Thesis Panic

Some days, I stare at my thesis like I have never seen it before.

This is not a post about exciting medieval things–though I could talk a lot about beards at the moment, or giants, or how Peredur just rides around being kind of dim. This is the part where I moan about the ultimate futility of life in the shadow of a thesis submission deadline.

Cat, you are cute but much too smug.

I’m submitting in September, which means I really need to have a complete working draft by, say, the end of next month at the latest. And I have a lot of words, and a lot of sections. Some of the sections are better than others, some are longer, some are old enough they’re full of thoughts I barely remember having.

I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but I’m utterly unable to write in a linear manner. Which means I have, oh, 2/3 of a thesis without a single complete chapter. I have sections, each one anywhere from five to twenty thousand words–sections on Culhwch ac Olwen, on the rhamantau, on Geoffrey of Monmouth, on the history of the sovreignty theme and why it keeps coming up. And then they all just sort of stop, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, because I assumed at the time that it was totally obvious where I was going. (Spoiler: IT WASN’T.)

So I tend to spend a few days banging out words on whatever particular topic, trying to get closer to the end. Which means I look a bit like this PhD comic:

Yes, I do in fact get that excited whenever I finish a paragraph. It’s a big deal, okay? In between sections, I try to write out other things. Today I added three pages to my bibliography. Sometimes I check out #phdchat on Twitter. I try to write things like research proposals (don’t even want to talk about it), job applications (mostly managing, though I suspect I forgot to attach a file to one the other day that I said I was enclosing, oops), and blog posts (mostly failing, case in point). Sometimes, I try to do unrelated things, like make dinner, or go running, or, if I am feeling very ambitious indeed, laundry. Heck, I’m still two episodes behind on Game of Thrones.

And here ‘winter’ hasn’t even really left.

Earlier today, I bought a set of books off a friend–the nice versions of Pwyll, Branwen, Lludd a Llefelys and Armes Prydein by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies–because he’s going through his bookshelves and having a clear-out. I don’t know where I’m going to put them. I’m already using stacks of books as furniture, as decoration, as shelving for other books. I can barely get to my bed.

Sometimes I find myself staring out the window, daydreaming about having room to add a few more bookshelves. Or the library in the TARDIS. That would be amazing.

This is part of being an academic, I think–the book addiction–but also a product of a childhood during which books were treated as both rewards, and always worthwhile. I’m the only kid I know who had a separate book allowance to supplement the regular allowance. (Well, the only one except my sister, for obvious reasons). Clearly this was awesome, but if I end up moving back into their house with a freight ship full of books, my beloved parents have only themselves to blame.

Basically my room looks like this, but smaller. If my computer’s hard drive were represented in physical space, it would look about like that too.

All this means that in real life at the moment, I’m really not much fun. Which is the actual point of this post–a statement of solidarity, I suppose, with everyone else who’s struggling to get a big project done. For all that the community of academics, both online and out in the flesh-and-blood world, is amazing, there are some things we have to do on our own. Like epic heroes, we take the counsel, prayers and magic weaponry from our friends and advisors, and set off into the the world with a companion or two–but when it comes to completing the quest, some of it we have to do on our own.

Accurate! By Jodie M at Jazz Linguist.

When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won–
we will absolutely be in need of a drink.

Good luck, everybody. And I’ll do that thing about beards soon.

UPDATE: After I wrote this, I stared at the thesis for a while longer and went to dinner. I came back to a small package on my bedroom door containing what the attached note called ‘magic writing mittens’. They are striped black and neon green, so look a bit like a superhero bumblebee that will totally defeat writer’s block with frenetic buzzing. My housemate is pretty awesome.


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