“Finishing” can be understood either as “concluding” or as “letting go,” and both can be difficult. Sisyphus has bloggedrecently about teaching conclusions, and I think the idea of analyzing conclusions of scholarly essays you admire is a good one. Picking up the nearest such collection, a book of essays that I have been trying to get through fairly quickly (short ILL borrowing period, alas), conclusions by some well-known scholars of Middle English literature end in workmanlike fashion: they do the job, but they’re not making huge claims. ET focuses on what study of the topic reveals about four significant elements and then a fifth really important one. MS indicates what other people working in the area will need to do, in accordance with principles outlined in the essay. SG quotes another scholar, whose views replace those of a nineteenth-century editor quoted at the beginning of the essay, and indicates what more we now know about a particular medieval figure. CR ends with a close reading that I think is meant to illustrate broader principles, but for me that essay stopped rather abruptly. JT returns to definitional and political problems referenced earlier, and suggests improvements upon them.
What I take away from this quick exercise is that, despite all the advice about how important conclusions are, there is not one of these that makes me say OMG that was awesome! I’m interested in these essays for the arguments and details that come earlier, and these are what I remember; I can’t say there’s any essay I’ve ever read that stands out in my mind for its splendid conclusion. Workmanlike is good enough. Tell ’em what you told ’em, or tell ’em why it’s important, or tell ’em how you’ve moved the scholarly conversation forward. Declare victory and get out!
On letting go, I am going to refer you to a post I wrote some years ago, handing on advice from a senior scholar in whose circles I sometimes move: https://dameeleanorhull.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/recovering-perfectionist/
I still find this difficult. As I work toward finishing the MMP, which I have been working on for 3 years now, I can’t really see why it took so long. Should I not be farther along than creating topic sentences for all my paragraphs? And yet, I do see what took so long: synthesizing the details, figuring out what they offer a larger conversation, working out how to get from larger to smaller and back again, figuring out connections, thinking about what work each paragraph needs to do. In literary studies, we don’t have an outline dictated by the conventions of the field (thesis, review of literature, methodology of the experiment, conclusions, for example). It may be possible to follow or invent some sort of formula (and that might be a topic for another week), but really the shape of a literary essay tends to grow from the kinds of work one does with the kinds of details one wants to discuss.
Beating myself up about how long it’s taken is not going to get me finished faster, or make it any easier to let go once I have a smoothly argued, well-documented, convincing paper. I must keep moving forward. I’m not done yet, but I really hope that by our last meeting on 4 May, I will be.
What are your thoughts on both kinds of finishing?
Amstr: 1) finish Chapter 3 draft, 2) quick review of intro, 3) write cover doc (a self-assessment) to accompany the project, 4) submit by Wed. evening, 5) outline goals for the two weeks before my trip.
ComradePhysioProf: I’ve got two of my post-docs’ manuscripts to edit and get submitted in the next week or two.
Contingent Cassandra: Flesh out outline(s) of P article(s)-in-progress, trying to get an idea of what might go in each (assuming there are two), and what research still needs to be done to complete the one that’s closer to being fully-formed. Catch up on ancillary tasks.
DEH: write at least 20 minutes on M, T, Th, and at least 1 hour on W, F, Sa.
EAM: Finish the blanking article.
FeMOMhist: my “goal” such as it is will be to continue to make some sort of ill defined progress, with progress being based on a “feeling” rather than a number.
GEW: Write two pages. Read 30 pages of theory.
JaneB: a) revise the complicated paper using comments from one reader, then send out to all the co-authors, b) make that list of all the possible projects and c) do some freewriting around grant ideas.
JLiedl: A complete chapter draft, since I’m over 1/3 of the way there. It may be a skeletal chapter draft, but I’d like it to be complete before Easter break.
Luo Lin: 1 hour Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Matilda: finish reading my main material, start to write my argument part of the paper, write something at least 15 minutes.
Nancy Warren: try again for those 5 pages.
profgrrrl: MIA (blog suggests OBE)
Rented Life: Apply to 2 more jobs. Write one page or edit one section.
Sapience: start working on re-writing Chapter 4, probably by writing a new outline.