to your proposal should not be taken lightly. You've got to do it some time so you might as well get on with it and do it now. Don't forget, if you embarrass yourself at the defense you will also be embarrassing your dissertation director. (note: Periodically I receive requests for information on how to prepare a "thesis statement" rather than actually writing a thesis/dissertation. Don't be defensive at your defense (this sounds confusing!). No matter how nervous you are you can always let the wall charts guide YOU through your presentation. Do it in conjunction with your adviser.
If guests are present at the defense, this form of presentation helps them also follow along and understand exactly what was accomplished through the research. To be able to work at your writing in large blocks of time without interruptions is something really important. Examine their use of headings, overall style, typeface and organization. A most helpful perspective! Assuming that there are six major phases that you will have during your research project, probably the best time to get the most from a leave of absence is during the fourth stage* - the writing stage. Now this idea, at first thought, may not seem to make sense. Oh, I almost forgot. Does the student seem relaxed? A word of caution - those students who tend to have a problem in coming up with a viable proposal often are the ones that have tried to rush through the "thinking about it" part and move too quickly to trying to write the proposal.