Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fingers crossed

Today I mailed Advisor a copy of the new chapter that I've been drafting. I know that this is the right time to send it to her and that the project will benefit both from being set aside for a while and from getting an outside read--and since I actually have to set the thing aside for six weeks in order to finish up two unrelated projects, it makes total sense to use that time to get her feedback.

But I had a serious meltdown over the weekend wherein I became convinced that I couldn't send it to her because it wasn't good enough or smart enough, and because it loses its argument a number of times and jumps around and has too many long quotations and doesn't have a conclusion and no doubt makes a number of breathtakingly stupid claims about both the author and the decades I'm covering (which represent basically new material for me).

I knew that there was no point in my putting in another two months to give the thing more polish, since what I really wanted her advice on was the big-picture stuff--but I have a hysterical insecurity about showing her anything less than perfect, lest she get so hung up on the little things that she not see the big-picture stuff (and so conclude I'm a moron).

Now, it's true that the above is actually a pretty accurate description of our first meeting to discuss the first draft of my dissertation's very first chapter--and thus constitutes, I guess, something of a Primal Scene--but my neurotic fear of letting anyone see anything that truly is a work-in-progress didn't begin with her, and I know that my obsession with that one episode in our relationship (and the way I've allowed it to define our relationship ever since) has more to do with the shit in my own head than with how she's actually responded to me and my work in the years since then.

So I'm trying to work through this, and sending her this chapter is one way of doing that. There may be no way to prevent myself from freaking the fuck out on my own time, but I don't want those freakouts to affect my ability to get work done or to seek advice when I need it.

That being said--y'all are still welcome to send your good wishes, or a gift certificate for some CBT, or a big bottle of whiskey, or whatever, my way.


medieval woman said...

I'm sending you the most excellent mo-jo I can find! I'm also highly impressed that you have a draft to send - this time will be different - I feel it!


Hilaire said...

Bestest wishes being sent your way. And -- I totally get this. It's terrifying. You are not alone.

Anonymous said...

It's good enough, it's smart enough, and doggone it, people like it.

(sorry, I couldn't help but think of that when I read your second paragraph)


moria said...

1. Love the blog.
2. THANK YOU for posting about this anxiety. If I say that everyone feels this all the time, it will not be the first time you've heard it and you won't believe me anyway, so instead, simply: thank you.

Phul Devi said...

I had a close enough relationship with my adviser such that I never minded sending her anything. But you should have seen the state I was in when I sent my ms. off to the press for review. Just the process of photocopying it had me close to vomiting.

anthony grafton said...

My adviser used to produce comments longer than my chapters, and the one that I remember best gives a sense of their tone: "What went wrong? This is a good paragraph." He made clear, chapter by chapter, that there was nothing really wrong with my work except the style and the content. By doing so he inflicted a lot of pain. But he also taught me a huge amount about writing and thinking. He also fought to get me a job at a time when the market was in free fall. Sometimes sharp criticism is the best way for an adviser to express admiration and affection.
(Not always!)

Anonymous said...

well i'm happy to be there for the freak-out and of course the whiskey. and boy howdy can i relate.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! Very courageous of you to have triumphed over the shit in your head; if only the rest of us could say the same.

Ancarett said...

I am wrestling with the article that won't go out because it's clearly too stupid to be seen by other people. Maybe I should take my lead from you and just get it gone? I'm very impressed -- this isn't easy.

Anonymous said...

My advisor was very much like A. Grafton's during my diss-writing process, so of course I am loathe to ever voluntarily send her anything I ever write again. Amusingly, last weekend she was invited to give a talk in the city where I now live. I told her I wanted to attend, and this made her very nervous. She emailed that it made her feel a great deal more pressure to have me in the audience, but sure, yeah, I could go if I wanted to. It was oddly empowering to know that she seeks my approval now, and was worried that her talk (new research) wasn't yet polished enough to impress ME. I guess we all have our issues. Good luck with your comments. Hopefully the dynamic will have shifted toward your favor.

gwoertendyke said...

the first draft of what turned out to be my third chapter was returned to me by one of two advisors with red pen all over it--literally--things crossed out, questions, line editing. i was so traumatized by the experience that i put it aside for two years.

something about overcoming that Primal Scene as you put it so aptly makes the feedback, lack of perfection, all subsequent drafts not nearly so horrible.

kudos to your bravery!

Anonymous said...

I had an undergraduate mentor who would get very excited about my work and say things like "but the writing was just horrible" and return things so crossed out and scribbled over that I displayed one page on my dorm room door.

Since as an undergrad (unlike grad schoool), I was quite confident and secure in my skills and that my mentor also truly approved of me, I think it helped me deal later when I actually got commentary back, especially since I remembered that piece turning into part of a very good BA thesis.

Sadly, it did not help me deal with being afraid to give things to my advisors, or not during grad school, anyhow. I do find, however, that cats, while a lot of trouble, greatly reduce my freakout potential.

To anonymous at 7:43am--I just had that experience, of my advisor seeking approval for his talk. It was very odd.

Tenured Radical said...

I remember Advisor from previous posts. Just remember: it will never be the response you want from this person. It will be some chilled-down verison of the warm enthusiasm you want to hear. And don't be discouraged. I can;t believe the chapter isn't wonderful. Make GWB read it too.


Anonymous said...

TR: Flavia's been using me as a sounding board the drafting process of this chapter, and once I'm through writing the index for my book in a couple of weeks, I'm definitely planning to read the finished draft.


Another Damned Medievalist said...

I still send things to Doktorvater on occasion, because I can trust him to be brutal. In some ways, though, I think his übercritical editorial style (which is almost always on target in terms of content, if not style, and has made me a much better writer) has made it easier for me to ask others to look at my work. No one else could be that harsh!

But I still have major stumbling blocks -- I had to ask LDW to look at a review recently, and we almost got in a fight when he wanted to look at my Kazoo paper last year, because, well, you don't want your sweetie to think you're an idiot! And although I've agreed to go through his book, he won't let me look at any of the chapters in progress. I think in some ways we all have people who we are scared of looking stupid in front of (what an awful construction!).

It's one of the reasons some of my blogfriends and I initially set up a workblog. We haven't been using it as much this year as last (hint to another person on this thread, who has only to ask!), but part of the point was to both nag and act as sounding/review board. It's still sort of scary, but sure beats having an anonymous stranger tear you apart!