24 January 2012

Late papers?

Are there any survivors of the Winter Writing Group who want to report on progress at this point? Leave a comment!

On my other online writing group, the Stupid Motivational Writing group run by Jonathan Mayhew (private blog, invitation only), someone asked a question about the MMP that forced me to articulate exactly what I'm doing and why. That is, not what I'm arguing but why the project needs all this non-writing activity. That was amazingly helpful. After explaining, I said, "I get a certain amount of other people encouraging me to do what I consider would be a crappy job ('you don't have to have the last word, just start the conversation'), which makes me doubt my approach. But basically I want to do what I think is right, good, and thorough, and it's less wearing in the long run to do the job right in the first place than it is to try to do the rush job and then feel unhappy about it."

Actually, and this is one of the things that was slowing me down, this is now the second place, since I've already given two conference papers on this material and thought at first that all I had to do was blend them together. But they were both based on a preliminary survey of the data; they were the fast-and-dirty version, long though I struggled over them.

I don't want to be a conversation-starting scholar. There are plenty of people who do and are; they are happy being talked about and cited, even when their work is getting corrected, even when it's being repeated as if it were Gospel although at some point some more obscure scholar who isn't part of the fan group has shown them to be wrong. That's neither my style nor my training. I don't imagine there will be a huge conversation about the MMP. I don't have the writing-personality to start one, and the skills required to do this kind of work are too rare to get a lot of followers. What I can do is take the time necessary to make my article solid, accurate, and reliable. So it's already taken more than two years. If I do it right, it will still be useful in 50.

And that's the kind of scholar I want to be.

11 comments:

Ink said...

Your last line is so RIGHT on. YES!

And I've not done anything this week on the current writing project, sadly. However, I did teach a ton and update another important work project. Also had the realization that I am ok with writing this project slowly however I write it. It will get done and there's no rush, really. Other than my own impatience to finish. So that's something.

Trapped in Canadia said...

As a PhD student, I equally fear being a conversation-starter and want to be one. I think my PhD has the potential to be a conversation starter (don't we all?), but grad students, or recent graduates, certainly aren't in the best position to defend their work. I always hope to be a useful scholar, but maybe I wouldn't mind causing a little controversy down the road someday.

Finishing on a high note, I wrote 1100 words this week. Really, it was in three days, so I still need to work on allotting daily writing time and sticking to it, but I'm getting there. Yay! Thanks so much for hosting this, Dame! I finally feel like I'm back on track.

Sapience said...

I actually managed to meet my deadline, and my article is off to the editor! I expect I will have lots of revision to do when I get it back, but it is done for now.

I have mixed feelings on the conversation starter bit. I do see my dissertation as the first word in a conversation, but I don't think that at all means I'm relieved of the responsibility to do it right the first time. If I don't start the conversation off on the right foot, it won't be a conversation worth having.

Luo Lin said...

I'm glad you're I managed to get back to work on my paper yesterday, for the first time since Dec. 29.

I don't feel back on track like Sapience, but I doubt I would have been as productive in December if it weren't for this group, so thank you Dame Eleanor.

Sulpicia said...

For me, conversation-starting doesn't necessarily imply either unreliability or inaccuracy, but rather simply that a project doesn't claim to be absolutely the last word on a subject. I'd conceive it as the mapping out of a small area of a larger whole, or a building block that might come to form part of a larger construction, but that still needs to bear weight - the map still needs to be reliable. What you're aiming to do sounds clearly defined and valuable, but in other settings you do come across work that's aiming to be the last word on a subject that ends up oversimplifying it precisely because it has that ambition - it can have its own kind of inaccuracy. It doesn't sound like your work will have that problem but I wouldn't tar all conversation-starters with the same brush. Someone told me Malcolm Parkes saw himself that way, and unreliable is definitely not the word.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Interesting. The conversation-starting snark was meant to be snarky, but it was not directed at any of you. It alluded to some well-known people whom I am not going to name because I just don't want to get into partisan bickering. There's room at the table for all of us, but I don't have to sit next to those people. The thing I particularly mind is the way they go on with a particular take on a topic even when it has been shown to be wrong or incomplete, simply because it stirs up "conversation." I don't think that's a conversation worth having.

rented life said...

