some thoughts on process

14Jan09

Despite still being disheartened by the nonexistent advising/mentoring/support network in my professional life, I’ve managed to keep plugging away at this chapter. This chapter is a big mess, frankly, but that’s no real surprise, given how difficult I found the research. Surprisingly, though, some interesting arguments are starting to emerge.

In the past, I’ve had two main problems. I hate the “reading” phase, that middle stage between gathering the research and writing it up, because I feel like I’m making no tangible progress. I also haven’t figured out a good way to take notes in that step. My second problem is that writing too often happens at the last minute where I’m forced to write within a predefined box: from introduction to conclusion, at a pretty fast clip, without any room for experimentation or even nuanced explanations or hypotheses. As a result, my arguments (if they’ve even really existed) haven’t amounted to much.

I figure the dissertation is as good a time as any to change my “process” and my favorite writing software (Scrivener) aids the process by giving me a place to gather together all kinds of different writing (prose, lists, random quotations, thoughts, random arguments, etc) in one place without having ten thousand small word documents cluttering my computer. Now I’m treating the “reading” phase as a preliminary “writing” phase, where I read the documents, pick out what seems most important, make a note of things that may become important in later drafts, make a note of things I need to figure out later, make connections with other bits of evidence, and generally try to make sense of the material I have and test out arguments and hypotheses in written form. It’s working out pretty well and I can already tell that my arguments have much more depth than they’ve had in the past. More importantly, I’m accumulating a lot of writing (about 16,000 words at this point), which is a major improvement. I tend to be quite a sparse writer, which can be a strength but is often the result of not enough research and thinking. So it’s a good thing that I’m generating so much material that I can whittle down into a tightly argued chapter (or at least that’s the hope). Plus my favorite part of the writing process is rewriting so I can get to the part that I love sooner without having an utterly wretched and barren draft that is too flawed to be revised successfully.

The only problem is that I have that many words already and haven’t even come close to reading all of the material I’ve gathered. But, given my history, that’s a good problem to have. And, now that some arguments are coming into view, I think I’ll be able to shelve some of the material for this draft and return to it later if I need it.

So it’s finally going well and I finally feel like I’m working and making progress professionally. I wish I could say the same about my personal life but even there I’m getting some much-needed clarity about things, even if I am still making ill-advised men decisions. Oh well, I can’t win all my battles in one week.

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