Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, January 18, 2016

Writing the #DevilDiss Intro- Reflection and Looking Back

I have finished and sent off round three revisions on two chapters of #DevilDiss2, and am waiting on notes from the other four chapters, so have scheduled this week and next to draft the introduction and conclusion. I was advised to not draft them before now, to wait until the argument of the dissertation was more solid.
In prepping to write these pieces I've looked at my defended prospectus from March 2015,  I've also read back through the Storify of #DevilDiss (comps, prospectus, first complete draft of the dissertation), and #DevilDiss 2 (round two revisions and beyond). These Storifies are interesting because it's the entire process as it unfolds in real time. It's been useful for identifying questions that came up, larger themes, the big picture.
Sitting down to prep these writings, and given where I am, and my research topic, it seems fitting that I am at the proverbial crossroads- when there are multiple paths laid out before me and I have no idea where I will be in five months. Where I'll be living, what my life will look like, what job I'll have.

It also calls to mind devil's deals at crossroads.
I believe reflection is good for the soul so...
My dissertation journey began with two courses, two Bread Loaf summers. In 2008 I took a Milton and Paradise Lost in Context course and in 2010 I took a Southwest Film and Literature course that focused on folk heroes.
These two classes proved foundational for me.
After the 2008 summer I proposed an independent reading project that would trace the history of the character of Satan. That was the first step towards my dissertation. It was rejected, but this became the basis of work I did in another English Studies class in the Spring 2010.
The 2010 Southwest class exposed me to folklore studies as a field.

I finished my MA in English literature in July 2010.
My Mom died 14 February 2011. And it seemed like a time for change. So I spent a year presenting at conferences, getting some things published while still teaching at my high school full time and job hunting, applying to community colleges to see if two Master's degrees would get me a job. I was not happy, but I was hoping to expand my horizons.
Because I'm a firm believer if you're not happy you get off your ass and do something about it.
In my kitchen I had a six foot whiteboard where I planned out ideas for my eventual dissertation.

After a year of not securing a community college job I decided that I needed a PhD in order to compete, and so I applied, got in, and quit my job, moving 1,951 miles into the high desert to start my program.

I knew coming into my program what I wanted my dissertation to be about and so was able to tailor my coursework and be laser focused.
When I started I had several key ideas in my head:
  • Loki and Norse mythology would figure prominently
  • Milton's Paradise Lost was the central text for me
  • I had several key chapters planned out:
    • Chapter 1 would focus on the physical devil
    • Chapter 2 would focus on his personality and actions
    • Chapter 3 would focus on Milton
By the second year in my program, I realized several things:
  • While I still think Loki and Norse mythology was influential on the creation of the English Folkloric Devil (EFD as I abbreviate in my notes) there's no way to prove this, so it's pretty much moved from central to a footnote.
  • I've added a chapter to address the absence (not really) of devils in Shakespeare
    • This was originally CH 2B, but over that second year moved to the second half of the dissertation
  • I've added a chapter to look at the devil in pamphlets
At my prospectus defense in March 2015, the comment was made that either I needed to work Milton more into the rest of my dissertation, or I needed to make it clear this was not a Milton dissertation.

In May 2015 I attempted to fix this by framing each of my chapters with Milton close readings. This was as I started the first full draft of the dissertation. This was awkward, and a square peg/round whole fix. I wasn't happy with it but lacking any other solution, I kept it.
I spent May, June, July 2015 drafting all the chapters of the dissertation.
  • Chapter 1 was in rough form as a seminar paper from my Anglo-Saxon course
  • Chapter 2 the physical and Chapter 3 the personality and actions were rough as in close readings pulled from summer before while reading for comps rough
  • Chapter 4 the absence of devils in Shakespeare was in conference paper form
  • Chapter 5 on the pamphlets was the only chapter not written in any form
  • Chapter 6 was in rough form as a final paper from my spring 2015 Milton course
As I sat down to write it all down, what ultimately helped me realize the true focus of the dissertation was how I tweeted about my project. I have always used #DevilDiss which helped me realize that my dissertation was about tracing the EFD, of which Milton's characterization in Paradise Lost is the culmination. My main concern is the devil and how he is used as the vehicle to express the fears, anxieties, and desires of the common people.

By 1 August 2015 I had sent off draft chapters of all chapters to my director.
They were awful, but I had reached the point where it'd been in my head so long I could no longer see/judge/edit anything by myself and needed someone else to give notes.

I'm a visual person (initial rounds of work on the dissertation were all color coded) so each time I've revised sections of the dissertation my whiteboard in my office got erased, rewritten, thought out.
The first round of revisions on CH 1-3 pointed out some serious flaws:
  • I was depending on inserted images to make arguments for me
  • The Milton framing didn't work, so I needed to move those close readings into the Milton chapter
  • I needed to historicize CH 2 and 3 more and make it work more as a modified survey
    • But I also needed to balance this with making an actual argument
  • In CH 6 I needed to expand how I was thinking, it couldn't just be a Paradise Lost chapter but had to consider Milton's other examinations of the EFD
  • I had to fix the serious flaws with my approach and argument. 
    • I didn't use secondary sources enough
      • This mean A LOT of extra reading before the next round of revisions
    • I didn't explain my argument enough
    • The chapters lacked a framework, a structure
August 2015 Notes
Round 2 notes were better. While the chapters as a whole got better, the notes were more specific. Chapters 1-3 still needed a lot more work. I feel like I've overhauled these chapters radically EVERY time I've revised them. So it's a little hard to see the progress, because it feels like with such major changes every time it's hard to see whether or not it's an improvement or just a completely different thing.
The other side of this is CH 1-3 act as a survey of all appearances of the devil in popular literature from Anglo-Saxons all the way up through the early modern period but they also have to argue specific stances. This is a hard balance as well as just a lot of material to cover.
September 2015 Notes
I still don't know why, but the notes on CH 4-6 seem more tweaking and less overhaul. I think in part this is because while Part I (CH 1-3) is a survey, Part II (CH 4-6) focuses on how the figure is used so it seems easier to grasp what the argument is.
By December 2015 I was finishing my final revisions on the second round. And I hit my goal of finishing and sending them off by 1 January 2016.
December 2015 Notes
It's hard when revising to see the progress, to see how much work has been done. It's easier to think- man, this must really still suck if I'm making so many changes.
It's easy to see notes, and just want to fling them all into the sea.

