Self-Help for Graduate Students Part 7: The Clockwork Muse

Publishing Info: Zerubavel, Eviatar. The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Time Investment: 98 pages of clear prose.

Clockwork Muse begins by encouraging writers to de-romanticize the writing process. Though we associate writing with spontaneity, structure is the key to finishing a large project. Like Joan Bolker, he advises keeping a diary of your effectiveness so that you can craft a realistic schedule that allows you to write for a good length of time, at a good time of day.

Next, Zerubavel suggests that you outline your entire project (even though it will not be complete) and break it into smaller chunks. Then, you should write the entire thing from start to finish before trying to perfect any one chunk. “Once you have completed a first full draft of your manuscript you will almost never fail . . . to complete your project in its entirety.”

While I appreciate that sentiment, my advisors definitely seem to expect me to complete a near-perfect draft of my first chapter. They think it will be easier to write the other chapters after doing so. It seems like you couldn’t make this plan without talking it over with your committee.

The next step in Clockwork Muse is to estimate the number of pages in each section, your pace for each section (the number of pages you will complete per day) and your padded deadline for the section–based on the schedule you made earlier. My major problem with this method is that I fear I would be constantly re-calibrating the schedule, devoting precious time to tinkering with it instead of actually writing the dissertation.

The book announces in the last couple of pages that you need to have self-discipline to write a book, but it offers no help in understanding how to achieve that self-discipline. I feel that the book was helpful in thinking about mechanics and schedules, but did nothing to address the real issue of how to continually self-motivate.

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One response to “Self-Help for Graduate Students Part 7: The Clockwork Muse

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