Thinking: The Hidden Work

As I sit here, trying to work through yet another draft of my PhD Proposal, I have been struck with a sense of guilt that I hadn’t “done” anything all day. But when I stop and take a minute to think about what I have been doing, I realize that I haven’t done “nothing”, but that I have spent most of my day “thinking”. There is just very little outward signs to show that this is what I have been doing. Nothing scribbled down, nothing to “show” for the last 4 hours of sitting here with my cup of coffee – looking out the window at the dreary gray damp sky. No “product”. But somehow, after spending the last 4 hours doing seemingly nothing, I come out refreshed, and ready to work. Addition by subtraction is the motto today – I just deleted a portion of my proposal that has been bugging me (it felt forced and out of place). After cutting and pasting, renaming and filing in a separate “bits & pieces” folder for safe keeping, I feel that I have accomplished something big. But to the outside world … not so much. From this little choice, I am opened up again, to another blank slate of possibilities. It feels better – even if there is nothing actually on that page at the moment.

My partner is not in academia. He works long hours working on airplanes. His work is very manual intensive – with an end product in mind, and progress is visible every step of the way. We have had long talks (and even arguments) about the ‘work’ that I do. While he does not wish to ever trade places with me, as he knows that what I do is challenging in its own right, he has a hard time grasping the fact that by the time I am writing – actively producing a written product – most of my “work” has been done. He has a hard time understanding that sometimes, when I am sitting on the balcony with coffee/wine/beer in hand (depending on the weather and time of day) and seemingly staring into nothingness (which is hard to do when you live in a lego kinda world,  surrounded by apartment buildings and 50 other balconies overlooking the same alleyway), I am actually doing the hardest part of my work – the thinking part. The part where you talk to yourself in your head, contemplating paths of inquiry, potential literature to support or tear down your ideas, possible methods and case studies…this is the part – for me – where it all comes together. By the time I am at my desk, I am ‘ready’ to write. Not as much “thinking” as going through the process at this point. Admittedly, this thinking process doesn’t always pan out – especially when I am working with an imposed framework and timeline (comprehensive exams, funding reports, conference deadlines, etc.). You can’t rush the thinking – it is just something you have to work through (at least for me).

That being said – I guess it’s time to put some of those thoughts on paper – to materialize some of these ideas, and to validate the hours of ‘thinking’.


3 thoughts on “Thinking: The Hidden Work

  1. Hi Kelly – I follow your blog and think it seems like you are doing a LOT of hard work on your PhD (and I’m looking forward to finding out what will come out of it)!

    If writing research is creative writing, then remember: “… imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering”. Quote from my new hero, Brenda Ueland (“If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit”, 1938) 😀

    Greetings from a fellow PhD student in Denmark

  2. Hi! Nice to see you post! Thank you for the words of encouragement, they do help =)
    I remember meeting at AoIR in Vancouver. How are things shaping up with your research? Are you planning on going to DiGRA this fall?

  3. I am hoping to go to DiGRA in September, yes, as part of a panel. If I can get the abstract right… Would be great to see you there!

    My PhD is going well. It seems we have a very different system here than what I can read from your blog – basically PhDs are three years, of which one half year is spent on teaching (and other work for the department), another half year on courses, workshops etc. and then the remaining time is spent on the dissertation. So there are no additional exams etc. I still have two years left, and right now I’m working on an outline for the ACTUAL dissertation – not easy, but it helps focusing… I’m looking especially at narratives in online gaming forums, using Ricoeur as my theoretical outset 🙂

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