Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rividing Revising

I've been revising (or procrastinating revising) my first dissertation chapter for over a month now. Obviously this isn't an ideal situation; I'd hoped to have the chapter put to bed—for now, at least—by Oct. 1, and as it stands I'll be lucky to move on by Nov. 1.

If I had more time and less teaching, I think I would genuinely enjoy the process of revising. I get to flex my underused editing muscles, which satisfies the little copyeditor in my soul who cackles at the sight of red pens and correction fluid. I also get to go on mini-quests, searching out obscure bits of information. Yesterday I spent an hour trying to track down Anglo-Saxon law on widows; this morning I looked up a chain of words in the Dictionary of Old English and wrote one of my best paragraphs ever about the seemingly tangential issue of evening light in Sodom. Tomorrow I will investigate early medieval drunkenness.

Some of these mini-quests are quite satisfying. Others are frustrating in the extreme, either because they take aeons or because they're ultimately fruitless. Or both. In the end, my hour of research on widows turned into a one-line footnote that might not survive the next round of edits. I could have fixed several pages in the hour it tooke me to straighten out one missing reference.

Most of the holes in my writing have not been quite as difficult to plug as I anticipated, but at the same time there are many more than I remembered leaving—probably because some of them were left unintentionally. Revising is soul-killing in ways because it is the process of recognizing all your flaws as a writer. Mine currently include poor introductions of quoted material, an obsession with the phrase "it seems," and weak topic sentences. Forgive me, Clairity, for I have sinned.

Also discouraging is my mental exhaustion with this chapter. I'm tired of talking about Genesis A, even though I think it's a fabulous and under-regarded poem. I, however, have given it more regard than I really have time for, and I want to move on to fresh ideas about stacked graves and incestuous identity theft. Perhaps I will surprise myself and work in some of the little research tangents I'm going off on in these revisions, but I have my doubts.

So this is just to say that I'm going to try to push through the rest of my revisions this weekend and return the revised chapter (and two copies with intervening hand-written comments) to my advisor by Tuesday. You may ask me about it Tuesday afternoon and keep me honest, because I can't spend more time on this. It's not practical. Even if I have to do another set of major revisions down the line, I need to draw these to a close, let my soul's little Thinker out to play. Oh, and give my tiny Copyeditor a sedative—she's kind of a bitch.

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