>Making myself write

>I’m trying to research and write an article. No big news there, since that’s part of what I’m paid to do, and which I should be doing pretty much continuously. And, of course, I’ve done it before. But for some reason this one has me really stuck.

Part of the problem is that I keep veering off in all sorts of directions. Let’s say the article is about, I dunno, an allegorical debate poem (it’s not — let’s just pretend) with a 16th century manuscript date (again, I’m fudging the truth throughout this description) but assumed late medieval origins largely based on genre, content, and a few philological bits that people have been cribbing from its first editor way back when. And so everyone talks about it as a medieval text. But then it’s in a early modern manuscript and there are all sorts of weird things about that manuscript. First of all, the other texts it has been bound with are pretty much ideologically antithetical to what everyone assumes is the orientation of this text. So let’s say it seems, on the surface, to have orthodox religious politics for the late Middle Ages, but it’s in a manuscript full of non-conformist Protestant tracts. OK, that’s weird. And then there’s a recent article that points out all sorts of codicological and paleographical evidence that the scribe was imitating print books in making this manuscript. Also weird. And so all of that makes me want to talk about my ideas about this text in terms of reception and reader response and appropriation and 16th century medievalism and the impossibility of a “right” reading and so forth. And if I do so, I really need to do more research on the related 16th century contexts — book culture and anti-Catholicism as it affected book culture and 16th century medievalism and so on and so forth.

But wait, there’s more. Even if we go along with the assumption that this text had origins in the Middle Ages and therefore think of it as a medieval text (although I’m not sure we should go along with them…but at any rate…), it’s a weird text by itself. It’s not like any other text in its genre; in fact, it’s a unique sub-genre. And it’s aesthetically bizarre, even in context of all that’s already bizarre about late medieval aesthetics. And it’s offensive to present day sensibilities (or at least, it should be), and the aspects that make it so offensive are the most written about aspects of the text. And so all of this makes me think I need to take this part of the ongoing scholarly conversation into account, even while doing what I said I want to do in the above paragraph.

And there’s more, but I’m running out of ways to talk about it in made-up terms. But you get the idea. Every idea I think I have leads to a dozen more directions of research and thought. This article is like a Hydra on steroids — cut off one head of ideas and a bajillion more pop up in its place. Argh. I’ve been toying around with this thing since the year 2-thousand-and-frakin’-3. And I’ve presented it at conferences in a few variations and gotten good responses to them all. Clearly, I need to stop the “I just need to read one more book” nonsense and start writing something. But I keep unhelpfully convincing myself that I’m not there yet, not ready to write.

So here’s my solution: I’m going to pretend that this is a seminar paper and it’s due on December 17, just like my students papers are. After all, I turned out decent drafts towards things in ten-week quarters when I was a graduate student, and here I’ve got a head start and 14 weeks. I think I might even give myself earlier deadlines for an abstract, preliminary bibliography, and annotated bibliography, just like I do with my students.

What do you think?

********

PS — I started this blog 4 years ago yesterday. Happy blogiversary to me!

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13 thoughts on “>Making myself write

  1. >I think that's a great plan. I'm a big believer in writing. . . something. Even if an entire seminar-ish paper doesn't come together (in the sense of something coherent and 25+ pages, or whatever you were thinking), having five pages on this and ten pages on that is a big deal. And if you've been presenting on it, you must already have a bunch of pieces, right? For me, thinking of an essay as a bigger-scale version of Magnetic Poetry, with a bunch of discrete chunks to push around, can be really helpful. Occasionally I'll lay all the pieces out on my floor (or tape them to a wall) and try to see if I can discern a pattern or larger organizational structure that way, writing in connective tissue as I go.Good luck–and happy blogiversary!

  2. >Happy blogibirthday!Your article sounds *exactly* like mine and where I'm at right now, except for the whole time period thing. That and this *is* new material for me so the pull to just keep reading and reading is so strong. I have no advice or help, or else my article would be drafted already. 🙂 I do like the idea of committing to writing up a "shitty first draft" to steal Annie Lammot's term, and pretending you have a seminar paper due just like your students. Just keep plugging away at it, I guess, and at some point you will look around and realize you actually have a lot done, it's just so hard to see the progress while you're in the thick of it.

  3. >Happy blogibirthday!Your article sounds *exactly* like mine and where I'm at right now, except for the whole time period thing. That and this *is* new material for me so the pull to just keep reading and reading is so strong. I have no advice or help, or else my article would be drafted already. 🙂 I do like the idea of committing to writing up a "shitty first draft" to steal Annie Lammot's term, and pretending you have a seminar paper due just like your students. Just keep plugging away at it, I guess, and at some point you will look around and realize you actually have a lot done, it's just so hard to see the progress while you're in the thick of it.

  4. >Happy blogiversary! Your plan sounds like a good one to me. One of the Writers' Room people I quoted from says that he always has a couple of projects going at once, so Hydra on Steroids could be a good way to go.

  5. >What I always forget: starting is going to be a disaster, but disasters are productive. I like your plan: if nothing else it will make you all the more sympathetic with your students, and be a good source of joking camaraderie with them.

  6. >Happy happy!one thing that helps me when I'm in the "too many ideas for this article" place is to keep a journal where I put all of the tangents. (This can be a computer file, or, if you're me, it can be an actual pretty journal.) That way, I stay on track with the writing of something that's a complete unit, but then also if I get stuck I have a resource for More Ideas. And let's say I never get stuck (wishful thinking). Then I've got a journal with seeds of at least two or three more articles! Or maybe even (dare I say it) a Next Book! (This is exactly where my "next book" project came from by the way – all of those discarded ideas that didn't find their way into essays that I had to write.)

  7. >Happy Bloggiversary! And I think putting yourself on a deadline is a great idea – and I bet your students would get a kick out of hearing that you're on the same schedule they are…

  8. >Hello, Dr. Virago and Co!First, please allow me to say how much I enjoy your blog and Dr. Crazy's. (It's so nice to see you commenting on each other's posts!) I'm a musicologist (i.e., music historian), and my specialty is the 19th century, so it wouldn't seem that we have that much in common, BUT I find awesome ideas on the pages you Medievalists have put together!Anyway, I wanted to say that I'm working on a similarly Hydra-esque project right now, and that Flavia's technique of writing discrete units, then figuring out the connections has been very helpful. After I put together the disparate bits, I sent it off to a person in the field who I respect utterly and who has a great eye for good ideas, and she was able to really help me see which ideas worked together and which ones really belonged in a different article. So since you've gotten good feedback at conferences, I would suggest that you be shameless in approaching colleagues with the manuscript and asking for help. I think they'll be flattered, and you'll get the benefit of a "fresh eye."

  9. >Dr. V., allow me to recommend an article that has nothing to do with the topic of your research and everything to do with the topic of your post about your research. Gerald Graff, "Confessions of a Research Scholar," in Humanists at Work: Papers presented at a symposium held at The University of Illinois at Chicago on April 27-28, 1989, pp. 103-113. I hope you'll find in it both comfort and inspiration to write — I do. And it's a two-fer, too: you can assign it (and other essays from the symposium) to your Methods students.

  10. >I've found it works. Basically, even though I don't have deadlines for these things, I mark a date on the calendar and pretend that something's due that day and that tends to light the fire a bit.

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