Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Diary of a PhD Student: If Ph-Wotsits were easy...

Reader, I have been struggling. I am making literary allusions there – I hope you’ve noticed – although realistically over recent months I have been less Jane Eyre and more mad woman in the attic. 

Don't worry -- I don't really mean that kind of mad. Although, what I have recently done to my research paper is not entirely dissimilar to what Kathy Bates did to that chap's foot in Misery.

The last time I updated this I was at the beginning of my research paper; now, I’m at the end. The end of my first draft, that is – let’s not make it sound more important than it actually is – but it’s a first draft that I didn’t have in February. And it’s a first draft that I have polished, chopped ten pages from in line edits alone, and now booted off to my supervisor so he can tell me all the things I’ve done wrong.

I sound resentful towards him; I’m not. The man is an editorial God and I am grateful for his input. But I am also desperate for the day when he tells me that something – ANYTHING – that I have written is finished.

So, what have you missed? Around 25,000 words. I overshot the word count for my research paper on account of having undershot the word count for my PhD novel – but that’s a boat load of university protocol that I’ll deal with in four months when I actually hand my thesis in. God/supervisor only knows how many times the word counts of each element will change between now and The End.

So, what made me the mad woman in the attic? Life meets PhD, meets life, meets health problems, meets work. Reader, I am – tired. But I am grateful to have a break from the research paper now – even if that break signals me going back to the novel, for what I hope will be a fourth and final draft.

‘It’ll be good for you, I think, to go back to it again,’ said my Supervisor.

Nervous laughter, said I in response.

‘No, really. You’ve been working on the critical, in a research headspace; it will be good for you to do something more creative for a while.’

He’s probably not wrong.

Reality check: When in the history of my PhD has my supervisor actually been wrong about what I need? Honestly, if I am taking anything away from these three years it is that there are times in life when you need to shut up and soak up the knowledge of those infinitely wiser than yourself – which he is, and which I have done, albeit begrudgingly at times.

I haven’t actually looked at the novel yet. But I have taken it out of my desk drawer and looked at the to-do list on the front of it. Which, incidentally, is around double the length that I can actually remember it being. But that’s fine. Totally fine. And I’m not worried. I’m not! Because everyone keeps telling me what a good place I’m in and how I’m closing in on the end and I’m in really good shape and...

It’s hard to believe a goddamn word of it when I’ve got I don’t know how many drafts of my research paper to go, and another draft of a novel that I’ve already redrafted three times still to do.

But I’m doing this thing right now where I try to believe what people tell me...

‘You’re on the homestretch, I hear!’ one lecturer said to me recently. And in the grand scheme of things, I am. Even if the homestretch is a bloody difficult place to be.

‘But if it was easy, Charlotte, everyone would have a Ph-wotsit wouldn’t they?’ said my grandmother. I’m starting to feel a little bit like she says this every time I see her at the moment; which may be because every time I see her she asks how my work is going and every time I say something like: ‘Oh, it’s okay. Hard work, at the moment, but I’m getting there.’

I think when you’re in something for the long-haul – whether it’s writing, or painting, or training for a job that you really want, despite the grunt work you’ll have to do to get there – I think this is exactly what you need to remember: If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I don’t want to start this debate about things we’re inherently inclined towards, or born into – whether I was destined to try to be a writer while my sister was always going to sell her soul to numbers – but whether you’ve always wanted to do something or whether you feel you were born to, the hard work it takes to get there is a testimony, I think, to your ability to do that job, thing, whatever, in the first place.

I know, I’m getting a bit Jerry-Springer-final-thought here, but don’t I always at some point?

Bottom-line: Whatever you’re doing, it’s bloody hard work some days, and you’re allowed to hate it some days – hell, there are days when you’re allowed to flat out say that you’re not even going to bother doing it anymore because rage-quitting is as much a part of the process as all of the other stuff that you’ve got to go through to get there.

I am in alright shape. I’m tired, and I desperately need some time away from my PhD right now. But I have novel to finish and a research paper to redraft – because before I know it, it’ll all be over. And I’ll have done exactly what I set out to do – because I’m on the homestretch, and I’m in alright shape, and if it were easy --

So on, and so forth...

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