Saturday, December 15, 2012


An opening can...

let in the light
    get your foot in the door    
    herald the beginning of an amazing event
    allow for things to be fixed
    bring new learning
    create a new path
    surprise you
    require strength
    reveal a beautiful gift


...and as I learned today, provide an outline for your comprehensive exams!

While having lunch with a friend I expressed my current struggle with writing my responses to my comprehensive exam questions. All three questions are based on my dissertation by focusing on my theoretical framework, review of relevant literature, and making an argument for the method I've chosen. I've been married to my dissertation idea for about two years. I've written several papers, analytic memos, and musings that are sure to find their way into my responses. But  I've been struggling with how they may all fit together and what is worth keeping and what needs to be weeded out.

My friend asked me a simple question: "Do you have an outline?" I immediately responded, "Of course not!" I think this surprised her, and by her surprise, I began to wonder why I didn't have an outline. I've never started writing with an outline and I wasn't sure why. Yet, my writing usually ends up with a clear organizational path with connecting transitions, which at least to me, seems logical :). This caused me to reflect on this part of my writing process. How did I move from globs or morsels of thought to a whole piece?

I began to think about times I've been required to turn in an outline before a draft of a paper and I realized I always had to write the opening to my paper before I could write the outline to turn in. I then realized why I was struggling with my responses to my comprehensive exam questions. I was treating each of them separately when they are intrinsically tied together. I needed to approach all three as a single whole and in order to do that, I had to write an opening!

I could barely wait to wake up this morning to get a start! The hardest part is always the first few sentences. Much has been written about how authors craft gripping openings. Just look at a few of my favorites from a list of best opening lines from novels as compiled by the editors of American Book Review:
  • "Call me Ishamael" ~ Herman Melville in Moby Dick
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" ~ Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice
  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair" ~ Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities
By no means do I expect the opening to my academic paper to rival the words of Melville, Dickens, or Austen. However, I do feel a bit of the same pressure those authors might have felt. I want my opening to create some level of interest in my readers to read on. Fortunately, today it came quickly :) With my first two sentences on the computer screen, I began to work like a swallow--zig-zagging back and forth in unpredictable patterns between previous written texts, new connecting ideas, and new searches on the library database for articles. Four hours later, I've written 955 words from which I now have an outline for the entire paper, which encompasses all three exam questions!

Voila! I now have a foot in the door, a beautiful gift, a bit of light, a beginning to this amazing event of a dissertation, and a clear path. Things have been fixed (for now) and I feel nourished and excited about the new learning that lay before me. I know it will take great strength along the way over the next year, but I'm excited about the surprises I might find along the way. 

Thank goodness for openings!