By now you should be really good at using your calendar everyday to help you know what needs to happen. It should be full of all of your commitments; classes, conferences, planning time, working time, meetings, concerts, birthday parties, etc… It is all in there.
Now you need to set deadlines for writing your chapters in your calendar. You need to create a plan of attack that allows you the comfort of knowing that you will get to everything, but can only focus on one thing at a time.
Setting your Final Deadline
The best way to go about this is to work backward from the end. To do this, you need to look up a couple key dates first. Go to the Grad School’s website and find out all the dates related to Graduation and Thesis for the Semester you plan to graduate. Get those on your calendar.
There are two dates in particular you want to know, the date your defense has to happen by, then the date your final document needs to be submitted electronically to OHIOlink. They are generally about a week apart (except for Fall semester, when they are two weeks apart due to Thanksgiving). This is not enough time! I suggest that you nail down your defense date at least 4 weeks before your thesis is due. This gives you time for editing, revisions and formatting. The worst that happens is you get everything done early and beat the rush of all those other grad students who are not as smart as you and waited until the last minute.
Also at the grad school site are a few fact sheets about graduation and submitting your thesis. They have to-do lists about the paperwork needed and other helpful info. Throw those in your Evernote Thesis Admin folder so you have them when you get closer.
Preparing your Defense Presentation
Now, working back from your defense date, give yourself at least 2 weeks for preparing your defense presentation. We are now 6 weeks before the Electronic Thesis Due date. This is the date that you want to have all of your content finished. All of your chapters want to be through their rounds of revisions and have little left to do but some final formatting. This is the date that you want to put into Scrivener as your draft deadline.
Setting your Chapter Deadlines
This is where the planning gets a little fuzzier, because there are a lot of factors to think about here.
Thesis writing in not a linear process.
There is no law that states you much write Chapter 1, then 2, then 3, and so on… In fact, I would suggest that you do not even attempt to write them in order. Obviously some chapters have to be written before others; it is very difficult to write your Synthesis Chapters if you have not analyzed and made sense of your research results. Taking into account dependencies, plan to write your chapters in whatever order you feel will be easiest. I started with Chapter 4, which was all of my research methodology and preliminary research. Why? Because it seemed the easiest. 80% of the content had already been written, either for my IRB proposal or for various other smaller papers. All I had to do was dump it into Scrivener and flush it out with sentences for bullet points, paragraphs for connecting ideas and structure the content a bit more. Easy pease. Knocked that chapter out in under a week I think.
I will also suggest that Chapter 1 should be the last chapter you write. Seems counter-intuitive since the chapter is so short and straight forward, I know. Nearly every person I have spoke with on this subject though has stated that they ended up having to completely rewrite large portions of their first chapter later because the things they discovered and contributed in their final chapters were not the things they thought they would be when they first wrote the first chapter. My experience also mirrored this sentiment. You now know this and you will only write some guiding bullet-points as needed for chapter 1 and wait until the end to really complete this.
So pick an order to write the chapters based first on how easy you think they will be to accomplish, and then on any dependencies that might be present in the content.
This is the order I completed my chapters, in case you look over my thesis. 4, 2, 5, 6, 7, 3, 1.
Determine how long you need to write each chapter.
This is a place where setting those word goals and deadline in Scrivener can help you. If you are honest about how many days per week you can devote to writing, then scrivener gave you a good estimate for how many words per session you need to write to accomplish your goal. Take words per session x days per week to get words per week. Divide your words per chapter goal by this number. Round that number UP to the nearest whole number and you have the approximate weeks needed to write your shitty first draft. Write these number down, preferably in a note in Evernote so that you can find them again if needed.
Using the numbers I have been citing thus far, I had determined that I needed Chapter 3 to be about 3ooo words and that if I wrote 3 times per week, then I had to write 152 words per session to meet my final goal on time.
152 words X 3 days per week = 456 words per week
3000 words in Chapter 3 / 456 words per week = about 6.6 weeks
Round that up to a whole number, 7 weeks should be planned to get me to the shitty first draft of Chapter 3.
From First Draft to a Polished Final Draft.
Do you need to give your draft to an editor of some sort? What is their turn around time? Do you only need to give it to your main advisor, or does every member of your committee want to sign off on every round of revision? How much time does that take? How strong of a writer are you? Personally, I am a pretty strong writer, so most of my chapters only had a few versions before they were final (Fragments Towards First Draft, First Draft, Revised Draft, Final). Some of my peers had upwards of 6-10 rounds of revisions on chapters though. You have to figure this stuff out about yourself as well. Even if you think you are a strong writer, find out if your advisors agree. It is easier than you think to get this far in life without anyone being honest with you about your writing abilities. These factors all need to be considered and will be unique to your skills and situation.
Now there is no reason that some of these things can’t overlap. While an editor or advisor is reading and commenting on one chapter, you can be working on the next one. But you still need to account for these things so that you can plan for when you might be writing one chapter while revising another. Once you do these calculations for each of your chapters, you will have estimates on a lot of writing milestones. Start working backward from two weeks prior to your defense and penciling in these dates on your calendar.
You should systematically think about each chapter in your outline. Here is the narrative that went through my head as I was planning each chapter:
I need the final draft of chapter X done by this date, so I need it back from my advisor a week before that, so my advisor needs it a week before that, so I need two days before that for revisions from the editor, so the editor needs it five days before that, so I need the shitty first draft to ship to the editor by this date, so I estimate three weeks to write that draft, so I need to start it by this date.
Put all these in your calendar, once again working backwards, overlapping chapters as needed when they are in other hands. Now you will know that absolute latest date you can comfortably wait until for beginning your writing process. If you feel comfortable starting writing before then, awesome! All the better. But if shit hits the fan, you can get through it knowing that this date is still x weeks in the future and you are not behind schedule yet.
As I worked out these dates, I put them into my calendar as “all day” events that would last over the duration of the time involved. Here is another reason that using a digital calendar is preferable to an analogue calendar. By doing this I ended up with these long bars that ran across days and weeks that allowed me to easily see where my primary focus was at any given time, but also allowed me to flexibly track where various parts were when they were not in my hands. If I had to move something, for example because my advisor would be out of town for a conference, then I could easily push various time bars to accommodate it. “Oh, you are not available that week? No problem. How about I just give it to you the next week then and I will just keep chugging along on the next chapter while you are gone.” This part of my calendar looked something like this. As you can see in the image below, it was not on common for me to take a week off of one chapters first draft to put the final touches on another chapter.
Now your calendar is ready to tell you what you need to be focusing on each week and it helps you keep track of the parts of your thesis that are in others hands. You can keep making progress while you know progress is being made on other chapters and there is no reason to push your editor’s time lines. That stated, you have an easy way to check in with others when it seems like they may have missed their deadlines, or just know when you expect something back.