Wednesday, March 27

numbers, words, process, and "progress"

at some point about a year ago, in the midst of my dissertation labors, I wrote down the in-progress word counts (and page counts) of all five not-yet-actual-chapters.

why did I do this? I can't remember exactly. but I was probably curious, of course. and I probably also very much needed a brief numerical distraction from the laboriousness of actually writing. I thought, perhaps, that quantifying some of the work I was doing would illuminate the process, somehow.

here are the numbers I documented:

chapter 1 = 27,589 (70 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 2 = 8,822 (24 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 3 = 3,998 (16 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 4 = 6,799 (33 pages mostly double-spaced)
chapter 5 = 18,442 (61 pages mostly single-spaced)

for a grand, messy total of 65,650 words.

I also made a note that the smaller word counts signified the most finished and most actual-chapter-like chapters. chapter 4 at that point was the very closest. the hardest chapters to finish were the first and the last-- last most of all. that 61-page draft of chapter 5 had all the potential citations I'd eventually have to put into my reference list. all of the drafts contained many, many blabbering notes-to-self.

now that it's almost the end of March, my dissertation monster has been finished and tied up with ribbons for about nine months. I recently added it to the Humanities Commons. I'm trying to keep my profile there alive and up to date. it seems useful and Humanities Commons generally seems like a platform worth supporting.

but anyway, when I came across this old saved list of in-progress word counts, I started to wonder... what were the final numbers?

so I had my word processor calculate them for me again.

chapter 1 = 6,081 (20 pages double-spaced)
chapter 2 = 10,045 (31 pages double-spaced)
chapter 3 = 9,842 (34 pages double-spaced)
chapter 4 = 8,144 (28 pages double-spaced)
chapter 5 = 3,644 (12 pages double-spaced)

plus... 20 more pages of references and almost 80 pages of various appendices. the whole fat document, title page, abstract, acknowledgements and all, comes out to 53,845 words.

the five chapters alone are 37,756 words. that's 27,894 words that got smushed together with other words or chopped out entirely or maybe were only ever there as mental scaffolding for the words that got to stay.

do these numbers illuminate some of amelia's writing process? perhaps. I've long known that I'm the type to over-write and cut-and-paste and whittle the thing-that-will-be-written out of a giant boulder of words-that-could-be-the-thing. I don't think I'm the only one who writes that way. writing is not linear. progress of all kinds is zig-zagging and loopy. there isn't a true end to it.

whatever illumination is there also casts some shadowy questions. why is chapter 2 so long? could I have done more with that tiny conclusion chapter? what does everyone else's dissertation chapter word count table look like?