Back in 2009, I attended a production of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Belle Moral. This post isn’t really about the play. It is about the author’s note in the program.
Belle Moral: A Natural History has its origins in an earlier play of mine called The Arab’s Mouth … After The Arab’s Mouth premiered [in 1990], I knew that it was not quite finished and, in keeping with my experience as a playwright and collaborator, I fully expected to return to it.
I am returning to this now because that statement sums up what I was trying to get at in my post about Triangle pose and the principle of having a clear vision of the aim even if you know you can’t reach it (yet).
Turning your thesis into a book (or not)
I published my thesis book within a year of graduating. Out. An actual book that you could buy in a store.
I moved the methodological discussion to an appendix. I split one chapter into two. I sent the manuscript in. Done.
I have met a lot of people that can’t seem to do that. They feel the need to revise whole sections. Update this and that. They now feel that the argument needs to move on. Sometimes a book comes out. Often it never does.
The thesis, despite having been good enough for the committee, feels “not quite finished”. And because of that, they don’t send it to a publisher but keep it in the “to do” pile.
This happens to more than just PhD dissertation. The desks of academics around the world are littered with pieces that are “not quite finished”.
Good Enough to Publish
Does something have to be finished to publish? Doesn’t publishing something that is “good enough” but “not quite finished” suggest that you are lowering your standards? What about “excellence”?
MacDonald had her “not quite finished” play, The Arab’s Mouth, produced. And published.
I haven’t seen The Arab’s Mouth. But I have no reason to believe it is not an excellent play in its own right. The author’s note makes it clear that Belle Moral, despite having its origins in that earlier work, is a very different play. Also excellent.
The evolution from The Arab’s Mouth to Belle Moral passed through an excellent novel, Fall On Your Knees. I have read the novel. It addresses very different themes from Belle Moral. The novel and the later play may have their origins in the same original work, but they are very different, and equally excellent products.
And yet, from the author’s perspective the earlier play and, presumably, the novel felt “not quite finished”. I am very glad that she produced/published them anyway.
The world would not be a better place had she kept them in a folder until the “finished” piece was ready.
Research does not “finish” with publication
The question of “not quite finished” work is not one of the excellence or otherwise of the product (be it a play, a novel, an article, or a research monograph). It is a question of process.
You have a program of research. A big research question or direction that you will pursue over several years. The research does not end with a publication. Publication is part of the process.
You will pursue specific questions or paths within that larger program. You will develop particular ideas. You will investigate a particular source. Interview particular people. Interpret particular texts.
And at every stage of the process you have things to contribute to the conversation. Publication is how academics contribute to academic debate.
Your work continues. You keep working on those ideas. You develop them. Your work advances.
Others pick up your ideas, from your publications, and take them in other directions. They bring them to their own texts, interview subjects, archives. They develop them in new directions. And publish their contributions to the conversation.
Your work is never “finished”
The questions you are pursuing are too big for that. Each step of the process raises new questions. Suggests new directions. Your vision of the result you are aiming for (the “full expression of the pose”) is refined.
Publishing is about making a contribution to the advancement of knowledge. Entering into the conversation. Engaging in debate.
The standard of entry into academic debate is high. If you have been awarded a PhD, you have been judged capable of meeting that standard. You are “good enough” to participate.
The debates to which you want to contribute will be better for your participation in them. Frequently. At all stages of the process.
When faced with the product on your desk the question isn’t, “Is it finished?” The question is, “Is it good enough?”.
If you need help
If you are struggling with publishing decisions, I can help you decide what to publish where in a way that will move you toward the realization of your bigger vision.
A 1-hour session (by telephone or Skype) is $175 (CDN + applicable taxes).
This post was originally published March 5, 2009 and has been edited.