Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Diary of a PhD Student: Draft Three. It still isn't over.

We are, after much feet-dragging and time-wasting on my part, officially in third draft territory...


And even though it’s 12:24pm and I just answered the front door, still wearing my pyjamas with, as it turns out, one or two ink-stains around my mouth from anxiously chewing at my scribble-pen so much, I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. Although I can see why that opening description might make you think otherwise – and I can fully understand the postman’s, ‘Oh,’ when he looked up and saw me. For a second I thought I should probably explain myself but I landed torn between, ‘Sorry, I’m doing a PhD,’ and, ‘Sorry, I’m having a minor breakdown,’ because the two things feel somewhat synonymous at the moment. Instead, I opted for a, ‘Thanks, have a good day,’ which seemed just about normal enough to redeem me from my tartan attire.

So here we are, third draft territory. It’s not a bad place, really. In fact much of my time here is made up of drinking tea, eating crumpets, and wondering why the edit feels okay this time. When I started thinking about third draft issues, you see, I went back to the drawing board – literally – and worked up some monster timelines for the book.

Timeline One: The whole book, chapter by chapter, including a one-sentence synopsis of all chapters present.

Timeline Two: The chapters that feature a certain couple of characters – because their sub-plot needs to be refined in this draft – including a single-sentence synopsis for the chapter as a whole and between three and five bullet points for what needs to be fixed in that chapter.

And...

Timeline Three: The chapters that feature a certain quality that my protagonist has – I can’t be more specific, please accept my apologies – including, again, a single-sentence synopsis for the chapter as a whole and, again, between three and five bullet points detailing what needs to be addressed.

These timelines sit neatly alongside the mass annotations that my supervisor provided and the ones that I have also added to the manuscript since it was returned to me some weeks ago.

Admittedly, some chapters are taking much more work than others; their content is tricky, they’re very closely tied with other chapters, which causes continuity issues all over the shop as soon as a couple of minor changes are made, and I’m left wondering whether I’ve actually ironed out the issue or whether I’ve just tweaked the writing a bit. And, with that last concern rattling around with some enthusiasm this morning, I took a big step back and reminded myself of something: This is the third draft.

Don’t worry, I’m not so out of touch with my surroundings that I can’t even work out which draft I’m on these days. What I mean is – the writing should be okay. It should be polished and it should be in better shape and the edits should be slightly more manageable chiefly because this book is better than the last version of it that I edited, and secondly because I literally have lists of what needs to be done to make this book better – there is no, ‘What should I be doing?’ but rather a whole load of, ‘Let’s do that and swap this and fatten that out slightly.’

For someone who is still in her pyjamas at the time of writing this, I feel like I sort of know what I’m doing (wow, that nearly sounded confident). There will be days, God knows there will be days, when the book is beating me down – but after a couple of weeks of feeling like it’s beating me down (which is, as most people who know me can verify, the first part of my editing process) I feel like I have tentatively turned the corner into a new space, again.

I am deeply concerned that I am not making enough changes, yes; that the sub-plots are still not polished enough, perhaps, and that the relationships these characters share may still not be as clear as I need them to be. But I am also trying to remind myself that this is an okay book with an okay plot, and that I don’t need to move the earth or make a deal with the Devil to make the third draft work – that was the for the second draft – but rather, I need to follow my gut, spend a little more time with my characters, and make sure that they sit comfortably inside this plot that I’ve put together for them – because they are, after all, going to spend the rest of their fictional lives there.

Right now I’m editing Timeline Two. I have a checklist of chapters to get through and, moving through them at a three-a-day pace, I’ve landed myself with four chapters left (for tomorrow afternoon, all being well), and then I will repeat this process for Timeline Three. After that I’m going to back it up and put it away for a week before doing a general sweep edit across the whole thing, and then I’ll be packing it off to someone and returning to my critical work just in time for the new year – or maybe even Christmas, if I’m (un)lucky. That’s probably the time when the next wave of panic will kick in, but until then, if you need me, I’ll be drinking tea and eating crumpets with draft three...

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