Progress report : November. Numbers and deadlines.

In November, I was inspired by Nanowrimo and set myself the goal of writing 30,000 words. Initially I was hoping for 50,000, but it would have been counterproductive and I did not want to trade quality for quantity. I started on November 5th and happily met my deadline 29 days later, on December 3rd with one day to spare. Since this is about numbers, I counted six days when no writing was done, either because I was busy elsewhere or for personal reasons.

During this month, I often thought about a tweet I had discovered randomly, by Brian Gaensler:  

“Reasearch is spending 6 hours reading 35 papers,so you can write one sentence containing 2 references.”

That is what the first year of my PhD looked like. I plunged into my bibliography and perused books upon books upon books in which only one paragraph would perhaps, if I was lucky, be of use in my research. To begin my second year, I wanted to actually work on my subject, which is the illustrations themselves.

I started with Ted Nasmith’s Silmarillion (see my introduction here) and continued with the HarperCollins edition of Beren and Lúthien illustrated by Alan Lee, comparing it with the pictures Nasmith devoted to the story in The Silmarillion. I also started doing the same thing with The Children of Húrin, starting with Nasmith’s version and moving to Alan Lee’s. That part was almost finished, until I received in the mail the second-hand Folio Society Silmarillion illustrated by Francis Mosley that I couldn’t wait to see for the first time (it was not available when I went to the Bodleian Library in September). This will provide more comparative ground and a new vision on Tolkien’s words.

Apart from the illustrations themselves, I also looked at the way they are spaced out and inserted in the books through the use of borders and margins. I also focused on the covers for the HarperCollins editions of The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin (the reading of which I am saving for the new year).

HarperCollins editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumous works edited by Christopher Tolkien

Each day, I set my goal of 1,000 words. Some days, it took me two hours and I could start on the following day’s goal, which was especially useful if I knew I wouldn’t have time to write then. On other occasions, writing those 1,000 words took me the whole day, and I shut my computer in the evening feeling drained. But I had this nice feeling of accomplishment which is quite rare in a project like a thesis spanned over a few years without a lot of stages.

On the days I couldn’t write, though, sometimes two in a row, it felt a bit disheartening to see the missing-words count go up and up. Because yes, I kept a spreadsheet of my progress, filling in the number of words I had to write, how many words I actually wrote each day, the total number of words on my document and how many words I was missing before reaching my goal.

Screenshot of my Nanowrimo spreadsheet

It was just an experiment and I do not plan on keeping this going. At least not every month, because the research work cannot be measured in the number of words written. It is more about the number of books ticked off the To Be Consulted list (an ever-growing one).


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