Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stress and the Machine

Ostensibly I have seven novels on the go. Ostensibly. The reality is that two of them are with test readers, one of them is sitting untouched (for 8 months) on my hard drive, two of them are no more than a summary, and two of them are on my to-edit list this summer. So, actually, right now I have no novels on the go.

This would be grand in most circumstances. Particularly if those circumstances were: agent man is looking for more books to sell. But I don't have an agent, or a single book sold, or even time to query any of the books that are works-in-progress.

Instead, I am revising a thesis. There are few things I dislike more than academic editing. I can think of a few, but most of them involve death and dismemberment. I am not an avid editor, but I can just about manage with fictional editing; academic editing is another kettle of fish (barrel of monkeys?). I spent five months last year editing this thesis, and now I'm spending another five months editing this thesis, and in many ways I am simply taking what I already changed once and changing it again (sometimes back to what it was originally!). I am bored and disheartened and thoroughly, thoroughly, frustrated with the whole thing. As usual with editing, one edit changes five other things, or you remember that if you reword this you have to go find that other sentence 10k words later and reword it too. It's awful. But it's revisions, and just like editing a novel, it has to get done.

But in many ways, I'm lucky. I have nothing else to do with my time except plug away on this, so in many ways it is not very stressful. That's not to say it isn't stressful. It is. Anything on which your future career lies engenders stress. This is not, however, as stressful as the first round of edits was last autumn where my feeling was 'it's utter shite, what am I going to do?' Now it's a matter of considering 'well, they told me it wasn't shite, so I just have to take it from being acceptable to being good'. That means less stress as well.

I had no idea what I was doing the first time. No one does, the first time they write a thesis. I had about three different research questions and it took - what felt like - forever to figure out which one was the actual one (jury is still out on whether it was the right one). Even at the end I was still stressing about whether it was a good research question. So that stress is gone now, for which I am very grateful. And yet, some little niggling voice in my head still thinks maybe there was another way. I try not to give it much voice time.

So, I plug away, slowly but surely. When before I editing whole sections in a day, now I go one paragraph at a time. I am hoping that is a good thing. That I am being even more dedicated and careful. Time will only tell. What I do know is that it leaves me a lot of time for other things; things that reduce my lower stress even further and that I - mostly - enjoy.

Next week, look for a review of the Royal Ontario Museum's new blockbuster exhibition 'Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano', and possibly some future ramblings about supervising and consultancy. Because apparently that is a thing I now do.

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