving the house is that I have to lug all this stuff with me: computer, books, files, notebook, lunch if I’ve made it and want to bring it with me… So, again, the inclination is to stay home, which is, after all, where all my documents are. A challenge indeed.
I am thrilled to report today that, at least for the duration of the summer, I have a designated workplace, where I can leave my library books, where I can sit and read, where I can write, write, write. It is an individual study room at Mann Library, and it’s like a grad carrel at Memorial Library back at the UW but better: it’s got a desk, a bookshelf, a lamp, a reading chair, and a window. It’s a little bit smaller than my dorm room freshman year, and I love it. These are usually given out on short “loans” (four hours during the semester), but since it’s summer (things are quiet) and my stay is brief (just four more weeks after this one—eek!), I get to hang on to it until the fall semester starts up here, which is basically the bulk of the rest of my time here.
Finally, a real place of my own. Ah, ag libraries! So wonderful.