How to understand this blog

Thursday, November 11, 2010

an open letter

To the able supervisors of the world, and specifically mine,

Greetings. I appreciate you. I would be lost without you. You are amazing, and helpful, and wonderful in almost every way. I would have had a nervous breakdown long ago if it were not for you.

One small note, though. You spent basically a whole year in 2008 criticising my tendency to perfectionism. I admit that it took me some time to feel okay about submitting something to you that wasn't absolutely perfect. It took quite some trust of you on my part to start giving you unfinished drafts. So I am thankful that you made me realise that you wouldn't throw me out of university if I handed in something that was not very polished.

However, now that I have overcome this hurdle, I am beginning to feel tempted to revert into my perfectionism. Every time I send you a piece of writing, I make it very clear that I have not edited this for prose. All I want is to get down the basic ideas, however clumsy they may appear.

But it seems that you cannot resist the urge to point out all the failings of my draft chapters. The comments you return are heavily sprinkled with "Horrible prose!" "Awkward sentence" "Clumsy prose" in red pen, as if I were not aware of this already.

This makes it incredibly depressing to read through the comments. For one thing, it makes me feel like a very bad writer, as if every historian who ever existed managed to write in flawless, flowing prose at first attempt, as if ideas just flow beautifully out of historians without any painful hard work. I don't measure up to these paragons of my imagination.

For another, it makes me go a little bit insane, because I feel slightly offended that you think I didn't recognise these failings already. Of course there is bad writing in this draft! I realised that already! I feel overwhelming urges to run upstairs to your offices, comments in hand, and go through them painstakingly, assuring you both that I already knew that these chapters were not the pinnacle of literary achievement. This means I can hardly pay attention to your more helpful comments because I am so wound up about the unhelpful ones.

Also, it was actually very wise of me to choose not to revise my prose before I handed it to you. You have since told me that I need to rewrite/restructure everything. I am okay with that. I can see the need for it. It will make my thesis better. However, if I had spent hours making clumsy prose elegant, it would have been even more painful to completely scrap some sections and rewrite others.

Well, that's all I have to say. Let me assure you again that I think it is quite likely that I have the best supervisors in the world. I really do love being your thesis student. I am just having a little trouble with this one particular issue and I needed to vent. I will still bake you an amazing cake each when I finish my MA, and write you a card full of hyperbole when it comes to your mad supervisory skills.

Yours sincerely,

1 comment:

Sarakastic said...

It's better to have clumsy prose than bad ideas so if that's all they are commenting on, you win!