Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wringing out the new: on writing theory

I have a bunch of papers to grade and several lessons to plan, and I haven't looked at any of them yet.  I spent most of the daylight hours yesterday crafting a revised draft of that article that my blog mendaciously tells you is finished.  (I want to put a new meter up for it, but I can't figure out how to track my progress in editing down an article, rather than adding words to an initial draft.)  I sent it out when I started to bleed from the brain, and then set all my work aside to go play with my friends for a little while. 

It amazes me that I can be so physically tired out from writing.  I haven't even showered or dressed yet today, and I need to go to the grocery store.  That's the kind of exhaustion I feel.  And yeah, it probably doesn't help that this fucking semester is not yet over, and that just about all of my colleagues are worn down in general.  It should tell you something about my physical and emotional state of mind that I feel the need to go make another pot of chicken soup, even though my allergies have largely receded. 

Writing is hard; no two ways about it.  Writing is even harder when you're trying to push yourself to innovate a theoretical concept.  You and your editor are trying to wring out of your brain something that no one has ever said before, which means that you literally do not know what you're trying to say.  I still find it an odd sensation, and I've been doing this for years. 

I had a moment of "what the hell am I doing here?" yesterday whilst trying to tie up the draft: I was scanning the same three pages of my article over and over, frantically tearing through the pseudology texts I was supposed to incorporate, and a quiet panic began to rise in me.  I have already read these books, I started thinking to myself repeatedly.  I cannot cite them in any other way because I already have elsewhere, and I have already read them, and I already know what is in them, because I have already read them...  You know how it goes.

But then I got hold of myself and reminded myself of the issue at hand: I was developing a new theoretical idea whose contours I only dimly perceive as yet, and this idea meant that I had to go back to the books and speed-read them in a white-hot fury re-read them for a different sort of content than I'd had in mind before now.  The panic didn't exactly recede, but it stabilized at a manageable level.  I didn't entirely feel like a professional, since I was essentially skimming for handy quotations to support my argument – I can remember doing this back in college! – but it yielded usable material that will suffice for the moment, and that can be developed further as I keep up with the project.

There's a bizarre exhilaration to the whole process.  I often feel like I'm right on the edge of discovering that I no longer have anything worthwhile to say, that I'm tapped out.  And even when I don't feel quite that desperate, I frequently have the sensation that I have something worthwhile to say, but I cannot fucking figure out what that might be.  And when I hit upon what it might be, I am humbled by the realization that I barely understand the implications of my own idea.  It'll be back to the books pretty soon, to wring some new insight out of my own mysteriously ordered brain.

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