Revision Blues

I’m deep into revisions of the first two chapters of my dissertation, and it is going so slow and taking so long that I feel like I can see myself aging in the slight reflection of my laptop monitor (I really should have sprung for the non-reflective, anti-glare screen).  As such, I don’t have the time or mental energy to be witty and insightful on the blog.  In fact, the number of blog posts I produce in any given month is probably a direct measurement of how much is not getting done on my thesis.

You’d think that the revision stage would be easier than the drafting stage, especially when you already have a pretty good document to work with, as I do right now.  You’d think that it would be pretty automatic, fun even.  But the revision process is decidedly lacking in the euphoric moments that the invention and drafting processes seem to be full of, moments of discovery, moments when you suddenly realize you know exactly what to say and how to say it, entire days where you can scarcely tear yourself away from the keyboard because you are so inspired and have to get that thought down before it flies away.  That doesn’t happen as often when you’re revising.

Revision is where you have to go back and look critically at those epiphanies, those products of inspiration and figure out if they are worth keeping, if they are really as brilliant as you thought they were the first time.  Revision is where you have to take that list of additional sources your advisor thinks you should cite and figure out how to work them into a vision you thought was so complete when you sent it to him.  Revision is where you have to look at those places where the reader went, “Huh?” and figure out why they aren’t getting it.  When I’m drafting, there are moments where I stop and say, “Damn, I’m good at this.”  Revision is the opposite.  Revision is where I start updating my resume and wondering if I should just go back to working in retail or medical billing.

I’m guessing that this stage of the process is why a lot of people don’t finish.  It’s like spending hours of each day looking at your face in a magnified mirror in florescent lighting.  Also, did I mention that it takes forever?  In order to work in five additional citations, which will amount, at most, to a few new paragraphs of material, I first have to read all those books, and then figure out what new light they might shed on my particular research problem.  Then I have to figure out if they merit lengthy summaries and discussions of their own or if I can get away with assigning a few footnotes of the “see also” variety.

The one advantage revision has over drafting is that I have a pretty clear set of priorities.  I have a checklist.  Read X, Y, and Z, then alter this section to accommodate them.  Then get rid of this section and disperse some of the examples into other sections.  Then write a better conclusion.  Et. freaking cetera.  I normally like checklists, but right now, I, a textbook Type A control freak who has her entire personal library alphabetized wants nothing more than to become a Jack Kerouac-style beatnik, but without the casual sexism and racism.  Also, I want to set fire to my computer.

It helps to be a little bit nice to yourself when you’re revising.  I’ve been relocating to various Panera Bread restaurants all week, to avoid the insistent, judgmental silence of my home office, the bleakness of the college campus during the summer, and the urge to avoid the inevitable by going out and weeding my flower bed in triple digit heat.  I am spending way too much money on fancy schmancy salads and Chai Tea Lattes lately.  But that’s how I cope, I guess.


2 thoughts on “Revision Blues

  1. So where are you now in the process? I completed my dissertation last August and recall the blocks of time when I just sat and stared at my work; it is challenging to critique our own writing. Sometimes I took a nap, and forget about the ideas it was APA minutiae that nearly drove me to . . . . You have a good, workable system for the process; highlighters are helpful too (use one color for each topic). Reading backwards is effective. By this I mean reading from your last sentence to the next to last and so on til you get to the first sentence. This takes you away from the content and to the word choice and structure.

    1. Louise, with two and a half out of five chapters finished, I’m roughly halfway through. The chapter I’m revising right now is one my adviser wants me to submit as an article, and he wants me to cite some additional sources in order to make it clear that I’m not over-relying on one particular theorist. It’s at that “really good but not great” stage–a good place to be for sure, certainly better than the “steaming pile of crap” stage that it was in a few months ago–but still requiring alot of thought and energy.

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