Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Diary of a PhD Student: Third draft. No big deal. Totally calm.

I just emailed the third draft of my creative thesis to my primary and secondary supervisors, two friends from my PhD cohort, and I’ve uploaded a draft to my Kindle for my other half to read.

I’ve hit upon the usual feelings that you face when finishing and distributing a new draft, I think. Blind panic, genuine disbelief, and this horrendous, horrendous feeling of waking up in the morning and simply not knowing what to do with my time (the answer, of course, is go back to researching my critical accompaniment, but we’ll just leave a pin in that for now). The drafting process has been troublesome up to this point – as regular readers of these self-indulgent rants will already know – although I have developed a divide and conquer approach to editing that has carried me through with minimal discomfort (or maybe that’s hindsight softening the pain). The third draft, though, well that’s been a different beast altogether.

In turns out that the reason the third draft has been such a pain – not in terms of editing it, but in terms of admitting that it’s finished – is because it’s actually a book now. A living, breathing book that some people might like to read. And I had sort of convinced myself that that wasn’t true at all, until my most recent chat with my primary supervisor (which is, as history shows, when I have my biggest moments of realisation).

Him: We’ll discuss it after Christmas but we can probably leave it and focus on the critical more so for now.
Me: Okay.
Him: How do you feel about the third draft?
Me: Okay, I think. I feel like there’s less to do this time around which is hugely encouraging.
Him: Well, it is a book now. With a plot and characters and all the rest of it; you’re probably just a tidy up away from calling it a day. The fourth draft shouldn’t need much.

My instant thought was that he must be wrong – and the thought of admitting that he wasn’t wrong absolutely terrified me. As I was moving through the third draft I was actually looking for things that I would change in a fourth because – and whether this is writing related or PhD related, I can’t say – I was convinced that this project just wouldn’t be over. I’m a term into my final year, though. Nevermind the project; the PhD is nearly over! And if I think about that for long enough then I’ll give way to an entirely different wave of panic, I know, so let’s not linger. 

The point of this is that the third draft that seemed a hell of a long way off at the start of this year is now here, sitting in people’s inboxes, waiting to be read. It is, all being well, a draft away from being sent out to agents. And for my moans and my grumbles, past and future – because we all know that I am definitely not finished with moaning about this damn thing – I will hand on heart miss this book and this experience.

My second supervisor caught up with me recently – which was a joy because my PhD is in a much better state than it was the last time that I saw her – and she said:

‘Enjoy the next few months, especially with the research, because as a novelist, you’ll never get time like this again. You’re going to read stuff and you’ll realise where your book sits, and it’ll be a great feeling to see this body of work that you’re lining up with.’

And she’s absolutely right.

So yes, writing is the hardest thing ever, and my PhD is probably the biggest emotional/financial/creative investment that I will make in my entire life – but my word, what a blast it's turning out to be. To have this thing – this random, surprising, and eyebrow-raising thing – that I know a fair bit about, and that I rant about, and get passionate about. To have this thing that my little brain is this enthused by. How lucky am I to have that?

Assuming that I pass the PhD, you know, because that might not actually happen. But still!

So while this positivity lasts, I’m going to enjoy my PhD as much as I can. The research panic will hit and I will convince myself over the coming weeks that I have no idea what my critical piece is going to be about – so you can look forward to that panicked post, probably just after the Christmas period – but until then, I’m going to drink a lot of tea, and eat a lot of mince pies, and read a lot of books.

And I'll worry about my research paper when I actually have to start writing it. 

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