Anyone in the ADM/Notorious writing group probably figures, based on the number of comments I made yesterday, that I was procrastinating again. But I actually did quite well yesterday, despite a fair amount of surfing and comment-refreshing as group members posted their first-week results. I really like the amount of detail and interaction we’re getting there.
Before specifying what I did yesterday, I want to list the projects I’m working on or involved with this summer. And I rather regret that it is a list: I have this problem with trying to do too many things at once, and I keep trying to stop taking on too much, so that I can finish stuff instead of perpetually moving on to the next thing before the last one is done. But I keep having ideas! And sometimes other people like these ideas. And I’m excited about all of them. So here we are:
A) Conference paper (not for Leeds; a different conference). Very cool manuscripty-readership thing. Must become an article at some point. Or maybe part of a book chapter. Lots of reading to do for this one, rather fast and soonish.
B) Essay from last year’s conference paper, the one I’ve told the Notorious/ADM group I’m committing to finishing this summer. This is a fun idea, and when it goes well, I like working on this one. I am in the throes of organizing, which is sometimes agonizing and sometimes (when I work something out) very satisfying.
C) Translation project, as part of a team; related to some of the reading for (A). This is going to be a massive, years-long undertaking. But it’s something I really strongly want to do.
D) Pedagogical project, also as part of a team, this time with an old friend who is an illustrator. I provide the text, friend does the pictures. Some sort of short rough version to be tested in my fall courses.
So I really have my work cut out for me, because this doesn’t even include the old “Current Project” (call it E) that needs to get finished (um, maybe in the fall?) or the putative book (because I have been trying to finish and submit both (B) and (E) before turning my full attention to the putative book) or the fellowship application I’d like to write in hopes of having a year to devote myself entirely to the book. I keep having to remind myself that I have, in the past year, finished, submitted, and corrected proofs for two (short) pieces, so I can finish things, I can! We’re also not mentioning other conference papers which I have been asked to give next year, although I’m thinking about topics for these—overlapping topics, to help a little with the work-crunch problem; and this work, too, would eventually become part of a book chapter.
Yesterday, then, I did a chunk of translation. I love starting with this when I sit down to work, because it produces an obvious, discrete “thing I have done” and warms me up for other writing. Then I worked on organizing a section of (B) as a mini-essay. I took a piece of paper and divided it into these sections: topic, thesis, main points, support from text, critical support, historical support. I started filling in topic, main points, and support from the text (which overflowed its box). Then I added the last two kinds of support (some of which is presently in the form “look in Books X and Y for stuff on this topic”). After staring at all this for awhile, I came up with a thesis.
Then I critiqued the thesis: it didn’t actually indicate what the organization of the essay would be. I wrote down the ways it might go, and stopped for the day. Maybe I haven’t totally mastered the five-paragraph essay, or maybe the problem is that this is really a seven-paragraph essay.
This morning, shortly after 7:00, I started again. The question was, organize around clear concrete ideas or around more complex and abstract ideas? I went with abstract, and re-wrote the thesis accordingly. Then I outlined the mini-essay, using the concrete ideas as illustrations of the more abstract points. I think I have a good outline now. I even have a conclusion that will function as a transition to the next mini-essay.
So, should I repeat this process for each of the sub-sections, so I get an outline of the entire essay, or should I write this mini-essay first, then outline the next one? It would be satisfying, I think, to have a chunk drafted. But it might be easier to see what the whole thing looks like, and fix possible organizational problems, if I do all the outlining before starting to produce coherent prose.