Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ready, set....write!

Having finally recovered from my strange 24 hours of sleepiness, I'm now (at 3:09 PM) ready to begin my research again for the new article. As I mentioned before, this project represents new work for me (although I'm thinking that it will allow me to ask some of the same questions I've been interested in for a long time). It's also a "discrete" project in the sense that it's for a collection and I have no real thoughts on pursuing it farther than it being an article in a colleague's collection and a dandy publication. This is the first time I've written something that wasn't related even tangentially to my dissertation topic (broadly construed) in years - and it's made me think a bit more about my writing and researching process.

In this case, I did a bit of reading around (only very little) in the criticism and main texts before beginning the project in earnest. I wrote an abstract for the collection and it wasn't even a half-ass place holder abstract (like, I'm writing on X text and I think there might be something about Y topic there...). So, I'm starting with an argument already in the back of my mind and this makes me feel...better. As I've begun reading the criticism more actively in the last couple of days, I've found that I'm responding to it as I take notes, rather than just taking notes - I'm positioning myself in the criticism already, which also makes me feel better.

But this is the intellectual process - what about the physical process of doing research and getting the draft cranked out? I know that Tiruncula blogged on this a while ago, as have many of you - I'm always interested to hear about other people's processes: do you work solely on the computer? Do you prefer longhand? Yellow legal pads or notecards? Do you edit as you go or just get it down first and work from there?

I myself am a big longhand person - I write notes in a blank, unlined, spiral notebook and then I condense and recopy them on clean printer paper. Then I write a skeletal outline on a couple of sheets of paper and then expand on that - often 15 to 20 pages. I write solely in black ink (the same Opti Flow pens from Staples), unless I'm writing a footnote, which goes in red ink (Pilot extra fine point roller ball pens). I write down practically the entire thing on paper (pretty much edited as I go) and then enter in into a word document. Oh, and on the top of the very first sheet of the outline, I write "What Are You Going To Write About?".

Reading back over this, the whole process sounds exhausting and *way* more OCD than I am in real life (where I'm pretty much obsessive-compulsive only about Coke Zero). But it's the only way my mind can get around the argument and make it coherent. Today, I'll finish a couple of chapters in the current book I'm reading and transfer my marginal scribblings into black ink notes in my notebook. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, I'll be able to finish my outline and start writing. The Tuscany trip will interrupt the process (which I don't mind at all), but I'll be able to dedicate almost all of June to it.


squadratomagico said...

I haven't composed a significant piece of writing longhand since I was in college. I don't think I could think very clearly in that format anymore.

What I usually do is write up, longhand, a sort of flow chart, more than an outline, on an oversized pad. It maps out how I want to use my evidence to make each point in my argument. Then I just start writing on the computer. I often include a quotation or anecdote early on, something I can unpack as a point of entry into the main themes I want to address.

After throwing myself into writing, I often end up trashing the first few days of work. This is an expected part of the process: the first attempt helps me order my thoughts more clearly, and then I am able to write with greater focus.

I spend a lot of time thinking about language, including secondary resonances, alliterations and metaphors. I think this is an important, but under-emphasized, element in crafting a fine piece of writing. In addition, I am ruthless about excising tangential sentences and paragraphs that lead to loose ends, or that interrupt what I consider to be the optimal flow and rhythm of my language. Thus I always open what I call an "extra file," essentially a dumping-ground for these orphaned snippets of writing. I keep this file until I'm done with the project, just in case I want to rescue some of those sentences, but it seldom happens.

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, I write the "What am I going to write about today" every day at the top of my notes, but that's part of my wake up and get the caffeine in the veins ... I have to write my way to awakeness and remind myself what I worked on yesterday. All those pages get thrown out. Once I'm warmed up I either make a new outline (sometimes it's a flowchart, or a concept map) and start typing crap into the computer. That or revise crap from the previous day into paragraph form.

And an UNlined notebook? I am impressed! I still need lined paper to create legible handwriting --- I feel kinda like I haven't grown up yet. But if I can bring a spiral notebook to professorial meetings instead of the ubiquitous yellow legal pads I would be happier.