Productive reading: analysis

Good teachers will always recommend that you “read and…” Which means that you read and look for solutions for problems you have in your own writing, build your vocabulary, discover what excites you as a reader, watch how the dialogue unfolds, etc.  And one of the best ways to launch your analysis is to ask questions of the author. Ask questions Let’s say you’re writing non-fiction.  In that case, the books you’re studying will give you the stakes up front.  They will tell you what to expect, what question they intend to pose and answer, and, essentially, what they will conclude (although they might be coy about that last bit). Therefore, you can immediately ask the first question: Will this book center/expand/challenge my work? If so, keep reading and form new questions about pacing, approach, tone, organization, burden of proof, etc.  If you think the book won’t help you…move on.  I know that seems cutthroat, but if you tried to

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Productive reading: the scope

Published authors give lots of advice to aspiring writers, but universal among that advice is this: You have to read a lot, and you have to read widely. Reading Within Genre My initial response to this advice was…immature at best. I was working on the first draft of my novel, back in high school, when I decided that all the classic literature I had been assigned would fit the bill, and that I would stop reading sci-fi and fantasy altogether so that no one would ever accuse me of stealing my ideas from other genre authors. That meant, in 1999, I gave up Sword of Shannara, from which I had been learning the rules of world-building.  I stopped reading Harry Potter, which had been teaching me which reader expectations could be broken, and which could be reinvented.  I abandoned my beloved Star Trek serial novels and The Wheel of Time, which were teaching me how characters can develop over a

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Oh. snap.

The reason I haven’t posted here in like…four months…is on account of I’ve been furiously writing my dissertation.  Day in and day out, writing, writing, writing.   And when I’m not writing, I’m contending with panel building, submitting various paperwork, tracking down articles, editing, revising, going to work when I come up for breath. But I do want to note that I just submitted my final chapter to my advisor tonight.  And while I still have the intro and conclusion to write, this accomplishment feels pretty damn momentous. I also want to note that I have a million blog ideas scribbled in margins, on articles, and on various junk mail that’s littering my desk, and once this project is defended and submitted, I intend to launch a new academic/professional website where I’ll deal with those–primarily regarding the dissertation process and its secrets–while also keeping this blog open for creative explorations, organizational advice (some new things coming on that, too), and personal

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The power of shitty first drafts

I think Anne Lammott gets the credit for establishing the power of “shitty first drafts.”  She says as long as you sit down and write something, anything, you have the chance at editing something terrible, into something good, into something terrific.  But if you have nothing in front of you, you have nothing to cultivate, and that’s not a good feeling. Until the beginning of this summer, I was lost in that uncultivated place.  I had been told so many times, both blatantly and insidiously, that was I stupid, that my values were misplaced, and that my project was unimportant, that I couldn’t hear the voices telling me I was good at my work. As a consequence, I developed a bit of rust.  Not engineless-tractor-in-the-cow-shed kind of rust, but a layer just deep enough to make each attempt to restart my project a slog.  Given my depleted confidence, I interpreted that slog as incompetence. But eventually, with enough distance from

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Necromancing

The bad news is, I’ve not posted here in a while. The good news is, that’s because I overcame demons, broke curses, and wrote a new dissertation chapter. The extra good news is, my advisor loved it.  He said it was well-written important work, even. The terrifying news is, that means my project has taken off at an accelerated pace, with a brand new panel, schedule, and defense date. Why is that so terrifying? Well, there’s the obvious reason: I haven’t been producing at a fast pace in quite a while, nor have I had other people depending on my production. But when I stop and think about that, it’s less scary and more challenging.  I like a good challenge.  I like seeing my word count rise.  Deadlines have always been easiest for me to meet when I have external accountability, people waiting for me. So, is it the pressure to out-perform myself with each new chapter–to write a chapter

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23:32

Huzzah, it’s my birthday! The perfect occasion on which to get all introspective.  Or at least more so than other days. I must say, I’m excited to turn 32.  I much prefer even-numbered years, for reasons I can’t quite explain, and since 8 is my lucky number, this year should be especially great, since 32 is divisible by 8 four times. Oh snap. I’m also excited to turn 32 for more “real” reasons, though. Reason 1: My dissertation is in a good place I don’t want to say much more than that.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that if I expend too much energy talking about the intricacies of what engages me, or the excitement of it, I lose the magic.  Sort of like if I let an actual cat out of an actual bag, and the cat turned around and was like, fuck you, man, you put me in a bag!? and

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Dissertation voice: curricula

I’ve mentioned in another post that I tend to write in a question-driven manner.  I like to explore issues, controversies, and weirdnesses, and figure out what makes them tick and how they move. But, of course, that raises the problem of shape.  What does a cohesive project look like if it’s not moving from point A to B?   I went back to my method books to look for the answer, and I found it in John Law’s Aircraft Stories. Aircraft Stories is a collection of tightly related stories/essays about a miltary project that was cancelled back in the 60s.  It covers decision-making procedures, the aesthetics of science, the culture of construction, and the way by which a single object, like an aircraft, takes on multiple meanings.  So, it’s a lot of stories grown “alongside one another” as Law says, as though he tacked them all up on a wall, stood back, and wrote about the coolest stuff he saw. In

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Central research questions

When most people think of history, they think of a story.  They think of time passing, people acting, events happening, and the record of such things. Certainly, that is part of what history is–the narrative.  And certainly you can write this sort of history, filling in gaps in the timeline, discussing new archival materials, and broadening scope. But, to be perfectly honest, I usually find this kind of history rather boring.  Unless I’m already keenly interested in a time period or a person, reading a basic narrative doesn’t hold my attention.  And it definitely won’t win my attention if the subject is new to me. For that, I have to see that the author is answering a unique question, trying a new method of analysis, or issuing a challenge.  Whether or not it’s narrative doesn’t really matter to me–I like a collection of stories or unexpected asides as much as I can dig on a strong central story. And so,

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Holloway project accountability

The beta copy of my novel is officially in the hands of my readers.  My first tea industry event is under my belt. Now to the non-fiction project. I’m going to be honest.  This is not going to be easy for me.  I love the life I’ve built free of academic rigamarole and full of Magic, tea, and forests. But I know if I don’t finish this project now, I never will.  And I know I would regret leaving it incomplete, not only because I hate backing down from a challenge, but also because I am curious what this non-fiction piece will become post-defense–what kind of animal it’ll morph into outside of the confines of tenure-track requirements and academic presses. I am.  I’m curious.  There, that’s a spark.  Easier already… To make it even easier on myself, though, I’ve set some completion benchmarks, and I want to share them here in the name of accountability *   *   * BEST CASE

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The Holloway Project

Yes, this project is technically my dissertation.  I’ll continue to tag it as such on the website so that it links to prior posts on my theory and research.  And I intend to defend it and complete the graduate journey I started. But I also have plans for this piece that move it outside of the realm of the typical dissertation. Namely, I want to make this a compassionate project, for me, for readers, for those directly affected by my research. Here’s what I mean… Self-compassion: Over the past year, I realized that I don’t really want tenure.  I don’t want committee appointments, where I have to turn brilliant people down for funding.  I don’t want high-pressure research projects that divorce me from my students.  I don’t want to communicate in code.  And I am six kinds of over all the rambling conference presentations. I recognize that some people feel empowered by these codes and systems.  I do not.  If

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