I have always really enjoyed drawing up obsessively detailed, time-dependent documents such as revision timetables, budgets, and other long-term plans. Stressful prospects - such as how to juggle revising for a dozen different exams, or figuring out how to make a single Master's stipend keep two human beings in food and accommodation for a year - seem far less daunting when I can meet them with Excel spreadsheets and colour-coding. Planning how to finish the PhD was no different.
My completion schedule follows an (expanded) traffic light pattern. I am an absolute convert to Research Voodoo's advice for avoiding the 'perfect sentence vortex' and of seeing the state of having a 'shitty first draft' as a milestone in and of itself. I therefore divided my (rapidly-vanishing...) 36 weeks into four stages: writing, editing, the 'interim stage', and polishing. Writing is red, editing is amber, the interim stage is yellow, and polishing is a lovely green. I am currently still 'in the red'.
So, the aim for the end of the writing stage is to have complete drafts of all of my chapters, complete with comments from my supervisors all over them. These complete drafts are just that - drafts, with more footnotes to be added in, some restructuring and a fair amount of heavy pruning to be carried out (I always, alway 'over-write'). I currently have drafts of all but one chapter completed, which is a bit of terrifying feeling. I really didn't notice that I'd reached my 'last chapter' until I sat down at the start of this week, looked at my calendar and realised that my task was to start planning it.
The next stage, editing, is when I hope to turn all of those distinct chapters into a single thesis. Personally I find it very important to be able to do this whilst the chapters are still 'draft-y'. One approach which seems to be quite common in history is to write a chapter, then edit it, then polish it up, and then move onto the next one. I don't think I could bear to pull apart the chapters - as I know I'll need to - in order to form them into a coherent narrative if I'd already 'perfected' the individual segments. I'll talk a bit more about my plans for editing in another post, but essentially this period of time - roughly 10 weeks of my schedule - will feature 'big ticket' editing: getting the word-count down, moving sections around, deleting any egregious examples of repetition (I'm sure I'll have defined 'the sublime' around half a dozen times in different chapters).
I'm also going to write the introduction and the conclusion during this stage, which is technically writing, but I think really can't be done until you've spent some time wading through the chapters as a whole. As I write individual chapters I have ideas about what I want to set up in the introduction and bookend in the conclusion, but I want to make sure those sections work to anchor the whole story those individual chapters will produce.
The 'interim stage' (lovely bright yellow...) will be the period of time when the semi-final draft is with my supervisors. I think I'll do a lot of sleeping during this stage; conveniently, it also coincides with my grandparents' sixtieth (!) wedding anniversary, for which I'll be taking a break down south. This will also be the time for manually constructing the bibliography, because in some respects I am still a dinosaur and did not use referencing software for my thesis, consulting the regulations for submission and getting any other administrative tasks done.
Once the whole draft is back from my supervisors, hopefully not with substantive comments or suggestions to re-write the whole damn thing, the calendar goes green and I'll start polishing. (As an aside, I have always loved the imagery of 'polishing' a piece of writing. Apparently in the Regency period servants would use champagne to get the best polish on a pair of leather boots. Would that work for a thesis...?) This will be the time for paying close attention to grammar and style, and for making short titles in my footnotes as short as possible in order to make those final cuts down to 80,000 words.
And then, I'll hold the final version of this crazy document in my hands, and walk into down to the random University office in which PhD submissions happen, almost certainly glancing inside to find a typo I'd missed. 22 weeks from today. I'd better get to it.