Monday, March 24, 2008

Um, now what?

You all might remember the lovely writing group I'm in where the writing guru helped me come up with a plan for the next year of writing. Well, it's not entirely off the tracks, but there have been some large developments in my project which might cause a small paradigm shift.

So, my dissertation was a multi-genre study of gender and Cultural Phenomenon X (but my interaction with CPX wasn't that foregrounded); in order to write the dissertation, I had to deal with Larger Cultural Phenomenon Y to justify generic choices I'd made. Okay. My book project is single-genre and I'm looking at how women's interaction with CPX says something about LCPY. I think there's a connection to be made there and LCPY is getting a lot of critical interest at the moment - and no one's really looking at how gender impacts LCPY. Cool. However, LCPY is really big. Like huge. And I've always had a hard time making the connection elegantly between CPX and LCPY.

When it was my week in the writing group, I wrote an 18-20 page intro to a chapter where I talk about gender and CPX, trying to make my intervention in CPX a little more aggressive and thorough because I'd decided that I really want to focus on CPX more in my book. And while I was writing the chapter, I was putting in little notes like: "You really need to gesture to how this relates to LCPY here..." or "How are you going to deal with LCPY? Different chapter? Two-parted chapter?", etc. I just have never been that clear on how gender and CPX would really be a way to access the big, honkin' LCPY. I know it's there theoretically, but...well, it's a little like sub-atomic particles. I know they're there even though I can't prove they're there.

When my two writing group pals read this piece, they both asked, very innocently: "Why do you even have to deal with LCPY? The cool stuff is gender and CPX." And I just blinked for a couple of seconds and realized that I was still harnessed to something that I'd had to deal with in the dissertation, but I kinda didn't need to do that anymore. This would make a cleaner, more specific book. And I could still publish my forays into CPX-->LCPY as articles.

But I'm simultaneously liberated by this and also a little disappointed. Now I feel like my project doesn't have as much of a "punch" as it did before. I.e., I'm not going as big and broad as I was. But is that okay? I mean, for a first book, that might be better, yes? I feel like I'm putting Germano's advice to work here - but I also feel a bit like I'm letting go of a life preserver.

So, now I'm a little at sea. I need to consider how I'm going to deal with my last two dissertation chapters (which I had intended to squish into one larger chapter) - but now I'm not even sure that they need to be in the book at all! And I might have to consider writing some totally new chapters.

Holy cats. I think I just had a tiny heart-attack. Tell me that all of this will be sorted out...


Sisyphus said...

Yes, it will all be sorted out!

It sounds all cool and exiting! Really, it looks all fun to be wrestling with ideas and making interventions the way you describe them. (Though I'm trying to plug in words for your obfuscations and I _know_ it can't be gender and "The Middle Ages", heh, but really I don't have the background to fill it in any more specifically than that!)

Anyways, I always think that tight and focused and sharp, making smaller claims, is more _interesting_ to read than big vague claims ... at least it is for student and grad student papers. Sharpen up what you've got as much as possible and send out your proposals or whatever they're called ... if it needs more connection to LCPY, then you'll be told that in the rejection letters. Or, hopefully, as a prerequisite for accepting the book.

Or maybe you can foreground the LCPY more in the intro and conclusion, and not so much in the chapters? That whole "gesturing outward" we tell our students to do in their conclusions but they don't?

In other news, I just realized that those are medieval cats and not weasels in your top pic.

medieval woman said...

Hee, hee - Sis - how you do make me laugh! Yes, the medieval scribes didn't really get down with the concept of "depicting fluff"...

Susan said...

If you don't have a neat connection between CPX and LCPY, then drop LCPY except from the intro (perhaps), but really play up the potential relationship in the conclusion as an area for further investigation etc.

When you send the book ms to the press, your readers may say something about how you deal with LCPY -- they might tell you that in chapter 3 it would be helpful to make htat connection specifically, or some such. Then you'll know how to go.

Also, once you've decided that the book is not dealing with LCPY it may be clearer where you don't need to make the connection at a theoretical level but can do it at a practical level when relevant.

Of course, this is all abstract...

squadratomagico said...

It's very hard to advise without knowing the exact issues involved, but I have to ask: If you once saw some sort of connection between CPX and LCPY, why abandon it now? It may be a good idea to jettison LCPY, but I would give it a good long think first. I guess my fear would be this: You may be having trouble organizing your thoughts and articulating the exact connections that you sense are there, but if you struggle with it and figure out how to put it all together, you may come up with some kind of awesome argument that will make your book hugely important, esp. if LCPY is a burgeoning area. I'm just sayin': it might be worth it to wrestle with this a bit longer, keeping in mind that the agony is part of the process of crafting a really interesting book/argument.

If it really won't come together, then you can, as you note, always save that bit for articles. But I always think it's good to strive for something difficult.

medieval woman said...

I know - the obscurity required for the blog is infuriating! But, I'm meeting with a colleague in an adjacent field on Wednesday to pick her brain a bit. Sq, I *knew* you'd suggest keeping LCPY - you always love the big ideas! Maybe for now I'll keep it on the back burner until I see my way a little clearer on the individual chapters.

Thanks for all your thoughts!!

Sisyphus said...

It would be more appropriate in a way, though, if those were medieval weasels, cause I always think of Alison in the Miller's Tale being described as slender as a weasel. At least I think that's the ref.

Anyway, medieval weasels = highly important!

PS would it be feasible to email/visit/buttonhole at the next conference your diss advisor and get some advice on this? Presumably s/he's exactly in your field rather than your colleague in the adjacent field. (My theory, ask everybody until you're sick of advice. It's usually free and helpful.)

the procrastinating professor said...

The writing process is always so anguishing and compelling at the same time. Good luck to you! I feel these things daily as I attempt to write my dissertation. Sounds like you have lots of wonderful people to put in their **two cents**.