I’ve started the long process of revising my PhD chapter drafts. Other people have written about the topic and give excellent advice, which I am trying to follow. Overall it’s a long task that is going to have a lot of ups and downs.
It is, however, a long process. One of my fellow PhD students has mentioned using a ‘blank page’ for the revision and editing. Basically what that means is drafting the chapter again from scratch, not editing the already written one. In many ways this is good advice. The logic with writing from a blank page is that you shouldn’t get bogged down in language or frivolous points because you’ve got the basics already written. The first draft was to get a very basic outline of themes and ideas and this second draft builds upon the first but should be unencumbered with its faults.
I have mostly adopted this strategy, but with a variation. I have been using a blank page, but due to the beauty of having multiple windows open side-by-side, I’ve got the original open as well. Or, to be clear, the original with feedback from my supervisor. So I am still drafting a new version, but I’m using the original as an outline for what I was saying. There have been some passages from the original where I’ve copied and pasted, but many, many more where I have re-written completely.
In some ways it’s actually a liberating process. I wrote my first chapter during my first year and haven’t done anything with it since. I’ve done so much research since then that I have a lot of new material to add. I’ve also become a much better writer, so concepts that I struggled to explain, or words that I used repeatedly, are now easier to deal with. I’ve also been able to let the ideas simmer for two years so I am able to hone in on the argument and get rid of much of the extraneous words. I’ve also re-arranged the chapter to make it flow better. All this and I’m not even halfway through the revision of it yet!
In other ways, however, it’s excruciating. I’ve been adding quite a bit of literature review to this chapter, widening the scope from just music to broader historical issues. This has been tough because my wider topic and the musical aspect don’t necessarily overlap much. Trying to tie the historical debates into my specific argument seems a bit contrived and phony since, so far as I can tell, these arguments have never come up in musical discourse. The other problem I’m experiencing is the actual wording and writing process. I feel like I’ll writing the entire dissertation this summer; that all my previous work over the past two and a half years has been wasted. Wasted is perhaps the wrong word, as obviously I couldn’t be writing now had I not done that work before, but limited. The relief I got out of writing chapters has, in some ways, been false, since I’m now re-writing those chapters. I got work done, but only halfway because it wasn’t really done. I see it similar to giving a presentation at work — nerve-wracking to begin with, but full of relief when done — and then having to do it again the next day because only half the people were there. Or, going back to my bookstore days, setting up a beautiful display that took hours, only to redo it a day later when a new book arrives. The first set of work was all for naught, as it got completely changed later. It’s great to have the original done, but it some ways it feels worthless once there’s a second (or godfordbid) third version.
I know this is the way good writing gets done, but it is a tough process. I can only hope that when the time comes to turn this into a book or publishing articles that I don’t have to start from scratch again. I’m sure I’ll have to add and take stuff out, but hopefully that will be a process of integration or editing rather than wholesale rewriting. Probably not, but I can hope.