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The Diary of a PhD Student: Killing my darlings

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I feel like my plan to blog here throughout writing my PhD book has been completely hijacked by how much time it’s actually taken to write a book… Funny, that. My New Year’s Writing Resolution - one of many, in fact - is to start using this space more to discuss writing in the hope that someone might read it, or better yet, read it and find it interesting/useful/encouraging/anything good.

So, what’s been happening? Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the novel for my PhD. Cue mass chorus of applause and cheering! I finished it a little while ago; so long ago, in fact, that I’ve managed to print the thing and rip it apart with line edits over the Christmas period (which, incidentally, is a near-on heart-breaking challenge that I will never again save for what is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year). In the beginning there were words crossed out, then whole paragraphs were lined through, eventually I was dragging my pen diagonally across the page, and the page after that, and the page after that… And now we’re here.

University kicks off again next week and I have a meeting with my supervisor on the first day to discuss my progress and any concerns that may have arisen over the Christmas break.

Concern Number One: Am I actually cut out for this? I mean, I signed up for writing. What I actually seem to be doing is writing and creating things that I think are lovely, only to then go through it with a completely different head on (namely Charley-the-Editor, rather than Charley-the-Writer) to tell myself, ‘This is terrible, why did we even write this part?’

Back to reality now. It is a concern, yes, but I’d be oh-so-misguided if I genuinely believed that this wasn’t all just part of the process; I’m telling myself this in the begrudging way that I say it to other people when their eyes bulge from their heads on hearing that I’m scrapping whole chapters of the book:

‘You’ve put a line through the whole chapter?’

‘It’s all part of the process.’

If nothing else, this has become my mantra over the last month and a half. Although I say it begrudgingly, and although my eyes too do bulge from their sockets when I find Charley-the-Editor crossing things out again, in a display of what I’m hoping is writer-maturity I do actually believe now that this is all part of the process. The painful, relentless, repetitive, ego-damaging process. (And the next time someone tells me that it’s cute that I’m writing a book, they think they’ve got a novel in them too, or they plan to write a book in the future when they can ‘find the time for that sort of thing’, I’ll probably slap them round the face with this process; consider this an official warning.)

Concern Number Two: Does everyone find it this difficult?

Truthfully, I don’t even think I need my supervisor to answer this one for me. Charley-the-Editor has her head screwed on well enough to give me a firm and definitive ‘Yes’.

I’m in a Killing My Darlings sort of place at the moment. With university on the cusp of kicking off - and with the somewhat troublesome knowledge that I haven’t been brave enough to discuss this first draft with anyone bar my supervisor yet - I’m all too aware that I need a clean draft/a second draft of the manuscript so I can woman-up and start sending it round to people who will rip it apart with a ferocity that Charley-the-Editor doesn’t have. The line edits that I scribbled all over the paper-copy just before Christmas are what I’m working on at the moment and chapter by chapter they’re being typed up, alongside small sections that need to be re-written as I go along (to make sense of the scenes surrounding them if nothing else). The major re-writes, of which there are several, I am saving until the gruelling first edit is done with. When I say saving, what I actually mean is that I’m bribing myself with the promise of more writing after finishing the edit, and for someone who misses writing as they would a limb this is a tremendously useful thing to be working towards. These new chunks that I’m yet to write will likely be written as part of the next draft - whatever draft that will be by then - alongside new concerns, considerations, and changes that will arise as more people read/rip apart the book.

And that’s where we are right now. It sounds like a feasible and concrete plan of action for moving forward, which is an achievement in itself as far as I’m concerned. Whether it actually works out that way remains to be seen; although I do hope to update this a little more frequently than I did last year so whatever cock-ups arise over the coming the weeks, you’ll be sure to hear about them (once I’ve stopped crying on the disarrayed pages of my manuscript). Until then, happy writing.

C x


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