Thursday, October 11, 2007

Surgeries

Yes, I know I should be writing my diss. Or prepping my job apps. Fuck off.

The past two days I have been committing mutilations on a mass scale. Chopping, hacking, slashing --- I don’t know if I am more closely imitating Victor Frankenstein or Orlan. It has been an incredibly frustrating process, mangling my baby. But I think I’ve gotten to a point where I can seek outside help.

You see, I had a chapter, once. It was a good chapter. Very lively and fun. I think I complained a little bit about the difficulties of cutting it down to send off to a journal here. Or at least that is when I was finally done. It is a complex chapter that covers many topics and has many subheadings (those lovely academic ways of avoiding having to write transitions!). It was difficult to cut it as the advice people gave me was that I couldn’t leave out any of the different subheadings ---- just hacking off a limb or two would easily bring it down to fighting weight, I argued, but instead I was told to sculpt it down through plastic surgery, cut out all the fat and filler.
So I did. It was frustrating and tough work, but I finally managed to get it into shape, a shape I was proud of, that flowed and made sense, that was still well-rounded enough that someone could encounter it in a journal and get enough background and a sense of my larger project. It still had bits of sparkle and complexity, but managed to come (just barely) in under the word limit.

Unfortunately, that word limit is very high. (I chose the journal partly because it fits my topic and partly because it accepts much longer articles.) Now, I must chop it down again to fit the various page limits for writing samples. Only this time there is no repetition or fat to cut out.

I had an unsettling conversation with my advisor on Tuesday --- how many ways can you write “frustrating”? I’ve depleted my thesaurus --- one of those weird conversations where you’re not quite sure if you’re talking past each other or not. She argued strongly that I need to send out this as my writing sample, as it is my most interesting and best-written chapter. I was puzzled, as I am in agreement with her (why are we arguing then?). I was pushing for advice on how to cut it down further ---- as in, by half, to hit a 20-page limit.

Do I just leave off part IV? I asked? Oh no, she says in horror, that’s your most interesting part. And be careful not to shrink the close reading passage down too much or else you won’t look “literary” enough to more traditional departments. Well, what about this section? No, no, you don’t want to rip out all the areas that prove you’ve read the criticism. And this section definitely can’t go because it’s so out there and crazy, it hasn’t been touched by any other critics at all. Well, what’s left? All my lovely little lyrical bits and bizarre similes (have I mentioned before that I am Queen of Inappropriate Metaphors?), then? Those are my favorite parts.

It’s like how Anne Bradstreet has that poem comparing her book of verses to a child that has been sent out into the world too soon --- I don’t want to cut any more of it; I love it. All its little quirks and choice phrasings are marvelous to me. It is good. I have distilled down my language to something concentrated and intense. I have made it sharp and in focus. I don’t want to get rid of any more stuff, especially when I think it works as it is.

Now, I don’t think it looks too good. Its proportion is off, its limbs are all wobbly and distorted, it has scars and visible stitchings and gaping holes where there should be an ear or an eye. I have a lot of things on my plate right now and my advisor, despite repeated remindings, is not cognizant of the fact that I have already sent out applications and have at least another 10 due before the first (and that I need to get ALL of them out as soon as possible, before I go out of town.) I did not follow her advice. She said, sit down and reread the whole thing holistically. Think about what you really need, what you really want to say. Rewrite whole sections to boil it down or reframe the direction. Figure out which are the sexy bits and which are the dull dissertation bits. Perhaps you’ll need to re-arrange the order, to get the page count down as far as you need to. Really think deeply on how to revise it. And then, once you have it cut down, send it out to a journal right away, to get something on the publications section of your CV. (Uh, don’t you remember that I already did this??? WTF???)



Well, I don’t have the time and don’t have the patience. And I wanted more specific directions on where and how. So I slashed and burned like a cattle rancher chopping through rain forest, or perhaps a psychotic chainsaw-wielding maniac (ooh, I should get a pic of Christian Bale in here. Nah, too late.) I was ruthless. And sloppy. I’ve turned my copy around back to Advisor already, as she said she wouldn’t work on any line-by-line readings for improving the quality until I had done the cut down. So, here it is. Have fun with it. I sure didn’t.

6 comments:

Dr. Crazy said...

Sis, send me your stuff, and I'll be happy to give you practical suggestions that you can feel free to accept or reject. Not that I'm an expert, but perhaps because I'm not I'll feel comfortable being as brutal as you need :)

Just tell me what you want me to do and I'll do my best to do it :)

CR said...

Well, what about this section? No, no, you don’t want to rip out all the areas that prove you’ve read the criticism.

Well... That's exactly what footnotes / endnotes are for. It's the Works Cited that proves you've read the criticism, and the footnote stuff gets to stay in, at least according to my rules.

I would go with that stuff first. Drop it into a "For more information about X, see the following..."

(Journals will make you do the same thing. If you have no cites, they'll tell you you're not responding to the critical heritage. If there are tons of cites in the body of the paper, they'll tell you to get rid of them or drop them into the notes. You have to prove that you know the stuff, but the stuff doesn't really belong in a proper paper... It's a game, like everything else...)

I hate doing what you're doing now. Totally sucks.

By the way, I'm sure you know this already, but get the paper sent out , list it as "under review," but DO NOT say where, lest it gets canned quickly and then you're left explaining that in an interview. You can always send it out again immediately to another place, so long as you're not specifying where you sent it the first time, thus making it still "under review."

An old trick, but sometimes people haven't heard it, so I thought I'd mention.jim

CR said...

I have no idea where that terminal "jim" came from... My childhood best friend was named "Jim." But I am not. And I'm pretty sure you're not my childhood best friend.

Anyway, here's to "jim."

The Constructivist said...

damn, maybe this should be your writing sample!

Kisha said...

oh man. good luck. i'll give you all my luck for two weeks...i'll need it back after that.

Neophyte said...

I can't actually offer anything helpful (though I think what CR says about footnotes is on the right track), but I will say that I have a great deal of faith in your being able to pull this thing off with style.

I have also been mulling discontentedly over the eleven surplus pages in my proto-writing sample for Ph.D. apps, and experiencing an analogous, but radically different, malaise. Radically different because there's not much in the way of stunning brilliance and complexity to begin with -- it's like trying to make a tuxedo out of a burlap sack. The burlap sack had its purpose, and served it admirably, but you just do not wear a burlap sack to a white-tie gala. You just simply do not.

All best to you, dear (and congrats on your mental health day -- well done!).