Things have been a little quiet here on the blog, partly because I took some time off to go to the seaside, and partly because what I’m doing at the moment doesn’t necessarily translate terribly well into exciting blog posts. For, dear readers, in line with my summer goals, I am trying to work through edits to my book manuscript in order to get the chapters which are coming out of the PhD into shape.
Now, this does not mean that I have been quiet on the internet. Any of my very, very patient Twitter followers will be able to tell you that I have been whinging like mad about this process over there, because let’s face it, if you need to vent for more than 140 characters, you should probably rethink your venting forum and whether there’s a bigger problem there. That said, thinking about this process honestly made me realize there was probably a blog post in here.
I should point out here that I’m already doing something a bit unusual in trying to convert the PhD into a book to begin with – plenty of academics just don’t bother. Well, that’s not quite accurate. They decide that the PhD was a thing good in and of itself, but that it’s best suited to life as a series of articles than as a monograph. Or that this chapter and this chapter are worth keeping, but the rest of it can go and they’ll write the rest of the manuscript from scratch. Or that now they actually want their first book to be on this topic instead. All of these are totally reasonable and sane decisions to make, but I’m in the minority, because I want to keep the structure of my PhD and add an extra chapter.
I’m currently up to my elbows in trying to deal with chapter one. Ah, chapter one. This was the ‘let’s see if it works’ chapter, the cocky chapter, the ‘I’m completely sure that there will be no problems whatsoever with this’ chapter, but also the ‘what if I’m wrong’ chapter, the ‘I have no confidence in my own writing’ chapter, the ‘excessive deference’ chapter. I started reading and writing for it in summer 2008. That’s five years ago. Just sit with that for a moment. Five years. In between which, I have won my PhD, had my first peer review articles published and accepted, and generally just… grown up a hell of a lot academically. But I’m trying to get something I wrote when I had just passed my qualifying exams into shape. It’s come a long way – from those first early steps to the last-minute restructuring a few months before submission to the first-round edit it had before going through the department’s work in progress seminar, and now my attempts to edit according to that feedback. And, you know, it’s hard to keep all that development in perspective.
I know that there is good material in there, and other people agree. Sensible material, new ideas, fresh thinking – that’s why I’m bothering to put the effort into converting the PhD rather than abandoning it for a fresh project or turning it into articles. It’s a critical first step, as it was at the start of the PhD, and will be at the start of the book. But every paragraph now has the baggage of five years of academic growth attached to it. There are sentences that still don’t make sense. There are ideas which I have rephrased to try and make them clearer a dozen times over, and I’m still not happy with how the words fall.
Part of the problem is having spent so much time with the writing and the ideas. Five years is a long time to have held on to something. The eighteen month break between finishing the thesis and picking it up to revise it helped give me some critical and emotional distance – but I’m still faced with the fact that I don’t think I’m ever going to be happy with how this chapter looks. I’m always going to think that I can do it better. Other people are also always going to have suggestions about how to make it better. There will always be something to tweak – it’s very definitely now in the realm of rhetoric and presentation rather than the actual content or the substance of the argument.
But one thing the last few days have reminded me of is a wise saying I clung onto throughout doing my PhD – “do you want a perfect PhD, or a finished PhD?” The same applies here – I want a finished book manuscript, not a perfect one. To be honest, I don’t even want a finished book manuscript, because I can’t generate that – I need to get the feedback from the publisher and make further tweaks and go through a longer process before I can count this as finished. So I will grit my teeth and get on with it, and hope that I’ll have things in a good enough shape by the end of the summer. Because for now, good enough will do.