I have now submitted my dissertation outline and have had my title approved by the powers that be. I have gone from feeling utterly terrified about writing this dissertation two weeks ago to feeling excited and buzzy about getting on with it. It has been quite strange and the process of committing my thoughts to paper has really solidified the project for me. Without there being the very real consequences of missing my deadine for submitting the outline, I would not have come this far in this short space of time with settling on a programme of research. I would still be reading, thinking and just flirting with ideas. However, having had to write about my idea and present it to other people, I have now got a pretty well structured idea of what I want to write about and how I want to go about making my case. To put it bluntly, I am stunned that I have made as much progress as I have. I wouldn’t have done if it hadn’t been for the fear.
That is the strange thing I find about writing. Writing stuff down does make it more real. Talking about things makes them more real too, but I find writing has particularly strong qualities of thought crystallisation. Its not as simple as it being that writing is about taking something from your head and putting it out there in the world, though that is obviously true. In having to write about something I find I have to submit to conventions or organisation and ordering which force me to think around the subject and discover those half vocalised/conceptualised rationalisations for why I am even thinking about the topic. This also has the effect of applying pressure on my to form my thoughts in to a narrative of sorts, where there is a progression (or at least reasonable links) between the ideas I am explaining. I find myself forced to impose categories and section off/impose boundaries on what, in my head, was an amorphous mass of thoughts, values and interest.
I also have to think more carefully about the language I am using to ensure the reader doesn’t interpret it from outside the context I am intending and to make explicit enough of those implicit assumptions I make when I am turning the ideas around in my mind. Of course the reader won’t understand why I find this fascinating if the only way I experience it is as a vague thrill of interest or if I can’t get at what it was that prompted me to investigate that particular phenomenon. I often find that I start thinking about something from the middle of the idea – I have an intuition or I am drawn to something and then I have to work backwards to figure out how I can make the argument for what the value in bothering to investigate that thing is. That process can be very difficult and is often a case of reading theory, thinking, reading theory, reading literature, thinking while waiting for inspiration to strike – waiting for it to hit me, what the point in it all is. When this happens, it is euphoric. When it is not happening it’s terrifying. Interestingly enough, it is when I pursue a literary text as well as the theoretical ones that I find the best answers. My work is a lot more creative, there is a spark generated by engaging with a literary text that I don’t get otherwise. Hard core philosophy is too much and too heavy for me.
So, outline written and I discovered that my dissertation is going to fall quite neatly in to three parts, each corresponding to one paragraph in the outline. More than this, they fit together and flow quite nicely!! I had no idea before I wrote it that it was going to come together like that. I had no conscious idea of the structure of what I was going to write about. Its as if it just appears out of the ether. I should add at this point that before I do any formal prose writing that is going to find it’s way to any one else, I nowadays write reams and reams and reams of notes by hand. I just get the ideas out of my head and on to paper, always in chaotic and disordered fashion. So I suppose that counts as writing too, though I think of it as just play. Perhaps that is an inherent part of the crystallisation process?
This brings to mind a half formed science analogy. I took Chemistry at A level and vaguely remember something about a temperature plateau in reactions involving crystallisation that is a result of the energy required to form the bonds required in a solid struture and organise the molecules of the substance being retained within the substance rather than chucked out as excess energy (in the form of heat). My point of interest is that there aren’t any other obvious signs that any thing is going on, just the steady temperature (if I remember rightly). However, within the reaction it is chaotic as molecular bonds are broken and reformed and energy is released, transferred and bound up again within the structure. The end result (the solid) manifests itself without much outward sign of all this. All that energy and potential isn’t visible, manipulable or useful until it is transformed in to the creation of a real, solid, structured object that is visible in our world.
That is too much science for a Saturday morning, my brain hurts now. I was an avid science student once but that feels like a long time ago. I’ll stick to the writing for now 😉