I have been a lazy bum for the past 3 weeks, and the other day, I admitted it to my supervisors. It took no courage to say “I am really sorry, I really have achieved nothing in the last fortnight”, but of course, I felt a bit embarrassed. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, yet having to admit that you have spent most of your time sleeping, checking Facebook, laying on the couch, etc, whilst there was a not-very-pressing deadline coming up is still embarrassing. Trying to fill out one hour of a meeting with your supervisors when you feel you have done very little is daunting. Yet I am a bit of a chatterbox, so it always seems okay. I know I am bluffing when one of them does not take any notes. That’s my cue to understand that nothing I have done that fortnight has had an impact on my general research so as to make a note of it. Almost like a silent, de facto pact.
At the end of the meeting, one of my supervisors told me that if I feel stuck, that is, somewhat hitting a writing wall, I should just stop and take a break. Perfectly reasonable advice. The funny thing is I don’t believe I am stuck per se – it’s not like I don’t know what to write. I know what I have to write and I know how – got my methodology, a serious analysis, and a good reason to be rewriting this article from scratch. What I don’t have is the willpower and the urgency of writing it. It bores me, in a way. And I have found many excuses to avoid it – from crazy calendars to migraines and basketball tournaments.
The reasons behind this apathy are twofold. On the one hand I feel a bit demotivated and research energy deprived. Why? I have recently finished writing and reviewing chapters one and two of my thesis. Yes, I am sort of writing as I go and it’s perfectly reasonable too: I am covering three different periods of the twentieth century in Catalan literature, so each of the three blocks of my thesis will be able to stand in isolation although interrelated. It makes sense to finish one project by writing the chapters about it and then move on. I set to myself the task of brainstorming for the next project throughout April (I already have a new Pukka pad lab book to start off when I decide to let my mind roam free), and I will start gantt-charting, project structuring, selecting readings and all in all the new project in May. But the “right now” seems dull. Plenty of cool stuff happening soon that I can’t seem to motivate myself to rewrite this article. I also feel an odd sense of self-complacence. I have finished those chapters, and I am mentally drained and very smug with my own work. I almost feel like I am mesmerized with my own achievement and that prevents me from finding the right motivation to go on at the moment.
The other reason is quite obvious as well. Two chapters of the thesis will be stuff that will be necessary to analyse my evolution and work as a researcher. The article I am writing right now is an off topic. It will not be published with the thesis. So why bother putting it together then? And why bother now, why not later? Well, I guess I will definitely not have time or willpower for it later, that is, when I am pushing towards a real deadline and I need to reduce my load of stress. I am writing thinking that it could potentially be published, but what if it doesn’t? What if a non-relevant, off-topic article takes me time to write and it never goes anywhere? Indirectly, even if it does go somewhere, the results will be nothing but immediate. It will only count in the end for my list of publications, but there is no immediate reward, and it does not make my thesis easier to write, despite allowing me to explore a topic that is somewhat related to my main thesis plan. So yeah, those thoughts are also collaborating in making me a lazy bastard.
In order to overcome this complacent and lazy state, I have set up a deadline to finish on Good Friday, even if I know (and have agreed) that my supervisors won’t read it until after Easter. This way, only in the worst case scenario, that is, computers dying and the world coming to an end, I will make sure I have it finished by Friday. Even if I know that this is a personally set up deadline and that it won’t change the course of my degree at all, knowing that I have committed myself to do something is pressure enough to get my bum on a chair and write. Taking up the task and challenging myself makes it again somewhat exciting (mind I am using the word exciting in a very loose sense here). Mongrels work in short bursts.
Ps. I started writing this article on Friday 11th. In the last two days I have written 3,000 words and I only have the conclusions to write, plus referencing. Yeah, the challenge is working so far.