Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

If You Try Sometimes…

Somewhat to my surprise, I realised a few days ago that I’ve finished the final structural draft of my thesis. How could such a milestone sneak up on me by surprise, you ask? Because, of course, like an idiot, I was trying to press a megalomaniacal amount of content into the thesis (I’ve been working from something like 300,000 words of draft material). This was never all going to fit into the word length allowed for the thesis – and I know from experience that my drafts tend to grow with revision, rather than shrink, so I was looking forward to this final major revision with considerable dread.

So I started the revision process working on this particular section. And I kept watching the section grow and grow and… grow… And this section just became utterly cancerous. And, more problematic: although I’m generally quite ruthless with cutting things out of my writing, I liked the narrative and content of the section enough that I really didn’t want to cut any of it out. And, in writing it, I somehow made all the general theoretical points I had intended to make in the thesis – points that I had originally assumed would need to be spread over much more content. And somehow the section just grew so organically, in terms of how the argument was developing, that I let it get completely out of control, until it became 80,000 words long, minus an introduction and conclusion. Since my thesis as a whole is not allowed to be more than 90,000 words… perhaps you see my problem…

So I spent a few days frantically considering how to hack this section to bits, to give myself more room to say the other things I had intended to fit in. I generally don’t hesitate to slash and burn through my own text. But I kept baulking at every notion I had for cutting this text, since the argument is clearer than other attempts I’ve made to communicate similar points. And then suddenly, in the midst of worrying over all this, the frame suddenly shifted, and I realised that I wasn’t looking at a section of my thesis: I was looking at my thesis. Anything else I want to say (and from the pile of papers around me, it would seem there is plenty else I want to say… ;-P), can get said somewhere else. This particular piece is fine as it stands – in many ways better, on a narrative level, than the monster I had been attempting to draft.

Of course, I’m exaggerating to say it’s finished. I’m just now completing another stylistic edit of the whole thing – ironing out terminological inconsistencies and generally trying to make sure that everything flows well and I’ve supported the argument as well as I know how. I need a new introduction, since the work has miraculously become much more focussed since the last time I wrote one… ;-P And I need to write the conclusion. And there is one indispensable bit from the original thesis that I now need to interpolate back into one of the existing chapters, since it relates to a major potential objection to my argument, and the chapter where I had planned to take up this objection, now won’t be included in what I submit. And there is all sorts of other minor bits of cleanup to do.

But basically – in terms of hard yards work: done.

Of course, now all the paranoia sets in over whether it’s substantive enough, whether it’s too obvious, whether it’s nonsense: you all know the drill… I’m burying those anxious thoughts in lots of editing busywork, so hopefully they won’t get too much in the way before it formally goes in.

Soon I’ll toss the chapter drafts up for anyone who wants to have a look (when the thesis is properly finished, I’ll put up a PDF of the whole thing, so folks might want to wait for that version, unless they particularly enjoy reading drafts…). I haven’t quite decided how to get the chapters up without suddenly flooding everyone’s readers with a mass of new posts… But I’ll work that out. For the moment, just popping by to half-celebrate…

More soon…

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9 responses to “If You Try Sometimes…

  1. Levi January 29, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Congrats, NP! That’s terrific! Maybe now you’ll come back and play with all of us soon!

  2. Carl January 29, 2009 at 9:57 am

    That’s great news, and so smart to see the forest within the tree.

  3. N Pepperell January 29, 2009 at 10:29 am

    All – Thanks for the congratulations :-)

    Carl – for reasons that will become a bit clearer when I get the chapter drafts up, that may be a particularly appropriate image… ;-)

    Levi – Will come out to play very soon :-)

  4. Alexei January 29, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Came late, so let me just be the echo: YAY NP!

    But holy crap — 300 000 words!? I don’t think I’ve written that many in my entire life.

  5. N Pepperell January 30, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Hey Alexei :-) It’s surprising how quickly 300,000 words sneaks up on you… ;-) To be honest, in many ways it’s more difficult to write shorter pieces – although 90,000 is plenty, as long as I’m not trying to cram into one piece every thought I have ever had in my life… ;-)

  6. WildlyParenthetical January 31, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Many congrats, Ms Pepperell! And isn’t it just so great to realise that it’s never *really* over? ;-) Sorry, I shouldn’t tease. Good luck with the tidying!

  7. N Pepperell February 1, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Yeah yeah yeah, you ;-P

    (Serves me right – what’s all that advice about keeping things tidy in the first place, etc. ;-P)

  8. WildlyParenthetical February 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I *am* sincere, I’ll have you know :-) Just… I so rarely get to be knowing with you, how could I resist it? ;-)

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