I used to make a draft, have someone edit it, re-write it, and call it done—a word I don’t believe I’ve heard in the three years since I got my master’s degree.
The forty-five pages I just wrote don’t contain a thesis. Their structure is skeletal. I quote huge blocks of text every other page with a vague sense of urgency that’s never fully explained. If one of my students turned in a four-page version of what I’ve written, I would give them a “No grade. We need to talk.”
My hero of dissertation writing, Joan Bolker, author of Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, says to call what I just wrote a “zero draft.” That two months of work equals zero makes me want to smash a calculator. My friend The Future Doctor Anderson calls it “seeds.” That name is downright scary to me—is this monster just a tiny piece of potential about to grow exponentially into a Godzilla-size disaster?
My mother says that before you decide what to name your baby, you’re supposed to yell its potential name out the back door. If you’ve found a good name, it won’t sound stupid. When writing to my advisers, I called these pages my “description of research” draft. It fails my mother’s test—but the awkwardness of the title befits the inelegant thing I produced.
I wish I could’ve written something that seemed to me like a “first draft,” which was my goal for the summer. Still, when I consider my pages in light of their new name, they look a lot less like failure. They are chock-full of descriptions that couldn’t have been written without copious research. It’s true that I can’t imagine the number of pages between me and that beautiful mythical done. But “Description of Research” is still a long way from not-yet-begun.