I like to think that, in general, I have some idea whether the work I’m producing is terrible. I’m not saying I can spot every flaw or anything—just that, when I’m working on something, I usually have some rudimentary notion as to whether what I’m doing is decent or catastrophically bad. But what I’ve discovered over the years is that my ability to sense this with respect to a given project comes with a time limit. And after too many hours revising something, I no longer have any ability to judge its adequacy at all.
Exhibit A: My Dissertation. Here’s a rough timeline detailing how my thought process has progressed—
Me Six Months Ago: This Plato chapter is pretty rough. I better clarify how I’m situating my argument with respect to the secondary literature. And that middle section is weak. It probably needs a little more argumentation.
Me Five Months Ago: Well, the lit review’s better, but I’m still not sure about that middle section. Better revisit it.
Me Four Months Ago: The middle section… I seem to have a long rambling paragraph with what looks like a footnote about children’s breakfast cereals. Is it funny? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just weird.
Me Three Months Ago: The decision to keep the breakfast cereal footnote was the right call. Also, my idea that the Trix Rabbit’s longing for Trix is a metaphor for Platonic eros must be pursued in greater depth.
Me Two Months Ago: Alright. The chapter is now officially retitled: “The Hidden Platonism of General Mills-Brand Cereals: Rabbits, Leprechauns, and the Discovery of Being.” Now all I have to do is create an appendix that’s got all of the relevant cartoon characters reimagined wearing togas.
Me One Month Ago: I’m such a moron. Togas are Roman. Scrap the appendix and start again with ACCURATE costuming. Also, expand the appendix. Also, replace the entirety of the paper with the expanded appendix.
And that’s why it’s important to have other people read your stuff.
Not that I’m redoing any of the chapter at this point. I think the last draft, tentatively titled, “The Hidden Platonism of General Mills-Brand Cereals: I Have Hidden Pictures of Plato in These Drawings of General Mills-Brand Cereals,” is pretty perfect as is.