I have written a doctoral dissertation that speaks to the development of student writer’s voice in academic writing. The only problem is I forgot to infuse the actual dissertation with MY OWN voice.
As far as “Ah-ha!” moments go, this was a fairly substantial one. And just goes to illustrate how we can so easily forget the crux of our thesis, especially in academic writing.
My Masters thesis was a multi-genred piece of writing that was pretty and artistic and experimental but, as MA thesis can be, somewhat “lite” on critical analysis. So when I began writing my doctoral dissertation I tried to achieve an academic stance and appropriated a voice that I thought would fit. Apart from an opening poem that I wrote, the entire dissertation is written in a rather distracted and disembodied voice. As one of my committee members asked, “Where are YOU in this dissertation?”
And now I am facing the last major round of edits with an excitement that has elluded the writing of this dissertation. The “hard” work for me is done – I have the academese down pat and now I can play with it, make it real, make it relevant. Make it matter to myself. My greatest strength as a writer has always been my voice. The fact that I actually wrote a 200 page document with little to none of myself in it makes me reflect on what my own students are trying to do. So often I tell them, I want to hear what YOU think about this – why is this important to YOU? I could have taught for 20 more years and not understood the struggle so many of them face when trying to find that balance between academic expectations and self in the writing. Until I made the same mistake myself.
And in an odd way I’m not disappointed that the dissertation is not quite finished. I’ve learned so much about writing through this painful proess of creating. And shouldn’t that be the real point of completing a PhD?