This is where this reflection, this looking back before I write the introduction I think is so valuable given where I am in the process.
It took me four months to write drafts of  the above chapters for the initial complete drafts of CH 1-6.
It took me roughly a week each to revise each of these chapters this past fall, so roughly six weeks total.
Hard to see when in it, but that's some serious progress. Pages and pages of notes went down to a couple of pages. Which then went down to comments within the document.

My director's 3rd round of revision notes on CH 1-3 (but applying to all) asked me to write a one sentence statement that said what the argument of that chapter was (and not cheat and use the ones I wrote up for job market materials/dissertation abstract).
January 2016 Notes
Chapters 1-3 it seems still suffered from too much survey and not enough argument.
I think I have fixed this issue. I did what my director asked, summarizing and clarifying the argument on my board, but also writing these statements into my dissertation notebook, using it as my focal point when reorganizing and revising CH 2 and 3.
Chapter 2 Round 3 Revision Notes #DevilDiss notebook

One of the additions with this third round of revision was an expansion of the connection of fairies to devils. This is a really interesting piece, but I struggled to not get sidetracked.
This too is a pitfall of this point in the dissertating process. It's tempting to see things and want to add them when really it's something that needs to be a separate, future project. Distractions as a form of imposter panic- Have I forgotten something major? I think is probably normal at this stage. But I feel good about how I feel about the dissertation, authoritative enough to say "yes" to this and "no" to other things.
With CH 2, the biggest issue was again a complete reorganizing of the chapter. It works better now, as each incarnation has but it's also hard to *see* the progress when I'm overhauling so much in each revision. This is the type of doubt that can kill you- making a move and then doubting it.
Chapter 3 Round 3 Revision Notes #DevilDiss notebook
Chapter three had a TON of subtopics, that were all over the place. In this case, a complete reorganizing/reorder helped me identify the main subtopics, clear up their connections to each other, and tie them together explicitly in my writing. It's a lot more streamlined now.

I'm waiting to start on CH 1 until I get content notes back from our Anglo-Saxonist, in addition to my director's notes which I already have. My director says I should have CH 4-6 notes by mid February, hence the work now on the Intro and Conclusion.
I want to say I feel good about revisions. Because I do. But I have felt good about all of them. So I don't know if I trust my feelings anymore.
I can make some definitive statements though at this point:
  • The order of the chapters are done. The first and second half work well together. I am happy with how they build on each other and work together.
  • I think the subtopics, the organization within the chapters is done.
  • The reading, sources for the dissertation are done. While there may be a footnote to add here and there, I am no longer reading for the dissertation.
18 January 2016 Whiteboard
So this is my work the next couple of weeks on the intro and conclusion while I wait for the rest of the notes:
  • My director had me write a brief methodology/intro when I submitted my drafts back in August. This is the foundation I'm using for writing my intro.
    • I need to clarify what I mean when I say the devil is the vehicle of the folk
    • I need to make sure that the works that I treat as foundational in chapters are frontloaded here
  • One critique of the prospectus was my emphasis on psychoanalysis as a methodology. Reviewing my past work this morning, I realize I resolved this mainly by just doing the work instead of saying I was doing the work.
  • I need to, as the board above shows, also explain how this folkloric devil is different from the Biblical devil, and clarify my explanation for using only popular literature.
  • I think in the shift from a Milton dissertation to one about the EFD I've fixed this, but an initial note on the prospectus was why folklore was important to Milton's Satan.
  • My original prospectus was 11 pages minus the bibliography, the methodology/intro was 9. So I feel good about the foundation.
My goal is to finish a draft of the introduction this week, and if I don't have CH 1 notes by next week, move onto the conclusion which will look forward to why a folkloric examination of the devil is important, pointing towards my next project, Revising Milton which examines Milton's secular mythology as forwarded in popular culture.
If I get CH 1 notes I'll do those next week, then the conclusion the next.
No matter what, all the above will be done that first week in February.

The plus side is, at this point chapter revisions are taking less than a week. So if CH 4-6 are in as good a shape as I think/hope they are, I should be able to turn them around by the end of February/beginning of March.
I've told my director that I'd like this round to be tentatively approved for me to send to other committee members.
With a end of June/beginning of July defense, I want to make sure they have time to read it.
  • I remember reading one month was enough for committee members once drafts were approved.
    • Someone else last week told me 2 weeks per chapter (which is 3 months with 6 chapters), which is why I'm a little concerned.
  • With the next round of notes, I will copy and paste them all into the already formatted One Doc that conforms to what the university requires. If I finish the intro and conclusion and still don't have notes I'll start shifting things to the One Doc, including the appendices and front matter.
  • I figure that IF I can get notes from everyone this next round this would enable me in March-June to work on incorporating EVERYONE'S notes.
    • I'd like to go into my defense with few/no notes as there's such a tight turn around to get it then submitted to the university by 8 July.
Whether it's because of how much drafting and revising I've done in the last year, or because of where I am/how I feel about #DevilDiss, I'm not worried about writing the intro or conclusion, they're just things to cross off the list, like organizing the One Doc, copying all the chapter bibliographies into a single document and deleting the duplicates.

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