Writing Dissertation Fifteen Minutes

  • "Fifteen minutes!" you say. "That's too good to be true!" Okay, author Joan Bolker admits she gave her book the title Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day to get the reader's attention. And she admits that it's unlikely you'll actually finish a dissertation at that speed. As she tells her clients, however, a mere 15 minutes is much better than no writing at all when they're stuck. As a clinical psychologist who cofounded the Harvard Writing Center, Bolker has helped hundreds of writers complete their dissertations. She offers suggestions on how to create a writing addiction so that you feel incomplete if you don't write every day and stresses the need to set reasonable goals and deadlines for yourself to keep from getting discouraged. She also offers strategies for dealing with both internal and external distractions and for fending off writer's block. Even more important is the advice on some of the more awkward issues related to dissertation writing, such as how to choose your adviser carefully. (For example, when faced with the tradeoff between a famous advisor who is inaccessible and a less famous advisor who is willing to make time for you, Bolker advises, "If choosing a politically advantageous, famous advisor makes it unlikely that you'll complete your degree, it's clearly not worth it.") The book even includes a helpful appendix for advisers that could become the basis for an honest discussion of what student and adviser can expect from each other. Throughout this excellent book, Bolker acts as a therapist, cheerleader, and drill sergeant, all rolled into one.

    While some of the book's advice is of interest only to dissertation writers, much of the information--on battling writer's block, for instance--is valuable to anybody engaged in writing. Rather than being filled with rules defining how to become a great writer, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day is about finding the process by which you can be the most productive--it's a set of exercises that you can use to find out more about you and the way you write. Along the way, you'll do a bit of writing. And that's what matters, especially when you experience writer's block--as Bolker says, "Write anything, because writing is writing." With its helpful advice and supportive tone, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day should be required reading for anyone considering writing a dissertation.

    - C.B. Delaney (Amazon.com)

  • "Sometimes writing a dissertation is a bit like having a serious, but not mortal, illness," writes Joan Bolker in Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day . "It takes enormous energy to sustain life [and] you have to take very good care of yourself so you don't collapse." Bolker, a psychologist who specializes in helping blocked writers (she's worked with thousands of students), is just the soul to sooth the frenzied thesis writer. Despite her book's title, Bolker doesn't really promise that you'll complete your dissertation in a mere 15 minutes a day; but her approach involves writing for at least 15 minutes every single day (beginning even before you've settled on a thesis topic) and setting realistic, achievable goals. The writing process she proposes comes in two parts: "A first, 'cooking,' making-a-mess-part; and a second, compulsive, clean-up-the-mess part." The more revising you have to do, the better. "You can't usually write a decent dissertation," she says, "without doing at least as much work revising as you did composing your original draft."

    In addition to her fine writing advice, which is equally applicable to students in the sciences and the humanities (as well as to writers not trying to complete a thesis), Bolker also offers counsel on the politics of choosing a topic, an advisor, and a thesis committee; communicating with your advisor; and setting up a thesis support group. Her final chapter is addressed to thesis advisors. "The fundamental principle of dealing with students in the midst of their dissertations," she reminds them, "is to assume paranoia"--a paranoia that Bolker, who worked on two dissertations of her own (but completed only one), knows all too well. "I used to put a copy of my dissertation in the freezer, in a waterproof Ziploc bag, before I left my house overnight--in case of fire or burglary."

    -Jane Steinberg (Amazon.com)

  • This book helped me finish my dissertation quickly
    This book was extremely helpful. I bought this book about 9 months ago when I had only 2 chapters of my doctoral dissertation done. Now I am done with my dissertation (500 pages!) and about to graduate with a Ph.D. in anthropology. The tips and suggestions in this book were fantastic, and the tone of the book is very positive, unlike other dissertation-writing books I've read. Whenever I didn't feel like writing, I would go to Joan Bolker's book, and usually within a few minutes of reading, I would find something that would inspire me to write again. I would recommend this book to anyone trying to complete a writing project of any kind.

    - Cassandra White from New Orleans, LA, April 20, 2001

  • Best book on academic writing I've found.
    Joan Bolker's book is a must for any doctoral student. Her advice on the writing process is direct and practical and tremendously useful for anyone involved in any writing project. It is easy to see yourself in her pages--pay close attention to the reasons why you can't find time to write! Buy it for yourself or as a gift of encouragement for any beleaguered doctoral student.

    - Maureen Lawlor from Boston, Massachusetts , October 19, 1998

  • What every doctoral candidate needs!
    As a Ph.D. student, I had been searching for this kind of book to guide me in the most daunting portion of the doctoral program--the completion of a doctoral dissertation. Bolker's sensible approach helps assuage the pain and the fear of the unknown. The title itself gives you the real key to writing a great dissertation: finish one or two pages a day, and in six months to a year you can have a 365-page thesis completed. Do yourself a favor: while taking your dissertation-proposal class, read this book and share it with your fellow candidates.

