Sunday, June 22, 2008

Whoa! An Academic Post? It Must Be Writing Time!

It's Sunday before the weekday of a writing deadline. So of course this is when I start. I have to revise this article for Edited Collection. Revise, as in "to see again," as in gut this puppy and make it into something new. As in, oy, it's way too hot and I'm too sick and pregnant to do this, as in I must blog before I can even get started.

This, assuming that it doesn't totally suck and get pulled from Edited Collection, will be my first academic publication. Not my first publication, because I've published other kinds of things -- encyclopedia entries and creative writing, whatnot for which people didn't seem to think I was a total loser when I was done. I feel now though like a total loser. I think part of it is that I feel so far from the academy, from the university scene, even from anything remotely close to that work, though I did renew my memberships to the big organizations and have even read an article or two in the last month. On the other hand, this fear and loathing of working on this article probably has nothing to do with distance from the academy. This is probably the usual self-hate cycle that allows me to progress from worrying about whether I can actually produce anything mind-blowing and original, destined to blow open the field, to then worrying about writing anything remotely decent -- both of which are a lot of pressure to put on any one piece of writing, especially one that needs to be worked on immediately -- to worrying with mounting anxiety whether I can get something, anything, done so I can get it in on time and not reveal myself to be a total flake. Dude, this is my process. It's not a good process, but it's a process. No matter how much text I generate and even when I work on things on a regular basis (though I can't really remember when the last time that was, except for the dissertation, which was more aberration than pattern), I can't seem to get myself to get down to it to order anything or really take it apart and put it back together until I work up a good self-and-writing loathing.

Okay, I don't know if self loathing process crap is really true. But it feels true.

I am grumpy at everyone today, starting from the moment I began doing things related to this article. Absurdist Lover remarked yesterday that one moment I wasn't working, then I left the room and came back in and I was suddenly "working." I got nothing done, except some class A grousing about the editors' comments. Of course, the comments themselves are probably fine -- I would grouse about them in any case, I'm sure.

But there is this problem I'm having. They want me to put more conversation with the field in my article. Now of course this is a good idea -- and actually I took out much of that conversation when I hacked at a dissertation chapter to get this article. But a problem I'm having is that I find the existing conversation in my field to be really fascinating, but too focused on one particular location or site for analysis and theorizing. (Oooh, this is kind of helping.) I'm totally excited by some of the things my field is doing (or I wouldn't be in my field), but I think we can be greatly informed by 1) looking at what others in the wide world outside of our field are doing to inform our theorizing and studying; and 2) looking at other sites as valid places for us to study and contribute to. (Ooh, helping!) I always have to make the argument that these other sites I'm looking at are even worthwhile -- and show how these ideas contribute to our main site -- rather than affirming that we can and should study these other sites.

At Grad City U, other dissertators also found this to be true -- that if we didn't tie our work back to the main site that people wouldn't recognize our work as within our fields. I know it's not just me. So I think I got really defensive about these claims and had, early on in my dissertation process, really argued the hell out of this, always foregrounding the limitations of the work in my field. But because I work with alternative argumentation (think: the Native American critique that scholars talk about scholarship as "staking a claim" in "uncharted territory" or the way that we can discount all previous scholarship as "primitive" compared to the complexity of our own ideas; also radical feminists talk about the thrust and parry of scholarship as very male) for reasons that absolutely connect to the main thrust (oh dear) of my argument, I don't want to discount all the previous scholarship or go deeply into arguing against it, though I do think it has profound limitations. Now my dissertation committee was made of up of pretty cool scholars, so when I argued for alternative argumentation in light of my main discussion, they seemed convinced. In fact, they advocated my taking out some of my discussions with the field, maybe because they were too defensive. These editors, on the other hand, want more discussion, which seems to mean more argument against what's already been done in the field.

Writing all this out is really helpful actually, because I realize that I can probably talk about what the scholarship in the field does and does not do without calling them deficient. I guess I'm just worried about trying to represent the integrity of what this other work is trying to do in the tiny space allotted. It's easier to say that something sucks. But it doesn't suck -- and even when it does (from my perspective, some of it does in fact have elements of suckage) -- I don't want to portray it that way. So I just won't. I guess. If possible.

