This week I cut up my thesis…

… Well, part of it.

So I’m not sure whether I was driven to this point through pure frustration or I had a moment of clarity but either way last weekend I took a pair of scissors to my latest chapter draft. I divided it into paragraphs, or the smallest unit I could without losing comprehensibility, and then began a process of marking each snippet as “main argument”, “tangent”, “background”, or “unknown”. I enjoyed picking colours (green, red, blue, and grey respectively) from my book of rainbow sticky tabs. Being away from the computer felt too good – was I deceiving myself? Surely this was just a novel way to procrastinate?

Actually, this process has yielded a breakthrough. Chopping the chapter into blocks of thought made it startlingly clear what was useful and what was guff. But once I’d got down to the core of my writing (green) I needed to make sure it was actually saying what I thought it was. This is where phase two comes in: take a post-it, summarise the point you are making in one or two sentences, and then stick this to the fragment. The hardest part of this was being honest about what I’d actually written, which sometimes had no bearing on what I had wanted to say. I took care not to treat the bits in order as I didn’t want to be filling in the gaps in my mind.

Now I’m entering phase three. My plan is to take the pieces and use their post-it-summaries to write an outline of what I currently have. This should then be added to and refined to form a very detailed plan. I’ll only then go back to the laptop, writing and refining with the argument and structure at the forefront. After that I will return to the blue, red, and grey and assess whether they are still relevant to the chapter as it then stands.

I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has taken a similar/similarly crazy approach to redrafting, particularly if it involves getting away from the computer. Before tearing it apart I was frustrated and bored by this chapter. Now I’m excited to get back to what I wanted to say.

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