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The Diary of a PhD Student: From one extreme to the other!

Some basic facts...
  • The creative element of my PhD thesis needs to be 80,000 words.
  • The first draft of my creative element was just over 94,000 words.
  • The advice that followed this was, naturally, to be harsh on myself with line edits and general edits that would shape the second draft of the manuscript, and would subsequently lower the word count of the book as a whole.

And the final fun fact...
  • My second draft is now 18,500 words shy of the length that it needs to be.

I have simultaneously taken one step forward and nearly 20,000 steps back and so I’m doing the only logical thing I can think to do at this stage – I’m walking away. Hands flat and raised, panic at a steady rise, I have ‘finished’ the first round of the second draft of my manuscript and I am backing away slowly, for at least a week, maybe even longer. So for anyone who follows me on one social media channel or another, if you see anything to suggest that I’m tinkering with that damn book again, you have full permission to slap the manuscript from my hands and have a stern word with me, because I’ll probably need/deserve/appreciate it. 

To clarify! I’m all too aware that this is part of the process. We write and we cut and we lather, rinse, repeat that process until the book is a completely different book to the one we started with and – see, I know this as well – we are often left with a better book at the end of this. My second draft, despite being horrendously short on the old word count front, is already a more polished product – significantly so, I would say – than my first draft was, and so even though there is still some distance left to travel, I at least know that I’m making the journey in a better car... Or something to that effect. 

Part way between a grumble and a panic, I hoped that when I actually typed these thoughts and feelings out they may manifest as something remotely useful to other people. I suppose, in a last ditch effort to tick that box, I’ll share an anecdote with you.

My supervisor – God-like creative writing mentor that that man is (apologies if you’re reading this and now feeling wildly uncomfortable) – once saw me take a hit on some feedback. It was a group session and I got the most mixed reaction from my peers that I think I’d had up to that point and so, blinded by panic, I stayed behind to have a quiet word with my supervisor...

‘Should I be panicking?’ I said.

‘Why, are you?’

‘A little.’

He sighed.

‘Sit down, we’ll talk.’

I sat. He talked.

‘You’re having an emotional reaction to the feedback right now.’

I remember being irked by this, which is perhaps evidence in favour of exactly how emotional I was actually being about it all at the time.

‘What you need is to let this simmer, sleep on it, and come back to it minus the emotion.’

Since this conversation, I have lost track of the amount of times I have used the phrase, ‘I’m just having an emotional reaction to this, that’s all.’ And nine times out of ten, when the emotion settles and I’m left with cold hard logic, I manage to pull things around – on the occasions when I don’t, though, my supervisor usually gets a panicked email and then we pull things around together. 

And so while my second draft is significantly shorter than I hoped it would be, and while shorter, in this instance, translates to nearly 20,000 words shy, I am very aware that this surge that I’m feeling – this blind, raging, undying sense of dread and panic in the face of the above facts – is just an emotional reaction. Logically, though, I already know that I’ll be fine. Logically, I’ll find those words and more, and in six months time I’ll be writing a blog post about what an indisputable nightmare it is to be cutting down my word count – again. Logically, I will respond and remedy this problem.

 But – also logically – I know I won’t do that this week. And that’s alright. 


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