The other big problem is that I have to reorganize the thing. They didn't exactly say that -- in fact, I think that their comments do not call for a drastic reorganization of the thing. But they say that the point isn't clear -- and I can see instantly how that's an organizational problem. I think this has something to do with the fact that there isn't a clear methodology to working with data in my field. Perhaps terribly, since I've been working on this material for a long time, I'm still learning from it. It's ethnographic field research. Qualitative. So I continue to re-see the data based on my own brain. Oy! And without a clear method in the field, we are also without a clear way of writing up results. Though I would probably hate a more rigid structure -- and pretty much flout scholarly organizational standards as often as possible, partly because I work in alternative argumentation. Though here I can see that my alternative argumentation/organization makes it very hard to see my point. Hence having to gut the thing and reorganize, one of my least favorite things. Ironic, of course, because when I teach I always tell students to write whatever, then go back and reorganize. And I say it as if it didn't feel pretty awful to tear your own writing up. Maybe I'll actually physically cut and paste it. Sometimes the act of cutting it up feels so kindergarten and fun, it takes some of the seriousness out of it all.

I wish I could just come up with these insights and then someone else could write it. (This from the writer.) Really, I'm just lazy. Or I resist launching in. Or something! It's more fun to blog about writing than to write it. This is probably an audience issue. Writing for these editors, whom I greatly respect and wish to not offend, and for the academic audience in general has a lot to do with whether I'll get a job in the near future, on which much of my life seems to rest. Oy, I wish I had more time. But I chose to work on it at the last minute. Will I ever learn? OY!

Once this is done, I need to write another article, and then likely another, taking out pieces of my dissertation and sending it out before the fall job market hoopla starts, so at least I can say that I've got work out there. I think three articles for someone who's been out of grad school for a year is pretty reasonable. I need to work on academic work regularly, instead of this writing binge I'm engaging in now. It's stupid to do this. I've also got to remember that much academic writing is not so well written. It doesn't have to be brilliant. It has to be clear. It has to make sense. It has to make a clear contribution to the field. Period.

Okay, work management, aka accountability blogging. I need to

1) add the stuff I think needs to be added immediately and make space for things I think probably need to be done that I'm not ready to do immediately

2) see if I can come up with a new outline for what I think would be pretty readable, seeing what's lost and gained

3) go back into the scholarship and draw connections and counter-arguments

4) fill in the gaps and do dumb formatting things

Today, I pretty much need to do 1 and 2. First I'll add the stuff I'm going to add. Then I'll reorganize, cutting and pasting and getting a sense of what is lost and gained. Then I think I have to let it rest. I have a plan! A plan!

***Update 6:30pm***

Wow, did I really start blogging around 12:30 and I'm only done with work now? I do remember how to work!

So I found myself really going over the piece sentence by sentence, mostly taking things out and reordering. I stopped at the point where I got to the pages where all this other scholarship needs to be put in. It's clear to me that I'm not going to be able to add scholarship in each place they've noted it, because the whole piece would become way too long. But I think that I've put a strong new organization in place -- and the scholarship problems are those I think I can research individually, making them bite-sized pieces I might be able to work on piecemeal -- if I can ever really get myself to get up early. Oh! I give a test tomorrow in my SAT class, so I'll have plenty of time to work on this. Wow, I'm good! Solved that problem. I just have to remember to put the books in my bag. Better do that now. I've also got to remember to do the stuff I need to do for the SAT class. Like send my students some emails. Then I'm going to enjoy the rest of my Sunday!


Sisyphus said...

A plan, a plan! Yay, she's got a plan!

I don't know how you're managing to get anything done... I'm just lying around complaining about the heat.

Hurray for blogging your way into the work! I remember this helping you a lot back with the diss. (does it seem weird that we have a year-long at least relationship and I think we've only met once? Ah, technology!)

And remember, it's summer all over, so we all feel disconnected from the academy and unstructured and guilty feeling and not wanting to work. So you are, in fact, _exactly_ in the same place as the rest of the academics! Ta-da!

k8 said...

I'm impressed for how much you are doing!

I get the same questions from people about field allegiance. Even though my phd will be in comp/rhet, many people ask me if I am more library science or more comp/rhet. I think my committee was worried that my diss wouldn't sound comp/rhet because it deals with LIS, too. Actually, I know they were worried because before my proposal defense a couple of them told me that they didn't realize how much my project was a comp/rhet project until they read the proposal. I wrote that proposal very carefully, just for them, and it was (I thought) obnoxiously explicit about the way it fit in with comp/rhet scholarship.

Yeah, I definitely get what you're talking about here. It can be annoying to deal with, and everyone seems to want that "conversation with the field" to meet up at different parts of the field. Oh well.

The accountability blogging is a good idea. I think I need to start doing it rather than just posting photos and rambling on about bread. I think it can be a very good thing to set goals and make them public.