The End: Finishing my PhD

Last Friday, I did something that I’ve been waiting to do for the past five years. I handed in the final copy of my thesis.

2015-06-10 19.01.56

It’s so fat! And yes, I am the last person on earth who has a TV like that

It still hasn’t quite hit me yet. This is the biggest project I’ve ever done, and now it’s over…well, that’s the thing. It doesn’t feel like it’s over. Writer brain keeps telling me that this should be the end of the story, or at least of this particular chapter – and maybe, when I’ve graduated, it’ll feel that way. But I’ve got an inkling that it won’t. PhD courses seem to be like a book-nerdy Royston Vasey – you’ll never leave.

This seems to be how writing works – like a hydra, the more you finish, the more there is to do. Spider Circus is a prequel to one of the first novels I completed, and writing it made me want to write about a dozen different stories – about Damien, Dmitri, Maria, and particularly Doctor Scott, a character who turned up unexpectedly and became one of my favourites.

Strange as it may seem for something done sitting down in front of a computer, or holed up in a café with a notebook, writing is like exercise – the more you do it, the easier it gets (something I need to remember when the writer’s block hits). I say “easy” – whether it’s a novel or a journal article, there are always going to be times when writing is as much of a slog as doing your regular circuit at the gym. (That’s probably the wrong terminology, but eh. I’ve been skipping the gym for so long that I can barely remember what a treadmill looks like).

But, you just have to keep going – one word after another, one step after another (just like on a treadmill! Right?). And sometimes, any word, any step will do. Something I keep learning over and over again is that perfectionism is a killer. I’ve wasted days being afraid to write because I couldn’t find the perfect next word.  Giving myself permission to be mediocre, or sometimes just plain awful, has been extremely liberating. Each bad word you write teaches you how to write a better one. And while I might end up with a lot of dreadful poetry, or articles that fell apart before I could submit them, or vague, meandering blog posts like this one, I’ve also learned what does and doesn’t work, and perhaps the most important lesson a writer will ever learn – how to sit down and make the word count, no matter what.

Anyway, this post ended up in a very different place to the one I expected – but hey, that’s writing, too. Now, I’ve got some celebratory cake to eat, and some particular books to never look at again. (Except, realistically, I absolutely will).

 

Alice’s books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Her webcomics, co-created and illustrated by Emily Brady, can be found at the Footloose website. Ally rambles about writing, feminism, and odd questions that cross her mind on Twitter and Facebook.

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About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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One Response to The End: Finishing my PhD

  1. R. A. Rogers says:

    This is some good writing advice – just like exercise, it does get easier the more you do it, and I’ve found myself facing the same issue with perfectionism. Sometimes, you just have to forget that notion that everything has to be ‘just so’ and let yourself use words and phrases that sound clunky or ‘bad’ at first. You can always come back and polish it up later, with a fresh mind or some new tricks.

    Also, congratulations on finishing your PhD! Enjoy your well-earned cake 😀

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