I'm on the home stretch of getting the thesis finished, and every now and then I'm struck by a very clear memory of writing a specific part of it, or of doing some of the research.
This book, for example, will always remind me of the oddest Australia Day I've experienced so far: it was in 2008, and I was on my first research trip to Finland. I read the book in a cafe at the Messila ski slopes near my parents' home, drinking cup after cup of hot chocolate while my husband snowboarded outside. There I was, all comfortably bunkered in to reading about shame and desire, when the radio started playing Land Down Under. It was all so gloriously, incongruously familiar it's stayed with me. I'm sure that in some bizarre way that moment pretty much encapsulated my whole research experience.
I've also been flicking through my notebooks looking at mindmapped plans of my chapters. I always marvel at the fact that when all those coloured marker pens touched paper significant bits of the thesis were only starting to come together. The progression from notes to actual finished thesis has been long and even painful, but somehow those notes make the early days feel much closer and the progress much more precarious.
(Note to self: backup files)
When I first started my thesis I kept a diary about my progress with the plan to eventually turn it into some kind of book about writing a PhD - "if I could do it, so can you!". But then I got embarrassed at how slowly everything was going and how little I felt I was achieving I gave up on that project. As nice as it would be to have a record for the future of my possible successes, I'd rather not leave evidence of my potential failures, I reasoned.
I was an idiot.
If it's not too late for you (is there a too late?), do keep notes of your progress: the little breakthroughs, the periods of stagnation and despair. At the pointy end of the process you do want to be able to look back and know how you got to where you are, but the memories don't take form quite as easily long after the fact.