Thursday, December 11, 2008

Inefficiency; or, How I Write a Dissertation

I am the most inefficient writer I know. I want to be better, but my method is crazy. I try to fight it, but there is no escaping it. I want to be like my friend Keya, who sits and thinks and thinks, and then writes, slowly but steadily, one beautifully constructed sentence at a time. She has to do very little revision and her prose is elegant, deliberate, and precise.

You would think that having roughly 120 pages of dissertation behind me, that I would have mastered a technique that really works well. But instead, I blather. I have to write a blathering nonsense draft (the experts call this a "zero draft" but I bet real experts don't ever have to write one). Everytime I write it, I truly believe that I am writing what I mean to say. Then, I reread it and inevitably discover that it is nothing like what I mean to be writing. Instead, it is blathering nonsense.

So then the real writing begins. I have to print out the blathering nonsense, and attack it with a pen. Essentially rewriting, in long hand, in the margins or in between the double-spaced Garamond 12pt. font (Times New Roman is so undergrad), everything I had written before. I don't know why I can't write that version the first time around. It's like I have to type twenty pages of crap before I can actually start writing. But I can't skip the crap-step or the first draft will just be crap, even if I take my time and outline and plan. So I am now resigning myself to the madness of my method.

Once I've rewritten the nonsense draft, in scribbly pen and retyped it all, I now have draft 1. Which also will require extensive revision. Because I still tend to repeat myself and say in many, many words what should be said in one or two. Once I have read and revised it on the computer, I print it out and revise again by hand. (This is a very long, extensive process, too. And I hate it and I crave distractions while I do it.) After making those changes, I force myself to give it to another reader. I hate letting other people read my work because even though I say I want honest feedback and I am just trying to improve, I really mean that I want them to say it is awesome and perfect and I am very smart and this is totally publishable. (No one ever says that). But my readers/victims are very helpful and usually pretty generous too. I usually ask my aforementioned friend Keya, a fellow Victorianist, but this time I am going to go ahead and give an early draft to my advisor. I am determined to give her a draft before Christmas (for her reading pleasure over winter break). So I am currently in the process of revising Blathering Nonsense Draft, which means I need to get a move on so that I do not embarrass myself when I submit a draft.

I wish I could find a faster way to write or one that didn't require absolute silence and minimum distraction. (My dream is actually to be able to write my dissertation while watching TV or at least while listening to NPR. Saldy, I find this impossible. Or at least hugely unproductive.) So I do the best I can in my back room office with my space heater and laptop and Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine pens.

And speaking of distractions, I need to get back to work...

1 comment:

  1. You are me! I cannot, cannot, cannot revise on the screen. Or do anything for that matter. I end up writing a crap-draft, then printing it, then rewriting the whole thing on the backs of the paper it is printed on, then typing it all back in. How very retro. But it works! I just cannot think in front of the computer. Or I get distracted by the internet. :)