I admit: sometimes progress is slow not because you don’t have enough time to write but because you don’t have enough confidence to write.
My latest chapter is currently about 8 pages long, and it’s been stuck there for well over a week now. The winter term is over and my students haven’t yet turned in their final projects so I’m trying to take advantage of the blissful gap between the two. I’ve sat down and tried to write, gotten stuck, made outlines and lists of topics to cover, jotted down small ideas to incorporate later, scoured the web for more primary materials, conducted an email exchange with the NYPL, and found a research travel grant to apply for. But I’m still stuck.
My problem, I think, is fear. I’m once again in that dark space where I imagine most writers land at one point or another: writer’s block. I know generally what I want to say, and if pushed I could even articulate what my intervention is. But I just can’t make it happen! Part of the problem is that good old trifecta I wrote about back in November of 2014: the fear of my work being Obvious, Unimportant, Unoriginal. I am referring more to other scholars for this chapter, and one in particular has said some very similar things about the Nicholas Brothers. In fact, the more I re-read her work, the more it begins to feel like all of my major claims are entirely unoriginal! They have begun to sound like only slight rearrangements of what this other scholar has already made quite clear! And when I do find small claims of my own that I can’t find proof of elsewhere, they sound so obvious or unimportant compared to the bigger claims that feel unoriginal! So it is here that I have trapped myself.
I know in my heart of hearts that even if this chapter does say roughly the same thing this other scholar said, I am probably paying more attention to medium specificity than her because she is a dance scholar and I am theoretically a scholar of “screens”…and I am putting this analysis in conversation with my other case studies, whereas her entire monograph is an academic biography of just the Nicholases…but that feels dissatisfying. One of my mentors described my current state as a case of “the blahs,” and that definitely registers as accurate. She suggested sitting with them and in them in order to work through and past them but oh how unproductive this makes me feel!
Right now, this dissertation seems interminable…and I’m not even half done yet. A year and a half into the process and not even half done?!? Yeeeesh.