2010: 80,000 words is a lot! 2013: 80,000 words is not enough!

So, I have finished the full draft! Excuse me a minute while I happy-dance next to my desk for a few minutes, while simultaneously feeling weak with relief and also anxious about the comments and feedback I am waiting for and the next set of revisions (which will probably also suck). I actually managed to write over 80,000 words. 80,000 interesting, articulate words. At least, I think they are but I cannot be unbiased about this at all.

I have been thinking about this magical number of 80,000 words, and how huge that seemed when I registered for this PhD in 2010 (ending that year with a few words in the form of notes and scribbles but nothing I wanted anyone to read), and how that number seems too little now. I have written more than 80,000. In fact, before I finished the introduction and wrote the conclusion I already had 77,000 odd words. So there was a new kind of anxiety. In 2010 the anxiety was along the lines of ‘how on earth will I even find that much to say? I don’t have that many words in me!’ Even at the end of 2012 when all I really had was a draft of the theory/concept chapter and half an introduction, and a few scribbles about the methodology I only had about 22,000 words. So I was still wondering, quite seriously, how the Thesis would be long enough. Or, you know, just enough. Now the anxiety is ‘how will I cut this down when all the words I have are necessary?’

This has been a big year, writing-wise. When I started the year I had a draft of one chapter and half of another; I still had the methodology and two case studies to write. Oh, and a conclusion. And all the fiddly bits like an abstract and a list of terms and a reference list. So, I felt overwhelmed and quite daunted, but determined to Get It Done. I spent the first semester gathering data, and writing very little, and when I sat down to start writing in June what I found, almost unbelievably considering how slowly and painfully the words eked out my my mind and my fingers last year, was that the words came pouring out and very soon I had too many words. I found myself writing and thinking quite productively most days, and it was really lovely and affirming after 2 and a half tough years of writing very little that could be shown to my supervisor and commented on usefully. It helped, too, that I had been reading and staring at and coding data for months and had a lot to write about. I embraced freewriting, which I have also written about here, and this helped me to get going and stay going. I wrote in my research journal almost every day, and this informal writing also helped a lot. I used all the tricks I have learned along the way to keep myself writing and it has, so far, worked well. Too well, you might say, considering all the editing I now have to do to cut myself down to around 80,000 words.

It’s funny how I have measured the worthiness of my days in words. ‘Today was a good day, I wrote 2354 words’. ‘Yesterday was not a good day, I wrote no words’. And the words that count are the words that go into the Thesis and stay there. But there are lots of other words that count too – the ones you say to yourself about your thinking as you drive to work or home again; the ones your scribble in your PhD journal; the ones you say to your supervisor or critical friends or your partner over dinner. As long as you are talking and scribbling in ways that are helping you shape your thinking, you are moving forward. I have learnt that all these words add up more quickly than you think they will. It’s a slow start and this is frustrating because most days you just want the Thesis to be written already. You don’t have all the words in the beginning, and you have more in the middle even though they still do not seem like enough. But if you hang in and keep the writing going as much and as often as you can, the words will come. So many that you may well amaze and impress yourself. I hope you do.

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