Everything remains at a stand still here. Monday and Wednesday I'm too wiped to do anything and because I'm not really prepped ahead the way I'd like to be, much of my free time is going to that on Tues, Thurs, Friday. Last week there wasn't a day I didn't work on work. I really need to reclaim some time as my own!

Conversation starting is a bad thing in my field. It's kind of why I gave up--I had, well thought I had, important things to say but was sot down because "no one has looked at that yet." I agree--we all have a place at the table. I see value in all of it, I just wish more people did.

Good Enough Woman said...

For the first week and a half of my semester, I have, for the most part, succeeding with my mindful inflexibility of working on my dissertation for an hour mid-day, twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while on campus. I have been able to protect that hour and make it productive even though professional service commitments and teaching duties have closed in around it.

And, this weekend, I think my dear husband is going to let me take a night off to go to a hotel so I can make some real progress. I'd like to get a 20-page draft finished by the end of the weekend.

Sulpicia said...

I got the snark - what you said just made me conscious that I've given that advice, and do a half-assed job is definitely not what I'd meant, just, well, that it's impractical to try to build a cathedral on your own. Persisting with the disproven is perverse, and I wouldn't want to sit next to those people either.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Very late paper: the last two weeks have been pretty much a bust so far as writing goes; they were consumed by preparation for and coping with the first week of school. But I did finally get most of the permissions letters out (still waiting for a reply from a state library with such a byzantine structure that I had to submit a web-inquiry asking where to send the darn thing), and did some other small non-teaching professional things. But having made progress earlier in the month leaves me feeling much better about what I'm sure will be a brief hiatus. Thank you again, Dame Eleanor, for providing the opportunity for accountability; it really helped.

As far as starting conversations goes, I've thought a good deal about that, since much of what I do qualifies as "recovery work": writing about little-known authors and/or works. In fact, I rather prefer that kind of writing, perhaps because I'm not as good as I might be at entering scholarly conversations (though of course new authors and texts still need to be linked to ongoing conversations -- something I need to work on). I'm wondering whether there are (at least) two approaches to conversation-starting: doing a hasty and perhaps deliberately provocative job of getting a text out there, and not too much caring whether one is eventually proven wrong (or exposed as hasty/sloppy) or doing a more careful but not overly-perfectionist job, hoping that others will build on your work (and, of course, in the process, modify and possibly even contradict it). I've seen a few embarrassing examples of the first approach (which can be especially dangerous/damaging when practiced by "big names," since people may be hesitant to take them on), and can also think of some solid, highly respected examples of the second. The ones we don't see, of course, are those whose authors take the third course: feeling they need to pin down every detail before they can publish anything (which often leads to publishing nothing). That's clearly one to avoid, as, I think, is the first. So maybe the second is the happy medium (or maybe I've deliberately set up a happy medium? A lecturer at church today was talking about that rhetorical tactic)?

It also occurs to me that some scholars might argue that some form of web publication/digital scholarship might be a way out of the difficulty of deciding where the line between options #2 and #3 lies; there's a bit about this in a recent profhacker post about digital scholarship. But I don't know whether that's an option for the MMP. Personally, I think I'm in enough danger of leaning toward option #3 that I need to not think too much about #1.

Contingent Cassandra said...

On another note: has anyone given any thought to a spring writing group? I know it's a lot of work, and it looks like Notorious, ADM, and you, Dame, are all very busy. I'm wondering if there might be a way to make it less labor-intensive. From my admittedly limited perspective, it looks like a lot of the work goes into compiling the roll. Perhaps something along the lines of a pbworks wiki with a page for each week where people could post their goals and then comment on whether they'd reached them would work? I don't think the conversation would be as satisfactory as on a blog, with the thought-provoking prompts to go along with the check-ins, but it might be better than nothing. I can't promise to do anything this week, but if anyone is interested, I think I might be able to get something of the sort set up by mid-February. Or perhaps others know of or can think of other options?

Perhaps this comment thread isn't the best place to discuss this. If not, people could email me at my username at gmail (and I'll try to remember to actually check that account).