Good god. I am someone who wrote a dissertation in three years with an infant in one hand, a toddler underfoot, and no childcare. I even had a teaching job for one year of it. How is it I can do that, yet take eight years (and counting) to write a memoir about that very same experience?
What is taking so long?
Once upon a time, this was a fun project. I saw it as a way for me to process the experience of leaving academe while also exposing the plight of adjuncts to the general population at a time when few people were writing about it.
Since then, talk has exploded around the problem of exploitative university hiring practices and the trek-to-nowhere that has become the humanities phd. There is no more need for an exposé. That’s actually OK because the project changed over time anyway. It grew into something bigger, an accounting of graduate school life as a whole: the experience of being a student, teaching, and writing a dissertation while contending with a reading disability and raising a family. And then giving it all up.
Great. But still, why isn’t it done?
To be fair, I haven’t been writing for eight solid years. This book has always been a spare time thing. Something I did when the duties of parenting, tutoring and grant writing didn’t call–which was almost never. I know I left it untouched for at least one full year of that time.
Technically speaking, I finished the first draft after about two years. I spent time after that sending book proposals to academic presses. I had this idea that some cash-poor university press would welcome the opportunity to publish a book people might actually buy and read. But they didn’t. With no simultaneous submissions and a minimum six month turnaround, I clicked off about two years just waiting around for rejections. Then I spent another year querying agents. One even asked to see the manuscript. But, alas…
THEN, in 2012 I got myself into a writing group. Before that, the book had been peripheral to my busy life. I didn’t give much thought to the fairly obvious fact that, unless you are a genius, you can’t get to the final version of a book by yourself: you need readers, editors, critics.
After years of simply reading my own book over and over again, I finally started getting useful feedback and making real revisions. I have since rewritten the entire thing twice over, and I cringe to think of the version I sent to that agent a few years back.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you, “And now…it’s finished! Voila!”
Except it’s not. I still have a few big decisions to make about structure and cuts, and my writing group still has to finish it (which will help me make those big decisions – I hope). So I plod on. I have to admit, I’ve begun to feel like I did during the final year of dissertating: like my life is on hold until I can unburden myself of this project that overshadows everything else, especially other writing projects. I want to write magazine articles and blog posts. I want to start my next nonfiction book. I want to be free of this thing that has hung over me for eight years!
Instead, here I am–writing a blog post about the process of writing a memoir about the process of writing a dissertation. Ridiculous.
I need to just finish it already!