I’m at what is simultaneously my most and least favorite part of my writing process: the end. I like this stage because, well, it’s the end. I can see the finished draft approaching, and I can be reasonably-enough sure of a timeline that I can tell my adviser I’ll have the draft done by a specific date. And then I’ll get it done by then, because the work left is discrete enough that I can schedule it in the remaining time.
I hate this stage because of the way I get to this point: I defer all the hard stuff, bit by bit, until that’s all that’s left. Half a dozen paragraphs end with “[Final sentence or two of analysis]”. Two different places in the chapter say, “Thesis-ish,” followed by some general notes about what I think that thesis ought to be. The conclusion is little more than a glorified outline. Another half-dozen paragraphs are comprised of informal notes and tentative claims, accompanied by the marginal comment, “Expand and polish.” And I have footnote after footnote that reads only, “Citation.”
Each of these places is highlighted so that I won’t forget about it, and accompanied by a comment reminding me what it is I need to do before I can un-highlight the relevant section. My job now is to go through the draft step by step, fixing one section after the next until no more highlighted sections remain. This is not fun. Sometimes it’s just tedious, like with the citations that need to be added, but other times it’s agony. That “Final sentence or two of analysis” is often the most important part of the paragraph, but it can often take a lot of time and energy to figure out what it is I need to say about the stuff I’ve quoted.
Though it’s unpleasant, this stage is an important part of my overall process. Those deferrals were all necessary to maintain momentum back when the imperative was to write a lot in each sitting, to get the whole of the draft out on the page. Agonizing over the last sentence of analysis, or the wording of a thesis I wasn’t even sure about would only slow things down. Getting the citations perfect is an insidious procrastination technique, not something that needs to happen the minute I add a quotation.
So here I am, with a mostly-finished but still very highlighted draft. When I get to this stage, even the scale of the timing changes. I work for twenty-five or fifty minutes (one or two repetitions of this technique) and then I take a fairly lengthy break, much longer than I would take if I were in the middle of the draft. Each time, I have to force myself to tackle just one more sentence. The best part, the part that keeps me going, is that each time I finish a difficult section, I get to unhighlight it, and the more quickly I work, the sooner I get to see my draft turn from yellow to a nice, finished white.
Sometimes I find that what I thought in the moment were unpolished notes are actually just a step away from finalized prose. All I have to do then is clean up the contractions, vary the vocabulary, and remove the m-dashes that I’m so fond of when I’m making notes. Other times, and there’s one section of this chapter that’s particularly bad, I find that there’s still reading and thinking left to do. Those paragraphs I tackle slowly, half a sentence at a time.
When I’m at this stage, I find it difficult to turn my brain off, ever. I’ll be scattered all week, and I’ll have trouble getting to sleep each night as I run through the list of things still to finish. My usual work schedule doesn’t apply. Instead, I sit down to work on a section whenever I can push myself to, or whenever a moment of insight strikes, showing me how to handle a tricky sentence. I’ll be on all week, but it will only take a week. On Monday, when I realized I had only the sticky bits left, I told my adviser I’d have a draft to him by Friday. Doing that provides the urgency I need to keep coming back to that “Final sentence or two of analysis” again and again and again until they’ve all been added.
Once I get everything done and sent off I will clean the house from top to bottom with a manic energy that will alarm the cats. First, though, I have some more citations to add.