If you know me, you know I am not normally a big "self help" literature fan. But over the summer, as I set out with a goal of writing my first two dissertation chapters, I felt I needed some advice managing such a big and emotionally draining project. Several other current or recent dissertators suggested the following three books, which I have found incredibly helpful:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Thanks to Andrew Case for recommending this.)
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (And, thanks to Christine Manganero for recommending this.)
Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker (Thanks Lynnette Regouby for lending this to me for so long awhile back. I'm now hogging the library's copy, but all of you should feel free to recall it!)
Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones are both directed at fiction writers, but much of the advice still applies. The practical and psychological issues around creativity, self-doubt, and discipline apply equally to fiction and non-fiction writers. Both of these books helped me feel like a writer, not like a person who had to produce a dissertation.
Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day is more obviously and directly relevant to the specific process of dissertation writing, from choosing a topic and selecting a committee, to finishing and publication. But this is a book by a psychologist, and it's at its best when confronting the emotional aspects of the process––including sections such as "On Ownership," "On Dissertation Paranoia," and "About Creating a Writing Addiction."
The only drawback of these three books is that they are getting to be quite a bit old. They don't discuss software, like Scrivener for example, that can help organize notes and "shitty first draft" writing. Nor do they address the specific problems of internet procrastination (including wasting time searching for new "productivity" software!).
Nevertheless, they still get at the heart of the writing process and can really help you avoid, or at least deal with, some of the roadblocks you encounter when setting out to write. And, in spite of their very different styles, all three books have the same core message: Make writing a part of who you are. Make it part of your day, every day. If you do this, you will have before you not one huge insurmountable task, but a daily practice (or addiction even!) of writing.
Do you have any other reading suggestions for writers?