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Academic Coaching & Writing

XXVII. An Academic, Writing: Turning My Dissertation into a Book

Jul 02, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

As I stated in my previous blog, I’m going to focus my energies right now on converting my dissertation manuscript into a book manuscript. It had been under consideration at another publisher (and thus had already also gone through one set of revisions to get it ready for that submission), but I received word towards the end of last semester that they were passing on it. I didn’t realize until a recent meeting with my ACW writing coach, Amy, that this rejection had been distracting me and impacting my overall writing productivity. Together, Amy and I have gone over the reader reports (which, overall, were quite positive) and discussed the ways I needed to reframe my research.

Shifting from Student to Expert Voice

My problem, and it is a common one, is that I still sounded like a graduate student in my work. My voice and my ideas had gotten lost in a sea of theories, quotes, and references that I felt I needed to have (and, in fact, did need to have) in order to get my work past my dissertation committee. The challenge now is to shift my thinking and be more confident in my ideas.

It shouldn’t be that hard to make this shift, since my dissertation involved a great deal of archival research, research that I know no one else has done. I have been thinking and working on this topic in one form or another since my final year as an undergraduate, when I first wrote a paper on the topic that would eventually become my dissertation. So it’s been almost 15 years (shudder). If I can’t write with confidence on this topic now, I never will. The challenge is, of course, that old habits die hard.

One of my biggest fears when I write is that I don’t have enough theory, a criticism I had heard often as a graduate student and one that I seem to have internalized more than any other. I have gotten so used to writing in a certain way as an aspiring academic that it’s really difficult to break free and just write with confidence (in the way that I write my blogs, for example). Revising my work has also not been one of my strongest skills, which makes the thought of reworking my introduction, in particular, daunting to say the least.

Developing a Vision for the Manuscript

I am very fortunate to be working with Amy. She has already helped me cope with my anxiety over the issue, as well as helped me stay focused on my ultimate goal, which is to see this manuscript published as a book. She has helped me develop a vision for the final manuscript, which will help keep me focused and decide what stays, what goes, and what gets revised. We are going to be going through my introduction slowly and meticulously with that vision in mind, but also with the idea that I am no longer the graduate student writing to make my committee happy (or at least satisfied enough to pass me), but instead the expert whose ideas are of value.

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