Sometimes Writing Means Un-Writing | Trimming the Fat in My Dissertation Rough Draft

I have spent the past few weeks on a writing sabbatical from the church to work on my dissertation. Some of the time has been writing new material. Some of the time has been cutting and pasting things I’ve written over the past three years for various papers or in my comprehensive exams and seeing if they fit into my dissertation. I reached a point at the beginning of the week where I realized that I was creating a monster. I was trying to do everything and say everything. My research is an interdisciplinary study, so it covers a vast amount of material. The greatest danger of this type of thing is that it can be a mile wide and an inch deep–academically speaking.

I had this big idea to take each phrase of my question and make it a frame. I had:

  1. Frames on July 27The Word of God Frame
  2. The Missional Frame
  3. The Creative Frame
  4. The Adult Learning Frame
  5. The Trinity Frame
  6. The Leadership Frame
  7. The Praxis Frame
  8. The Spiritual Formation Frame
  9. The Suburban Frame
  10. The Lutheran Frame
  11. The Congregational Frame

Wow! That’s a lot of frames. I started writing and, at page 123, I had only gotten through the Adult Learning Frame. My Introduction is 43 pages long and the first four frames were over eighty pages. At that rate I was going to have a 300 page document, just to explain the background for why and how I was approaching the project the way I was doing it.

Here’s the thing I realized. I hadn’t even attended to the actual research yet. Oh yeah, right! This is a research project, not a textbook on all these topics. I’m not trying to explain these disciplines to a first year student. The Framing the Question section is simply designed to inform the readers where I am located in the conversation as I approach the data from the research. The assumption is that the readers are familiar with the discipline, duh. I think I was keeping my non-academic readers too much in mind in my approach to the writing. (I have this idealistic notion that people in the research team, and other people who aren’t “academic”, will actually read this. Crazy, right?)

trimfatSo, I put the brakes on and got out my fat-cutting knife. I hacked away at all the excess and came up with this. Now I have five frames:

  1. The Postfoundational Frame
  2. The Missional Frame
  3. The Trinity Frame
  4. The Spiritual Formation Frame
  5. The Suburban Frame

I haven’t revisited the Introduction, yet, so it is still 43 pages long (that will probably need to be trimmed as well). Now, as of yesterday, I wrote the first four frames and they brought the total document to 84 pages (including the Introduction). That is some significant trimming! Today I will try to write the Suburban Frame and let the rough draft rest for a while.

(BTW–geek moment–I absolutely love Scrivener!!! It is an amazing tool for writing of any kind. I would highly recommend it!)

Next week is my last week of sabbatical. My goal for next week is to get my NVivo program fully functional and begin really dwelling in the Phase One data. The research project isn’t finished until November, so the real writing of this dissertation can’t happen until December and January. I realize that I won’t actually use much of what I have written this summer, but the learning that has taken place during the process is invaluable. Going through this rigorous process of writing and un-writing will allow me to enter into the fall of full-blown ministry at church with much more mental RAM available to me and to those people I serve. For that I am grateful to God and to the church for letting me have this space.