Research PhDs here in the UK are three years, plus one. That final year is called your "writing up" year, the year when you take all of the stuff you've researched over the previous handful of years and put it down on paper in some semblance of order and cleverness. I officially entered my writing-up year in September, which means that I MUST turn in at the very end of August...or not graduate.
So far I have 90,000+ words of the novel. It is *very nearly* finished. I just need to write the very very end, an end I didn't even know until just before Christmas. But I've not had the time to finish it because all I've worked on lately is the dissertation (plus a freelance gig that ate much of a week).
The dissertation, also known as the commentary, is a 25,000-30,000 word analysis of what I have done: that is, of what I set out to do with the novel and how it worked out. I worked on the final draft of the novel up until Christmas eve. Then I took about 5 days OFF. Then worked for a couple of days on the dissertation, and then took New Years Eve and the next day off. And then...
I've been working pretty much non-stop since then. Yesterday was my first real full day OFF OFF, in which I left the house, did something fun, and didn't look at a computer screen. (I spent most of January in pajamas, which have become dubbed my "office clothes.") For most of the month I've been working 8-12 hours a day, pounding out a draft of this monster. It's due by 9am on the 13th. I had pieces of a draft before all of this, but I realised in October that I had to totally restructure it.
As it stands now, it is an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters:
Chapter One: Borders: Historic Fantasy, Magic, and Placing [novel title] in Context
Chapter Two: The Garden as a "Time-Space": The Chronotope, Characterisation, and Verisimilitude
Chapter Three: Heterotopias: Setting, Structure, and Narrative Distance
Chapter Four: The Hortus Conclusus: Metaphor and Revision (or something like that)
Chapter Five: Spatialization: Writing Myself into the Garden (or something like that)
My reference list (what I've looked at, read, and taken notes from) numbers somewhere around 250 books. I've taken over 1,000 photographs on field visits, watched numerous TV shows (on gardens, history, etc.), visited too many museums, conducted interviews, written short fiction related to the project, written and presented academic papers related to this, too. And it all comes down to the next few months, to a novel and a dissertation and how well I can justify what I've done.
If you're ever thinking of doing a PhD, seriously consider how well you deal with criticism, rejection, lack of sleep, few days off, a bad diet, your health breaking down on you (I'm not kidding), and your mental health taking a beating, all with no guarantee of any sort of job or income at the end. I am doing all of this with the knowledge that what I will have (all I will have) at the end is a Dr. before my name. Is that enough for you?