The dissertation is like a car loan…

If you’ve ever had a car loan or mortgage, then you know a terrible truth: The first few years you are paying almost exclusively interest, but by the end you are paying almost exclusively principal. This is very much like writing a dissertation/book.

How so? Let me tell you about my own process. I began by writing a 27-page chapter that I sent to several people to read. I worked hard on it but soon realized that it would not ultimately survive intact. The more I wrote and edited, the more I had to cut from that first chapter. At the end of the day, that 27-page chapter survived in only 3 footnotes in my final manuscript. Was it a waste, then? Absolutely not! It was a necessary part of the process.

You may have heard it said that “good writing is re-writing,” and it’s really true. The good news, though, is that you get much better at it as you go along. Thus, the first 30 pages you write may only yield 1 or 2 pages in your book, but you still have to go through the process of writing them. Those first 30 pages may be almost all “interest.” The last 30 pages you write, however, may well yield 29 pages in your book—almost all “principal.” The more you write (assuming you are writing well), the higher the yield and the lower the waste.

If you’re in the early stages and feel like what you’re writing is not very good, don’t despair. We all have to go through a weeding out process. And if you’re in the middle of the process and worried that you’ll never pick up speed, be assured that almost all writers do pick up more momentum as they go. Eventually, nothing will motivate you like seeing that finish line in the distance!

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