So this time when I started to write my article, Floyd, I started with some theory and then went straight to the primary text. And I wrote a little and then outlined it, outlined it and then wrote a little more, and moved stuff all around, until I thought I had figured out a structure for the whole article.
Only then did I really go start looking at any secondary criticism. It feels weird, like I'm doing something backwards:
It feels like I am trying to put bones into my boneless chickens so that I can later de-bone them. Hmm. For one thing, I found a lot of critics who say basically the same thing I say at various points of my article --- not argument-skewering stuff but basic statements like "Mr. Cuckold had lifelong troubles with the meaning of masculinity, possibly because of his relationship with his wife, Debbie*" --- and then I am stuck with who to cite or not on this basic claim. It's tempting to just copy/paste everything I have possibly read that could work there, and then I have an essay that is six times as long as it was and I need to boil down all those quote paragraphs to something manageable that will fit in the flow of my argument. And then I go partly anxious and partly lazy and think to myself, "that will be a brilliant part of the essay once I've just fixed that little spot!" and then I don't work on it.
It doesn't help that I vacillate between wanting to quote all the juicy snarky phrases or poetic bits that critics have written, and just using social science citation style and reduce everybody to a name and publication year (Whangdoodle, 1969, Pibbett, 1975, Snotpucker, 1983 and 1984, Sterne and Fielding, 1995).
Maybe I will get better at turning books into summaries/paraphrases as I read and someday be able to avoid my compulsion to Include Everything! as I get more fluent at writing articles. I sure hope so, as it is slow going.
In an only-slightly-related note, I have been working for years on training myself to start working first thing in the morning, and to work every day. (mostly. I have gotten better, even if I don't work every day.) But I am still terrible at keeping focus and keeping working for any length of time, say after the first hour. And if I can push myself for two full hours I really can't concentrate and everything falls apart after that point. Anybody have any advice, not for getting started or confronting the blank page, but for continuing?
*Debbie did Dallas, in case you hadn't heard (Sysquirt, 1972, Hufflepuff, 1987, Rassett and Frassett, 1990).
I have advice that probably isn't what you want to hear: if your brain just says no after about an hour or two, then it's time to stop. Maybe you can pick up after a few hours of doing something else, or maybe you only work for 1-2 hours a day. Because here's the thing: when you push yourself beyond the point where you're actually working effectively, you're wasting your time. I've become MUCH more productive since I stopped beating myself up for only writing for a couple of hours at a stretch. The only way I can go longer is if I have a terrible deadline hanging over me, but then after I get the thing in, I'm useless for like a month, so it all evens out.
Oh, and on your first thing about critics "who say basically the same thing I say at various points of my article --- not argument-skewering stuff but basic statements like "Mr. Cuckold had lifelong troubles with the meaning of masculinity, possibly because of his relationship with his wife, Debbie*" --- and then I am stuck with who to cite or not on this basic claim." - You just leave your sentence as you have it and then include a content note saying, "for discussions of this, see critics x, y, z, and a.)
Boice says to start before you are ready and to stop before you are ready. Work in regular daily sessions. I find that helps immensely for long-term productivity.
On the citing everyone issue, I often fall back on the phrase "critical commonplace." As in, "It is now a critical commonplace to argue X." And then I cite a handful of the most recent critics.
I love your sources; Sysquirt is such a common name, you'd better add some more identifying info ;-D
I don't like to have to agree with reassigned time's comment about how long you can work before your brain starts wandering and you lose your concentration but I totally agree. Completely. The point is that you use the time that you do use effectively and efficiently. Once your mind starts to wander since you'll just waste your time.
I love your sources by the way ;-)
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