Today, we had class here, the Lower Barrakka Gardens in Valletta, Malta. While sailboats with black sails & flags from various European countries competed against one another on the windy sea, we sat in a circle and discussed the challenge before the students... "the thesis."
We talked about research questions, literature reviews, ethics review boards, and timelines. And we also talked about the challenge of writing without immediate reward.
Thanos, my co-instructor, reminded students of something so important. He said, when you're in class you're used to getting a grade on a paper or a pat on the back for a good presentation. But when you're in thesis mode, "there's no one there to give you a cookie."
For long periods, you hear nothing but the sound of your own thoughts.
One of the hardest parts of writing is that you don't get any immediate rewards. No "ding" from your iphone saying you have received a new message. You get no "likes" or "retweets". You just get radio silence and you gotta live with it.
It's just part of writing. The good part is, you start to train yourself to not need positive feedback every fifteen minutes. Ok, you may still want it, but it's a really good practice to try to give it up a little bit. In exchange, you have the opportunity to get swept up in some spectacular intellectual journey. You become so connected to your material and your writing, you start to develop a greater internal world.
This internal strength you travel with you throughout your life.
But how do you survive while you're getting stronger?
One of the students joked about he and another student working together every night and then giving each other a cookie.
He was actually on to something.
You may need to team up with a friend and cheer each other on. Unless you are like Yoda, able to hide yourself away and be fulfilled you might want to find a friend who can pat you on the back and hand you a cookie while you're in the throws of writing...
Sarah Federman, PhD