The Agony of Editing

I am currently working on wrapping up the final two chapters of my dissertation, and upon reading through what I’ve got so far, I realized that there is a lot of repetition at points. Last week, I proposed a pretty significant reorganization to my advisor, and he was enthusiastic. The upside is that I will now (hopefully) be within my allotted page limit (ca. 300 pages). The downside is that reorganization involves editing and deleting. Now, some will argue that editing is a blessing. After all, as far as writing is concerned, isn’t it always easier to cut than to add? Sometimes, but not always.

Over the past year, I have been diligent about writing something dissertation-related almost every day. I typically take off weekends, but during the week, I force myself to sit down for a couple hours each day and get words onto the page. As I tell myself and others, “you can’t edit nothing.” Such a writing schedule results in a mixed bag of sorts. On the one hand, you can marvel at your progress, as it feels good to see that word count go up a little every day. On the other hand, because some days are better for writing than others, some of what you produce is simply garbage.

It is quite easy to edit the garbage, the half-inspired quips that you pen after a couple of beers or right before bed. These words are easy to throw away. You might even cackle an evil laugh while you press the delete key. It’s the stuff that you perceive as insightful that is difficult to purge. When you sit down and look at a chapter that you previously considered done, the words on the page are not unlike the fingers on your hand: when you decide that some of them must go, the process of deciding which will go and which will stay is painful.



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