The Third Chapter: Crossing that Halfway Point

When you’re wrapped up in a project, it’s difficult to see just how far you’ve come. For me, things are getting real now. I’ve written about 30 000 words, three chapters and several imprecise rants about various things, and it’s just starting to hit me that we’re in July, and I passed the halfway-mark somewhere, unnoticed and unrecognised. The feeling is something akin to standing on some high point, and now having to make my way back down. I have one more chapter to write, and then an introduction and conclusion.

And then, I have to read the whole thing over again, and probably rewrite more sections than I remember putting in. The precise deadlines in my diary have been replaced with vague notes reading “editing times”, and a gaping count of days before the big submission. Oh yes, time is a-ticking, and all I can think of is how far I still have to go.


The weird thing about the third chapter, for now simply called “History and the Perfection of Evil in Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian“, was that things were getting easier, and the getting easier part made things all the more difficult. Possibly suffering from impostor syndrome, I kept second-guessing myself and feeling as though this chapter didn’t match up to Chapter Two. It felt too simple. I hadn’t needed to make complicated diagrams and visual representations. I stuck up some notes to keep in mind, but it seemed fairly straightforward. So straightforward, in fact, that I was sure there was something terribly wrong and lacking about it.

My less complex, less frantic notes for Chapter 3. One day I will have a nice black or white board, or pins, or some cool stuff.
My less complex, less frantic notes for Chapter 3. One day I will have a nice black or white board, or pins, or some cool stuff.

Turns out, my supervisor felt like it was my strongest chapter yet. There were a couple of wobbles and things to reconsider, but apparently this chapter really was straightforward, clear and decisive, and just because I didn’t struggle as much with writing it didn’t mean that it was any less of an achievement to finish.

You see, by the time you reach this point in a thesis, things really do get easier. You’ve had a lot of exposure to your topic. The patterns you’ve set for yourself make more sense and it’s easier to weave your data into coherent information. By the third chapter, shockingly, you kind of know what you’re doing.

Although it never, ever, feels like it. I’m also sure that this tentative complacency will dissolve when I have to sit down and edit. So how do you get over these feelings of doubt?

In my case, you just muddle through and bolster your confidence by reading about others’ experiences doing something much more difficult: the dreaded PhD (coming soon, someday). I love The Thesis Whisperer, particularly for posts like this: ‘The Process‘. I might just be a lowly Master’s student, but it gives me courage to know that my Master’s is not the end all or be all. It’s about learning how to get over these sorts of obstacles. It’s about suffering through the details and the doubts. It’s supposed to prepare me for something much bigger, and much worse. Hopefully, something that is also much more rewarding.

Sometimes the peaks we reach are only just the beginning. Hopefully finishing my Master's will just be the start of another, bigger mountain.
Like reaching the top of that mountain. Anything for that view… Image by Robin Benad, from Unsplash

Speaking of, this is also application season. So while I’m carving out my fourth chapter, I will also have to make a decision (several in fact) about the dreaded Next Year. The next few months might see me crying in a corner, trying to avoid the big choices I have to make now, and soon. Being at the top of the peak only puts in perspective how far you still have to go.

In my case, figuring out what to do with my life will have to happen while I’m writing about Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed and how evil lurks not in monsters, but in humans themselves. Fun times ahead.


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