I just got back from submitting my three five-thousand word “extended essays” which form 25% of the grade for my master’s degree this year. Taking the rest of today and tomorrow off from work before starting revision; I’ll have a little over four weeks to revise for my three exams worth the other 75%. These three essays represent my first attempt at doing some real philosophy: though the nature of the subject means that you can’t be expected to do produce anything truly original for at least three or four years from where I am now, there are a few maybe-original ideas in each of the three essays and the way I have put the essays together is original. So it’s worth reflecting on the process.

I wrote my first drafts between December and about two weeks ago. This process was really painful because it was hard to know how much reading to do, and hard to ignore the “must think of something original” thought: trying to do this rarely achieves anything. Two of the essays had plenty of minor things wrong with them but my tutor thought that overall they were solid, but the third got trashed: it really was all over the place. And all three were way over the word limit, since I was, in my tutor’s words, “indulgently long-winded.” This was because my bad habits of being long-winded returned to me over the past year since the tutor’s I’ve had haven’t pointed it out to me so much as one who I had last year did.

The past ten days or so, in which I’ve been restructuring, changing and shortening, have been great. My tutor gave me a very simple but extremely effective technique for this: start a fresh document and rewrite the essay from the beginning, copying and pasting paragraphs in from the previous one. You have to write philosophy sequentially because philosophy writing is always trying to do something, tell a convincing story; trying to move things around scrolling up and down your long document just doesn’t work. This technique transformed my experience and allowed me to really enjoy tightening things up and changing arguments that didn’t work.

I encountered some problems that made me think initially that my whole project in each essay was flawed and I wouldn’t be able to produce a convincing self-contained five-thousand word piece. But what was great as compared to writing tute essays is that I had the time to put the problem aside and return to it the next day: and solutions came to me—even, once or twice, in the shower or while eating or something. Though the first draft phase was sufficiently painful to make me wonder if I actually want to pursue acedemic philosophy further, this last ten days has reassured me that it’s a great thing for me to be doing.

I have no idea how good the essays actually are; it’s hard to judge whether my changes, which my tutor is not allowed to look at again, are any good. I’ve learnt that it’s not worth trying to judge marks in Oxford assessment. Won’t find out for about three months.