I am supposed to be working on an essay that I hoped would be finished in, oh, say March. For awhile, back there during the semester, I was working on it with some diligence, but somewhere around mid-April the press of grading and committee work took over, and writing ceased to progress.
But I’m back to thinking about this essay and how to make it a coherent piece, building from a conference paper, a lot of post-conference notes about what else I wanted to do with it (“post” meaning, here, not just immediately after but over the course of months), and a messy sort of annotated bibliography arranged not by date or alphabetically but by where checking other people’s footnotes sent me next.
It’s time to start a new document, with a new organizing principle. Okay. This one actually seems like it falls into several related-but-discrete segments. This is very nice, because I can think of each segment as a five-paragraph essay. Yeah, yeah, I know, we all dump on that form, but it’s a form I know I have mastered; and if some of those sections are actually 6 or 8 paragraphs, that’s fine; and there will be a revision stage (a stage? if it’s just one I’ll be lucky) in which any 5-graph clunkiness gets refined and developed, and the whole essay gets smoothed out into a coherent whole.
That’s the plan. We all know about plans.
I talked myself into sitting down to write one of those essays this morning, through all the reluctance (“the five-paragraph essay is a joke, everyone will know I’m a fraud if I construct my work this way, and what if it doesn’t go well, then I’ll really feel like an idiot if I can’t even write the sort of essay high-schoolers do for timed exams, maybe I should just go clean the linen closet so I can feel like a procrastinator instead of an idiot”) and got a piece of paper, because I felt like writing on paper rather than on the computer.
First I wanted to look at the spreadsheet that has all the references to Topic A in Author Z, so I could remind myself where the Topic A references appear in this long text. This spreadsheet was a nice mindless piece of work, compiled with reference to a concordance, that I did last year sometime.
It’s incomplete! I thought I finished this months ago. There was a table, in WordPerfect; it became unstable, so I converted it to Word; then I realized I could do a spreadsheet, and figured out how to turn tables into tab-separated text that could be easily imported into the spreadsheet; and I remember finishing this thing. But it’s not finished. Did I remember finishing with a particular chunk? Unclear.
At any rate, I’m back to converting text (and adding tabs manually to some, because of the whole problem with instability and multiple word-processing programs) and pasting it into the spreadsheet. It won’t really take that long. And maybe it’s a good task for a gray day right before a long weekend that I’ll be taking off, anyway.
But grrrr. All my self-encouragement wasted. I could have avoided the little pep-talk about tackling one of the mini-essays and just happily gone back to mindless cut-and-pasting, telling myself that I was staying in touch with the project and would get back to writing next week. Undoubtedly I should just try to write a different mini-essay, one for which the spreadsheet contains all the necessary entries, but this is my version of needing a clean desk in order to work. I need to feel the data is all present and tabulated, available for consultation at any time, before I can go on with this.
It’s probably Basement Cat’s fault. I bet he ate the Spreadsheet Elves when they came to help out.
Updated to add: I think the spreadsheet is done now. But my laptop suffered a BSOD (actually a purple screen, on my machine) while I was working on it. My computer just doesn’t want me to work on this thing. Maybe Basement Cat programmed it, too.