It has been just over four and a half years since I first started working on this thesis (my second attempt at a PhD); a long time personally but not so long geologically. Late this afternoon, whilst thinking of vegan fish and chips, I sent to my supervisors the first full draft of the thesis.
Eight chapters. In order. Plus an appendix.
It was a weirdly momentous occasion. Jon and Justine have both read all of the thesis, but never in order and never as one document.
At the beginning of this year, when we decided on a September submission date for the finished work, I had six chapters in various states of completion. The final chapter, my analysis of what I call the “inference to the existence of a conspiracy,” was the most polished piece of work. Understandable, really; it was the last thing I had written and most of the lessons I had learnt were applied skillfully to it. The earlier chapters, though, looked terrible. I had an introduction chapter which did not seem to be much chop and then followed a literature review which was bloated and looked to have been written by a teenager. The third chapter, on conspiracy theories as explanations, focussed on issues that I had, by now, decided really weren’t worth bothering with, whilst the fifth chapter, on the transmission of conspiracy theories and the act of rumouring… Well, actually, I liked that one. It’s going to be in a book, don’t you know.
Then there was chapter four, the chapter that was only a third written and I really didn’t think could be completed on time, the chapter on the role of selected evidence and disinformation.
So, at the beginning of January, I began rewriting. The first two chapters were completely rewritten, which took a month each. I tore through my notes from four years ago, looking for material which was salient to the arguments I presented in the last few chapters of the masterwork and came up with arguments to explain why I wasn’t going to talk about issues I thought were irrelevant to my central thesis. I wrote the chapters in disparate pieces, tackling new issues when I found myself mentally blocked by some argument. At first I thought this piecemeal approach was a terrible idea, and then a great one, and… Well, by the time I had hacked together something that looked chaptery enough to send to one of my supervisors I was sure the gig was up; the monster I had created made the work of Frankenstein look like art.
Surely, I thought, the September deadline will need to be revised once she sees this.
A week passed; I worked on the next chapter, dreading getting anything vaguely official-looking in my mailbox. Another week passed and by now I was convinced the chapter I had sent was bad; the notes Justine must be making were growing longer and longer by the day. A third week passed and I was almost ready with the next chapter.
An e- mail. Short. “Looking good. Can’t wait to see the next chapter. No major notes; just copyedit stuff.”
I should have been relieved, but I was not. I fumed for days, getting increasingly angry and grumpy. I had been expecting bad news. Good news unsettled me.
It was most irrational.
I sent off the second chapter, knowing that it give the game away. A fortnight later, more good news. Again, I turned sour and angry and grumpy and maddening.
The first three months of this year were the worst, psychologically-speaking, I have known. I still have the sleepless nights, the constant neck pain, the inability to deal with people unexpectedly, but I’m not, at the moment, constantly angry or about to break down into tears. I’ve hit a plateau; with only six weeks to go I think I can probably make it to the finish line without suffering a breakdown (but I will continue to disseminate cliches…). A few months ago, though, I really thought I wouldn’t make it, academically-speaking, this far.
The third chapter was a pain to rewrite and I ended up dumping five thousand words from it a day before I sent it off to be looked at by one of my supervisors. It turns out that those five thousand words really were useless and they will not be coming back anytime soon.
I almost didn’t write the fourth chapter, but seeing “October 8: Deep in the Forest,” a documentary about the Urewera 17″ convinced me that I needed to get my thoughts on disinformation formalised. It’s a great chapter; I think it will be the first thing I articalise come September 2nd.
I grew used to the good news, although Justine did start to come up with a few complaints, usually structural things which always looked easy to solve but never were.
I finished the last chapter proper a few weeks ago, leaving just the introduction and the conclusion to write. Jon and Justine wanted to read the thesis from the beginning, which meant writing the introduction, something that I always write last. It’s much easier to convert a conclusion into an introduction than try to write the intro first. Conclusions, which are filled with “In this work I have…” can easily be converted into shorter pieces in which “I have…” becomes “I will…”
Now I get a few days off, before the copyedits come in. Six weeks to go.