Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Little Steps

Although I couldn't sleep last night (wide awake between 3 and 6 this morning for some reason), today went pretty well --- I printed my dissertation book manuscript out while doing a big pile of dishes, then went to a coffeeshop and marked up large sections of chapter 1.

It was probably the most productive I have been in a long time or will be again ---- it felt great to be able to do two things on my task list at the same time! If only revising the chapters would go as quickly as printing them out. Heh.

I didn't make it through all of the chapter though. That's not surprising, as it's the first one I wrote, and I am marking all over it, and also I'm trying to figure out how to make what Germano calls "deep" rather than "cosmetic" revisions. Cosmetic revisions are what we have all done before in grad school --- taking a chapter and making it clearer and stronger. Deep revisions are all about completely rethinking the structure --- what needs to happen to translate this work from a dissertation into a book.

Since I don't have an introduction, a lot of the theoretical overview stuff got dumped into this chapter, as did a lot of the general introductory background stuff. However, since it was the first thing I wrote, there's a lot of "paranoid beginning writer tics" too. You know what those are, the weird, tentative statements encrusted with obsessive justifications and citations for everything.

So my notes to myself so far are about distinguishing what should go, what should get moved into an intro (and then restated here? or not?) and what should just get sharpened up. Or elaborated upon; while I may hyperactively reference the most obvious things ("the definition of is, according to recent scholars, is..."), I have big fat gaps in other, more important chunks of the argument. Like, for instance, how we get from good ol' Judy B to the actual topic of nosepicking. Or I immediately complicate my claim without, you know, actually stating what the claim initially is. Brilliant.

The good news is that I think it is a bad chapter, I think it is a lumpy chapter with introduction-warts growing out of it in places, but I still think it is a workable chapter. I'm not going to scrap it or return to my research and start over. I'm just going to beat the shit out of it until it looks as good as the last chapter I wrote. Or even better.

Figure 1: (left) My first chapter, represented by a five-year-old's first attempt at making a teacup. Figure 2: (right) My fifth chapter, represented by the final project of a retiree taking a community college pottery class. Clearly I would like to get back into making arts and crafts type things as well.

So, tonight I'm going to ILL a couple books I want to look at because they are in a series that seems applicable to my dissertation book manuscript, and then tomorrow I'm going to go to yoga because I slept through spin this morning, (cross your fingers I sleep well tonight!) and then I want to make it all the way through chapter 1, at least part of the way through chapter 2, and get groceries. If I still have any steam, I'll go think about queries to presses for the MLA.

And obviously I'm going to need to put in some effort to get my head in the proper psychic space for thinking of this as an actual book project. But, as you can see, it's all about the small steps!


Thoroughly Educated said...

This is a wondrous ceramic illustration and I wish I'd had it to tack up over my desk when I was writing the diss.

Sign of hope: My lumpy first-try chapter, over which I slaved and dithered for approximately 80% of the total time it took me to write my diss, eventually grew up to be my most substantive and successful standalone article ever. The rest of the diss felt liberated and better about itself to be free of it, and it felt better when it realized it could stand on its own.

Anonymous said...

Great post! You can do it!

And I have to tell you that your post titles lately have pulled me over immediately. "Flailing around" is how I always describe myself. :) And have you seen that documentary about A Chorus Line called Little Steps? I just watched that's interesting!

Susan said...

One way to help on the "deep revisions" is to think about the diss as where you show you know how to do things, and the book focuses more on doing them to tell a particular story/make a particular argument. So there are all sorts of things you do in a diss ("Look! I read X!") that can be dispensed with in the book. You can always refer people to the diss for a "fuller discussion" :)

Bavardess said...

You made the beautiful finished pot once, you can do it again.