Going over the word count: an autoethnographic account

This time last week I was beavering away at my PhD, happily ensconced in my participants’ narrative worlds, when, whoops! I remembered I had promised to put together an article for the ISME Research Commission in 2012. Now, this commission is a hotly contested affair with quantitative research usually taking preeminence. In the last few years, however, my clever supervisor has been clearing the path for qualitative research like hers and mine to be included in the mix. Notwithstanding my supervisor is a hot honcho in Music Ed world, I think I have my work cut out to gain admittance to this very closed affair in 2012.

So, I had about three days to put together a 3000 word article for this thing. Argh! 3000 words is terrible! Not because I don’t have enough to say, but because I have far too much to say. I can extend those word limits beyond their natural existence and it takes a lot of editing to cut my words down to a reasonable count. I wonder if there is anyone else who feels similarly?

Anyway, I wrote two full drafts. As I noted on Facebook, I have a disease called “crapitis”: the period after you realise your first draft is crap and before you start writing your second. Well. I chucked my entire first draft. It was terrible. Poor argued, poorly written, poorly edited. My second draft was probably not a whole heap better, but at least the argument flowed a bit. 3000 words does not provide a lot of characters for one’s substantive theory, one’s philosophical approach, AND one’s findings PLUS a conclusion. What a wrestle! And there are strict limits on the word count, so I would find myself checking the word count every 30 minutes or so, trying to stay within the limit and hoping to still be able to articulate a decent argument. I am hoping that even if I don’t make the Research Commission with a full spoken paper I will at least get a poster. That might help me feel better about wasting about 30 hours on the blasted thing. It should be noted that 3 of those hours was formatting the article to the appropriate style. ARGH! But I DID make the word count. All 2987 words of it.

Anyway, that was my ENTIRE weekend. There was a time on Saturday when I was so dehydrated from sitting in front of the computer all day that I had a headache and felt vaguely like I was going mad. I took the dog for a walk and felt a lot better.

I’ve entered the write or die phase of my PhD, too, so I’m frantically busy trying to get the ideas all clean and shiny. Too many words, I think my epitaph will read. Potentially it will read: Here lies Jess, a wordy person who never learnt to edit and always ran out of spac..

Still, this means that, with my RSME article written (not sent) and my ISME article written and sent off to review, I’ve completed about 10000 half decent words this year. Add these words to the 2 narrative chapters I’ve written (30000 words) and another article I helped write (7000 words, which has been sent off to review) and yet another one half done (3000 words) and I feel pretty bloody good. Not that the words necessarily count for anything, once my supervisor gets her hands on them.

My problem with the narrative chapters is trying to work out what NOT to say. Because I reckon no-one will read more than 15000 words and nor should they: that’s just cruel and unusual punishment for the assessor. My current narrative draft chapter stands at 17000 words and I’m only half way through.

A nightmare for me, my supervisor, my husband and the eventual assessors. Oh well, at least I have plenty to say. Even if most of it is shite.

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