The dreaded rewrite

I have just finished rewriting the third chapter of my thesis. There are no appropriate metaphors for how I really feel about this chapter. I’ll stick to claiming that I feel like a successful fisherman waving aloft a shiny prize carp. This is, of course, a lie. I feel more like I’ve been locked in a cellar with something saber-toothed and nasty, until we eventually emerged, dragging each other by the teeth and splattered with most of each other’s brains. On this occasion, the chapter lost, but not by much.

This is, of course, an entirely irrational and overblown reaction to the end of a process that occurs while sitting down, in a centrally-heated flat, with ample access to tea (but not biscuits. I hate Lent. I would sell my face for a Jaffa Cake) and Twitter. I like my thesis. I love my research. I don’t like footnotes, except when I can knock the “pp.” off forty or so notes at a time, and thus pretend I’m saving words. But, my god, I have hated the last bit of rewriting this.

Even deleting items from my three-column, word-documented, cloud-computering to do list (truly, I am the Hunter S. Thompson of doctoral research) hasn’t mitigated the pain. “Don’t get it right, get it written” is the golden rule of DPhil-writing, but in third year, you also have to get the damned thing formatted and polished and devoid of square-bracketed injunctions to [MORE] (also [QUOTE] and [EVIDENCE] and the stomach-churning [PUT CONCLUSION HERE]).

Perhaps the subject matter made this so tough. This chapter contains most of the really depressing stuff in my thesis; the sexualisation of children, child suicide, the anorexic aesthetic, and the fetishising of celebrity illness (especially female mental health). This has, in turn, led to much re-reading of Sarah Kane and looking at the growing cultural obsession with underweight female bodies in the late nineteenth century. It didn’t help that I’d written the first draft in an immensely slappable style, although lord knows I’d rather rewrite for style than because of terrible holes in the research.

Here’s a fun fact, though: rewriting makes me wish I were a man, because if I were, I would grow a big Periclean, Roger-Allam-as-Falstaff-style beard every time I had a major piece of work to complete. I would rejoice in it. It would be a totem of chapter-writing and people would bow before its length and unrepentance. Everyone, knowing I was writing, would close their eyes in silent respect. As totems of chapter-writing go, a majestic beard would be much better than the library mumble (when you go straight from studying to coffee with a friend, and can’t form coherent sentences until the caffeine kicks in), or just looking slightly rough after days at a laptop.

NB: I don’t think this is a case of misdirected penis envy, or even a desire to have Roger Allam as my spirit animal. ‘Spirit animal’ is my new phrase. In the last week, two people of whom I am fond have informed me that Enjolras from Les Mis is their spirit animal. One is a socialist writer on the working class, feminism and politics, and the other is my Christian, drama kid visiting student from California.

Anyway, the last few footnotes are underway, and although it’s a sunny day, I don’t want to go out in case the phone rings. #freelanceproblems.

Chapter-wise, next up is Ellen Terry in Cymbeline, or the chapter which is meant to be about a pretty Briton princess, but ended up involving vampires, somnophilia, and pseudo-medical fanfic…

10 thoughts on “The dreaded rewrite

  1. Is ‘what would your spirit animal be?’ your latest terrifying game?

    Yours would clearly be Gavroche. Or Martin Shaw pretending to himself that he’s Roger Allam. Mine would be a nice cat.


    1. As terrifying games go, it lacks the psychological acuity of ‘if you were a terrible boyfriend, what sort of terrible boyfriend would you be?’.

      Your spirit animal is Lucy Mangan’s living room.


      1. I never underestimate your ability to make anything an occasion for terrifying psychological acuity.

        You are quite right about Lucy Mangan. Though I have successfully avoided a Toryboy.


  2. I’ve decided Lent doesn’t count when you’re finishing a thesis. I’ve been attacked by a surprise partial chapter rewrite with just 6 weeks to go, after giving a seminar paper that incited lots of helpful but would-have-been-better-3-months-ago discussion. So yes. Rewrites. Eugh.


    1. Oh dear, yes, that heady mix ‘Gosh isn’t that interesting/And I’m so glad we talked/But couldn’t you have said this/In 2010?’. But you are SO CLOSE, that is massively exciting. How much rewriting is it? Also, how was/is your wordcount? That’s the bit I’m most frightened about…


      1. It’s involved quite a major reshaping of half a chapter (and associated tweaking of intro and conclusion). But it was the chapter I liked least and this should make it better. Well, we’ll see what my supervisor thinks when he sends my first (re)attempt back to me. Shamefully, I have had to apply for more words, taking my allotted 80,000 up to 100,000. My argument that ‘it’s basically a History thesis and they’re allowed 100,000 obviously worked. It’s still a teensy bit over, but not enough to panic me now…


  3. You know Jaffa Cakes are rated as cakes for tax purposes, right? (You can definitely be jesuitical about Lenten observances if it gets your thesis done… says the idiot who gave up meat AND fish in the penultimate term of her doctorate. Bad idea.)


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