The embarrassment of resetting

Posted: March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a difficult semester for me, as can be seen by how little I have posted here. The long and short of it is that outside stress has forced me to take a step back and find a new way to do what used to come easily for me: writing papers.

When in a normal state of mind, writing papers is done easily enough. Five pages meant an afternoon’s work, Ten pages meant a weekend. Even twenty pages wouldn’t be all that bad. But in this state, I found myself having difficulty. And to solve that difficulty, I had to essentially re-train myself to write papers.

I thought it might be interesting to write down how I do that, in case this should come up again.I’m going to use as an example a very simple five page paper. In order to retrain myself, I first broke it into as many pieces as I could. So first I read through my research sources, highlighting as things interested me.

Once that was finished, I went BACK through my research, finding specific ideas that I had earlier highlighted or otherwise identified as particularly important. This was a larger task; no more dealing with a single line or even series of lines; now I was looking at whole passages.

Then, another piece: I went through those ideas and picked out the MOST relevant quotations from those sections. These I copied over into a word file, separating them by source and putting in the citation information.

Once that was done, I put it all aside; it was time to write.

Well, no. Actually, it was time to OUTLINE. I wanted to write, but I forced myself to slow down, the same way I would do with a beginning writing student. So I outlined my paper, writing down what I thought the thesis would be, then supporting that argument with several sections.

Then, done with that, I wrote. But I didn’t write the paper in its final form; instead, I wrote an actual rough draft. I didn’t try to establish credibility, or cite any sources. I just wrote what I thought, expanding my outline into what I loosely call a ‘narrative.’ This was all my thinking, with nothing from anyone else.

Once that was finished, I was finally ready to use my research. Back through my rough draft, I plugged in the quotes I’d found earlier. If there was a quote that supported what I said, in it went, along with an introduction for the quote and an explanation for how it supports my argument. Plugging in these quotes and smoothing out the narrative around them, I finally had the paper finished.

Arguably, I wrote a lot of drafts: The quotations, the outline, the narrative, the final paper. Four drafts. Realistically, I just forced myself to break things down to lower pressure on myself.

And yet, doing this required me to FORCE myself to change my writing method. I wanted to jump to writing before it was appropriate in the method I used. I made a conscious decision to work along a particular method.

Here’s my point, which I know I’ve been meandering towards: sometimes, when a project leaves you stuck, the best thing to do is to try writing in a different method; pick a strategy you don’t usually use, and FORCE yourself to stick to them.

This particular method was not completely unknown to me. I wrote my senior thesis in the mode of first a narrative, then plugging in quotes. It’s a method I usually use for longer papers. But I had never gone through the research quite as often as I did this time.

I think it worked.

I also, upon reflection, think this entry is a bit of an embarrassment.

Hence the title.

  1. Christi says:

    I feel your pain with this writing issue as I have been dealing with exactly the same thing this semester. It has been agony to feel like I am slogging through too many ideas, struggling with the best way to assemble the paper, etc., which is really something I normally love to do. I am a Rhet/Lit./Comp Master’s student, and it has truly been scary that I’ve allowed myself to be blown off track by peripheral life stress that has impeded my ability to write.

    I hope things are going better for you now; the semester’s almost over. Time to regroup and reflect!

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