Me vs. My Undergraduate Thesis: The Fatal Flaw



writing struggles

(Side note: Does anyone else feel like in the above picture, the teddy bear is about to get rocked by that monster? Just absolutely destroyed? Yeah, I felt the same way when I faced my undergrad thesis. Read on.)

So imagine  that you’re working on a long writing project. You’ve done months of research. You are more than 3/4 done writing it and it’s due in three days. Then, you just… get… stuck. You go back. You re-write the section. You re-frame the statements and try to re-direct your ideas. Then, you get stuck again, on the same issue, in the same place. There’s just no way to work around it. Mind you, this isn’t some minor point in your argument, it’s basically the crux of it, so if you take it out you’re paper is sort of dead in the water.  Your project has a fatal flaw which quickly threatens to take the whole thing down. Scary, right? Now imagine it’s your final thesis project and you can’t graduate unless you get a B+ or higher. In your mind, are you panicking? Do you feel a bit like you, too, are fighting a terror-beast with a wooden sword? Well this is exactly what happened to me my last year of undergrad and let me tell you, I consider that teddy bear up there in a slightly more advantageous position than I was. Gather round children and I will tell you the tale of how I overcame the monster, saved my thesis, and graduated on time (dramatic guitar chord plays)…

I won’t get into the details of the project itself. Suffice to say that it had to do with eighteenth-century literature, the origins of the English novel, female heroines, etc, etc, you’re already bored. At the time, however, I believed in this project. I dedicated more time and energy to it than I probably had to anything else I had as a college student.I wanted it to be awesome, like anything a person puts their all into.

I had pretty free range from my thesis adviser when I started the project in the fall. He did, however, give me one stern warning: DO NOT DEPEND ON IDEAS OF MORALITY TO MAKE YOUR ARGUMENT!!! I, the sweet untrained acolyte that I was, assured him that I would never stray down that unseemly path. Armed with my laptop and a stack of theory and secondary sources, I skipped off, prepared to write the best piece of critical writing ever undertaken by an undergraduate. I had no idea of the perils that lay in store for me.

Flash forward about eight months: it’s nearing the end of the spring semester, and I’m sitting in front of my computer. I’m almost there. My thesis is literally almost done. It’s just this one part that refuse to hang together. I’ve tried over and over to make it work, but it’s dawning on me that in essence, even if I never said it out loud, my argument about the novels I’m analyzing are based on moralizing the heroine’s position. I look at the page count: 23 pages. If I take this section out, I will essentially lose all of my work thus far. I’m on the verge of tears because plain and simple, I’ve written myself into a corner. I’m desperately trying to think of a way out of completing the project. Perhaps if I go to the English department and claim that I actually can’t read, they would just pass me out of pity. I was too scared to go to my adviser at this point and tell him that I had done exactly what he told me not to. My own foolhardy actions had created this monstrosity and I would have to over come it myself.

So how did I do? How did I smite this particular writing monster? I admitted to myself I messed up and would have to re-think my project. I took a deep breath, had a good long cry, and went back to the beginning (Despite popular belief, every once in a while crying does help). I came up with a new, related, and overall better argument. I combed over each and every page I had written and just eliminated what I couldn’t make fit. While I didn’t exactly start  from the beginning, I actually ended up junking 12 of my 23 pages. For 72 continuous hours, I read new theory and secondary sources and wrote and re-wrote non-stop. When I got to the end, I was just over the page minimum for the thesis project. I wasn’t sure that it was as good as I wanted it to be, but I printed it out and handed it in. I was over, I was done. As I walked out of the building that housed the English department, it started hailing, big, tic-tac sized piece of ice. Not a good sign, but I went home.

My thesis was accepted.  I got an A on it and ended up graduating with honors. While I’m not saying I did everything right in this particular situation, I learned some pretty valuable writing lessons. If you find a flaw in your writing that you can’t get around, it’s not the end of the world. You have to be willing to take a step back and re-evaluate. You have to be willing to push forward when things look awful and see it through to the end. Sometimes the biggest problems you encounter in writing are of your own making, even if you have been warned to avoid them. If that is the case, you have to turn around and face it. You might feel have nothing left, that you just can’t write anymore and should just give up. But every now and again, if you just keep going, fighting on with your tiny wooden sword, you might just come out on top of that writing struggle.

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1 Comment »

  • Vanessa says:

    This is a great story! I… can’t even imagine what I would do if I were in that position. Especially when I was an undergrad. That monster-alien thing totally would have eaten me alive.


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