I recently destroyed my journals. Thirty of them. Tore them apart by hand, recycled them, let them go. It was time. It was cathartic.
But first, I re-read them.
Talk about reflection mode.
I was struck by the similarities between how I felt while writing the dissertation and writing my first mystery. Pages and pages of angst about being completely immersed yet not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel! Wondering why I am even trying. Confessing that I honestly don’t think I can do this. Suspecting that I probably should just quit.
And yet, in both cases, I managed to keep going until I crossed the finish line. I’ve heard other writers describe their experiences the same way, which suggests that, for some of us, the horrible, painful, devastating Mountain of Doubt is simply part of the process. And that until you’ve scaled the Mountain of Doubt, you cannot see around it. The only way over it is to keep climbing, with your idea in one hand and faith in the other, until you’re on the other side. You simply must refuse to give up.
Here, culled from my journal, is one such moment of desperation. Can anyone relate?
I adore my topic. Really, two years of reading and writing on it have been a pleasure, aside from the eye strain and isolation and obsession and depression and breaking into a cold sweat every time I come across someone dancing in any sort of proximity to my topic. The need to finish the dissertation has invaded my life to the extent that sometimes I feel like a robot, completely incapable of human response to normal things, and other times like some overly emotional Whitmanesque character storming around campus beginning every sentence with “O!”
The more I work on this, the more difficult and impossible it all seems.
Hard to describe the lurking suspicion that I’m not doing it right…too often, it feels like trying to lay sod by throwing it up into the air for some reason rather than laying it out neatly square by square, and instead of creating a tidy lawn, I end up with a jumbled pile of dirt with glimmers of green peeking through. I know the lawn is there, but it’s buried and I’m going to have to sift through and reconstruct before it fits together correctly. (Or insert any overly complicated Rube Goldbergian machine analogy here.)
Also suspect—given the elaborate juggling act that I’m doing with theory, criticism, and texts—that I’ve written several dissertations within the main dissertation and that I need to pull one thread out and make that my new primary paradigm (which means the old chapters one and two will be discarded altogether or broken up into bite-sized chunks…how deflating, after all that work). What happens if I throw away those chapters and I can’t write any more? What happens if, in the interests of unifying everything, I choose the wrong thread? What happens if I only make it worse? Gah! Feel a mere ghost of my former self, flitting around trying to make things develop a substantial form. Lest I drive myself mad, I must remember that writing takes a strange sort of leap: one must summon the courage to believe that you have something worthwhile to offer and the bravado to articulate that in public. So my new mantra is to just say it — to let go of the fear of saying it wrong or of being corrected or even of screwing up in some huge, wheezing, painful-to-watch kind of way. If those things happen, then at least I’ve tried my best. And that’s all I can do. Yes, I am bleary-headed from reading the same dang pages over and over again, so I’m rather petulant but still weirdly hopeful. Something is happening. Cogito ergo sum, and to all a good night.