The Psychology of writing a Dissertation.

A few weeks ago I submitted my undergraduate dissertation. My friend Amelia and I planned the day meticulously so that we could experience the sheer joy and freedom together. Despite some minor errors with the printer (that resulted in us having around 7 unwanted copies of Amelia’s dissertation) we had the sweetest day and a fabulous cocktail evening. But after letting the dust settle, and after some contemplation, I’ve realised how mixed my feelings are about having completed this massive piece of work.

Obviously there is an immense amount of relief, I have been working on this piece for over a year and it has not been without its stresses. I distinctly remember writing the first chapter and feeling utterly lost and terrified at the prospect. I had no notion of how to bring my research together or form a coherent narrative. Likewise I’ll never forget sitting in my kitchen at home, almost tearing my hair out trying to re-work the last draft. My dad came into the room looking very concerned, asking if I was okay and I just put my head in my hands and shouted “It’s all shit, it is all … UTTER … SHIT!” Obviously that was just a (completely unusual) moment of dramatic flair on my part but still. Writing something, something good, for that long is hard, and it can drive you a little insane. And I’d like to say I’m not going to miss those parts; all the long days and frantic quote searching, and bleary eyes from staring at my screen for too long, but the truth is, I am going to miss it.

My dissertation opened me up to a whole new realm of writing. For the first time I was properly using my brain to engage with a source and form new and original ideas. Obviously this isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and it is of course what is expected of you. But what I didn’t realise, was how much I was going to love it. Every time a new Chapter was due, and I could dedicate full days in the library to working on it, I found myself full of excitement. I don’t think I quite knew before how much I loved writing, and how good at it I was. If I was in the right headspace, words would literally pour out of me, all these ideas would dance across the page and when I’d read it back I’d be pleasantly surprised by how good they were.

That’s another thing, my dissertation is really bloody good. I am so proud of it, I think the most proud of anything I’ve ever done. One of my friends made a fair point, that taking dissertation pictures on Campus (as I did) was pointless because we weren’t celebrating a real achievement. We had just submitted a piece of work, like everyone else in our year, as we were expected to. She is in one regard, completely correct, I only adhered to the rules of my degree like everyone else, and my dissertation is nothing special. But on the other hand, to me it is quite literally magnificent and needs to be celebrated loudly and proudly. I think that is the main problem that I am dealing with, no one is ever going to love my dissertation as much as I do.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am quite a narcissistic person. I crave validation, especially academically, which I why I’ve always been such a brilliant teachers pet – I want nothing more than to be liked by those smarter than me. Therefore writing a dissertation has been excruciating for my inner-narcissist because I’ve received very little praise for what I deem to be a groundbreaking piece of working (I’m kidding) (sort of). People have read it and told me that they liked it, my mum, Amelia, my tutor. But no one is really that bothered, no one wants to talk about the in-depth details that I uncovered, the intense point’s I made about the patriarchy and it’s portrayal of suicide. In an essence, they are proud but not that invested.

This is absolutely fine, and I would never expect anymore from my poor family and friends, who are just trying to be supportive. But still it is quite soul destroying. I poured my heart into 12,000 words and I loved doing it, and it’ll probably be read twice by two independent examiners, given a mark it deserves and then discarded never to be read again. That seems unworthy, that all my intelligence, all my anger and love and power and intellect is to be forgotten so soon.

I wonder if this is how everyone feels? Am I alone in this strange feeling of loss and deflation after finishing a piece of work or is it a communal feeling? Not just students writing dissertations, but everyone who puts out work that they are overly proud of. Does anyone ever feel truly validated, do people ever appreciate your work more than you do yourselves?

Despite all this, I am so happy I got to write this piece of work. And I am going to keep on writing and writing and writing, praise or no praise. Because I love doing it more than anything else. And I think someday I will write something so extraordinary that people will have to celebrate me like I celebrate myself.

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