Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Diary of a PhD Student: 8:20: Cry a little bit.

8:01: Set up laptop and load most recent draft of thesis.

8:04: Boil kettle.

8:05: Make tea.

8:07: Go through hard copy of thesis to remind yourself what you did yesterday, and make a quick check list of what it is that you need to get done today.

8:15: Stare at the wall.

8:20: Cry a little bit.


I see these cool and trendy Instagram posts where people blog their PhD lifestyles and they genuinely make me think that I’m living mine wrong. Okay, the above may have been written for comedic effect – or was it? – but holy smokes, folks, this stuff is hard, and I’m going to have a little weep into my morning cuppa if I need to.

Today’s problem wasn’t really PhD specific though, in the interest of being honest and upfront. In fact, it was something that anyone who has ever written a book will be familiar with.

I had a poor night’s sleep – the third on the trot, thanks to this heatwave – and I’m quietly convinced that I was more tired after sleeping than I was before, which is never a good way to kick start your day. I dragged my carcass out of bed and killed time doing nothing in particular – a little washing up from last night, straightening the sofa before sprawling out on it again, you know – and then it hit me: The book is shit.

In big flashing neon letters: The book is shit and you can’t fix it.

Don’t you love the melodrama of being a creative type? Me neither.


So that’s where I was when I started work today. I was sending friends messages asking why we even bother writing – because we love it and we’re a bit nutty were the most common responses, if you’re curious – and I was having some serious words with myself about why I hadn’t put a back-up plan in place because a) this was bound to happen again at some point and I should have been more prepared for it and b) because it’s just sensible to have a back-up plan for stuff. 

I didn’t have a plan though, I just had twenty pages of a book that needed to be line edited and zero inclination to do it. To give you some context, these line edits were the final ones in a long run of line edits where I have been desperately trying to tidy up the book as well as write new content and iron out one major plot line – because why fix problems one at a time when you can fix none of them three at a time and panic about it? What the panic was actually for though is that plot line I mentioned (see above), because after cutting and pasting and writing and editing, I don’t think that I’ve fixed it. Now I’ve finished my line edits and had some tea and done some writing for enjoyment, I’ve decide that it doesn’t actually matter if I haven’t fixed it (yet). But my Lord, this morning it mattered more than anything has ever mattered or ever would matter. Because that’s how panicking works!

The line edits are done now which means the fourth – final – draft of the book is well on its way. I need to do a read-through – which I’m going to start this afternoon. Then, and only then, will I find out what work actually needs to be done before I can go cap in hand to every decent reader I know and ask them to paw over the manuscript (by this point I’ll be moaning about my research paper again, so you’ve got that to look forward to).

Bottom line: It seems only fair that every once in a while we take leave of our senses to some extent and wail uncontrollably over our writing. But, while it didn’t exactly do me any harm this morning to throw a little wobble, it certainly didn’t speed up my editing process either. Have your tantrums sparingly, work hard, and remember that something you love and care for this much will never be wasted time or energies (nor will it be shit). 


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