And so, another couple of months have passed without my posting, and I hang my head in shame. These almost two months were spent working furiously on my second chapter and checking books in and out at our university library as a student assistant. In April, tutoring Romantic Poetry will be added to this list of responsibilities and, although I’m somewhat excited to get back into tutoring (in an ‘aren’t the puddings hospitals give you after surgery supposed to be delicious?’ kind of way), I feel like resolving to post regularly is just a trap for disappointment at this stage. Therefore, I will resist the temptation to do so, and rather just send some updates into the ether when I have the inspiration and opportunity.
On the upside, I have a whole second chapter, also done and dusted, to show for my absence. This one, provisionally titled “Haunting in Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger“, went over much more smoothly than the first. I spent a total of about three weeks writing it (after a couple more researching and reading for it), received much more favourable comments and edited with much fewer tears and absolutely no wine. This has led me to the conclusion that the first chapter – that horned beast of a demon that haunts my nightmares and makes me doubt my right to be at university – has been the most difficult piece of work I’ve attempted. It’s not because my subject matter is particularly difficult, or because I didn’t do enough research, but simply, I think, because starting a thesis is and will always be a monumental task. Call it growing pains (and holy frickety, was it painful).
The second chapter, by comparison, felt like a breeze, albeit one of those ferocious, tugging breezes that messes up your hair and your outfit and scatters all your papers over a busy street. Frustrating and alarming, but easy peasy. I even managed to stay under 10 000 words this time – no winnowing required. This, I think, is because I had a set course, made copious notes on that course, forged a clear structure and had an actual text on which to base my arguments. It’s not like I didn’t have these things for the first chapter (barring the text), but building the foundation and building on the foundation are two very different things. From all my procrastination spent on watching Grand Designs, I know that once the foundations are done, the walls and floors can go up in a matter of days, if not hours. This seems to have held true for Chapter 2, which is resting in my completed drafts folder.
Therefore, if you are working on a thesis or just setting out to start one, persevere. It seemingly does get easier after those first few hurdles. I can’t say anything about the end yet, but the middle is shaping up to be more doable than the beginning. The proposal and first chapter are for getting your ducks in a row. This is where you get to grips with your argument and figure out what you need to make it. I thought I needed the whole brunt of Gothic fiction’s history behind me to postulate a new subgenre, but it turned out that I didn’t have the time or space, and a couple of highlights could do. I thought that my thesis required the amalgamation of several theories, but a tiny piece of Derrida and a little bit of Kristeva turned out to be more than enough. This is, most definitely, a trial and error type of thing.
On the whole, I don’t have much advice to give. The need for patience and resilience has been covered many times by more experienced students and academics. My advice for proceeding after the proposal and first chapter is of a more practical nature:
- Make individual summaries of your big concepts:
Create a separate document for each of your big concepts and copy/paste your explanations and summaries from your first chapter into this document for easy reference. For instance, I had ‘Derrida hauntology’ and ‘Kristeva abjection’ documents. This helped me to keep track of how I explained their concepts, the language I used and the points of focus I identified. Consistency, I’ve been told, is most important. You have to make sure that you used your particular words over and over again to illustrate that your take on this topic is sustained and workable.
- Make point by point summaries of previous chapters:
It might take some time, but knowing exactly what you said and covered at any given point can work wonders. It becomes difficult to keep track of your main points when you’re knee-deep in the traditional British ghost story, and you can’t figure out just how much to say before you start wasting words. Knowing what you have said before and the general trajectory in which you are meant to be heading really helps to keep you on track. This is also a good way to prepare for those nerve-wrecking meetings with your supervisor. I was asked to explain my first chapter as though I were talking to a layperson and it completely stumped me. Having a simpler, quicker summary of your work will help you to give a succinct overview.
- Create an Editing Report:
This is something my supervisor asked me to do that has proved very helpful. Keep a detailed record of the changes and additions (or subtractions) you make, as well as of your responses to comments and feedback. This kind of mimics the Socratic method and can be very useful for your own thinking processes. Many new ideas came out of this practice for me, and it was in responding to criticism and defending my assertions that I became more confident about my arguments.
On to Chapter 3 now, with Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. My plan for this one is still a bit iffy, and for the moment I’m just trying to reread the tome – all 700 pages of it. This might not seem like that much, but it feels strange to get back to just lying around reading, instead of furiously typing. I feel like I’m languishing, especially because The Historian is not exactly difficult reading. If I had been wading through Ulysses or Paradise Lost I might have been able to call it hard work. For now, however, this is the task at hand, and I shall persevere. Bring on the vampires, the history and the pages of wanderlust-inspiring descriptions of European cities. If I had money, I would’ve booked a ticket to Istanbul already. For now though, full steam ahead.