    - Randall Burks from Florida, 07/19/98

  • Practical and Inspiring.
    In the last few weeks I have been spending more time reading about writing a dissertation than actually writing one. Bolker's book broke it down in simple steps and clearly articulated the fears and struggles we face as writers. I laughed several times as I saw myself in her observations and started writing as soon as I put the book down.

    - D. Reece King from New York City, 08/01/98
  • Compelling advice that is on-the-nose for procrastinators.
    Ms. Bolker knows every trick in the book that procrastinators use to put off the inevitable. She jumps in at the beginning to help the thesis student make the best decisions for winnowing a topic, choosing an advisor, setting up a daily writing schedule, to chuggg ing along on draft five, or heading toward defense. One of her pithy reminders is, "Always park on the downhill slope". By this, she means stop today with an easy to find starting point for tomorrow. Ms. Bolker is kind, understanding, and forgiving. Her advice goes beyond the post-modern "Just Do It". She gives you the plan, the tools, the prodding (even ideas for self-rewards) for getting it done.

    - A reader from New Albany, IN , January 23, 1999
  • Makes the completion of your dissertation a realistic goal!
    As someone who works privately with students, helping them with dissertations, I highly recommend this book. Many of my clients feel overwhelmed by the dissertation process, and this book makes them feel that the completion of their dissertation is well within their reach. This book contains the kind of no-nonsense, practical information that students crave. It helps to keep my clients calm while I walk them through the dissertation process. I wish I had read this book when I did my own dissertation.

    - Sharon Bear (BearWrite@AOL.com) from Los Angeles, California , April 12, 1999
  • If you feel you can't make it, this is a book for you!
    I nearly gave up my PhD thesis proposal until I read this book. The author has taught me to appreciate my own work even if it doesn't sound too good to some people. Get motivated if you feel like I did.

    - ISHAK B ABD HAMID from Malaysia, March 27, 2000
  • Invaluable aid to getting started on the writing itself
    This is the only book I've found that helps you formulate and shape your ideas for your dissertation. It's about the thinking, writing and editing process, rather than about organising notes and library skills, and for that reason I've found this to be the best book around on writing a dissertation.

    - A reader from Singapore, March 7, 2000
  • Solid advice about WRITING
    I teach writing, yet I am having a horrible time finishing my dissertation. This book helped me recognize what I know about writing--with the exception of "park on the downhill slope," every bit of advice given in this book is advice I have given my own first-year students, students I tutor in the writing center, and other graduate students. I *know* it's good counsel because I've seen it work! I guess I just needed to hear it from an expert, but now that I have I'm tearing through these last chapters, confidently (most of the time). Don't expect a start-to-finish how-to guide for completing a dissertation, this is about WRITING it.

    - Nikki Senecal from Los Angeles, CA, May 1, 2000
  • Solid advice about WRITING
    Writing One Day at a Time

    I am in the middle of writing my masters and this book was perfect for overcoming my writers block. I can't thank the author enough for helping me through this anxiety. My favorite quote is from her daughter about focusing on "Writing One Day at a Time." This book seems to be the reverse of alcohols annonymous (where you are trying to give up an addition to drinking alcohol), instead this book seems to be about learning how to become addicted to writing every day.

    Many kudos to the author for a well written book!

    - A reader from Parma, ID, February 7, 2004

  • "Fifteen minutes!" you say. "That's too good to be true!" Okay, author Joan Bolker admits she gave her book the title Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day to get the reader's attention. And she admits that it's unlikely you'll actually finish a dissertation at that speed. As she tells her clients, however, a mere 15 minutes is much better than no writing at all when they're stuck. As a clinical psychologist who cofounded the Harvard Writing Center, Bolker has helped hundreds of writers complete their dissertations. She offers suggestions on how to create a writing addiction so that you feel incomplete if you don't write every day and stresses the need to set reasonable goals and deadlines for yourself to keep from getting discouraged. She also offers strategies for dealing with both internal and external distractions and for fending off writer's block. Even more important is the advice on some of the more awkward issues related to dissertation writing, such as how to choose your adviser carefully. (For example, when faced with the tradeoff between a famous advisor who is inaccessible and a less famous advisor who is willing to make time for you, Bolker advises, "If choosing a politically advantageous, famous advisor makes it unlikely that you'll complete your degree, it's clearly not worth it.") The book even includes a helpful appendix for advisers that could become the basis for an honest discussion of what student and adviser can expect from each other. Throughout this excellent book, Bolker acts as a therapist, cheerleader, and drill sergeant, all rolled into one.

    While some of the book's advice is of interest only to dissertation writers, much of the information--on battling writer's block, for instance--is valuable to anybody engaged in writing. Rather than being filled with rules defining how to become a great writer, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day is about finding the process by which you can be the most productive--it's a set of exercises that you can use to find out more about you and the way you write. Along the way, you'll do a bit of writing. And that's what matters, especially when you experience writer's block--as Bolker says, "Write anything, because writing is writing." With its helpful advice and supportive tone, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day should be required reading for anyone considering writing a dissertation. --C.B. Delaney

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