It’s been a while since I’ve written an update, because to be honest I’m doing the boring part now: writing.
After I visited the archive at the end of June, I spent a few weeks just sifting through the issues, reading and taking notes. It took a lot longer than I imagined– what I thought would be a solid two days of work turned into a week and a half of sifting, even when I was spending a few hours a day taking notes on issues. In my defense, the Fourth of July holiday popped up in the midst of all that, so I took necessary breaks to enjoy hot dog.
Finally, once I’d sifted as long as I could, I told myself it was time to just do it. The best advice I’d ever received and the best advice I’d ever given in grad school is to just start writing. You can only plan so much– at some point, you need to put the outline down, put down the notes, stop making excuses. The longer you put off beginning to write, waiting for the perfect set of sources, or reading one more book, the more frazzled you’re going to be. Just write. Work with what you have– you can always go back and add things later. Don’t expect the first go to be perfect– it won’t be. You’ll have to edit. Even if you write what you think is the world’s best essay, I guarantee, your advisor will still send you back three pages of edits to make.
It makes me feel better to know that even the authors published books and articles probably had pages and pages of suggested edits for their pieces, even after they were published. But at some point, just like forcing yourself to write, you’re going to have to force yourself to stop.
For me, and for a lot of people, getting the tap to turn on is the hard part. So to alleviate that, I just make myself write a little bit every day, even if it’s just a summary of a book I want to use, or a page of good notes on the issue that I want to work on– I just write so I have material to work with.
Then finally, one morning, I woke up at like 6 AM and my tap was on and all the ideas were flowing.
I wrote all morning and, at noon, collapsed gratefully on my bed.
Ever since, my Black Panther essay has been shooting out of me in bursts of about 2 or 3 single spaced pages at a time. I’m so grateful for this because I was getting worried about that piece: to this day, it’s the best idea I’ve come up with so I’ve been writing it and rewriting it for almost an entire year now. I turn my ideas over in seminar papers, blog posts, conference papers, and now, I’m attempting to consolidate everything I’ve been thinking about into a paper that, ideally, won’t be longer than 40 pages.
I’m currently up to 19/20 single spaced pages, but that includes a bibliography and images, and I haven’t even written two entire sections.
I’m going to have to edit the crap out of this essay.
With this amount of work and pressure on on my shoulders, I definitely need support and I’ll take it where I can get it but it’s also worth being able to identify good advice and throw out the bad.
- Visit an archive
- Make sure you are well prepared for your visit
- Write a little every day (or most days) so that it won’t get down to the last week and you’re writing in a unintelligible frenzy
- Take breaks
- Stay organized
- Offer to go write with your friend
- Commiserate during difficult moments and celebrate breakthroughs
- Cheer them on! Positive vibes are always appreciated
(To be fair, everyone has different versions of what constitutes bad advice, but these are the worst comments you could offer in an attempt at helping, for me)
- You’re going to need to cut X amount of material
- Prepare for your thesis to not work the way you want it to
- Expect the process to take exceptionally longer than you anticipate
- Expect your advisor to be difficult
The thing about offering advice to people who are working on long written projects is that good advice is useful across the board, but bad advice tends to be based solely on negative experiences that one’s had while embarking on their own adventure. While it may not be entirely bad advice, it’s a little like telling someone that they should expect traffic in certain places on I95 when the other person is driving on 288– you can get to about the same place, but you’ll be using entirely different routes to get there, thus ensuring different problems.
It’s also not helpful to compare your journey to anyone else’s. For one thing, academia is based on a celebration of uniqueness– the idea is every project is unique. So, technically, there shouldn’t be an exact precedent for your situation. You can sort of gauge a possible path and set of likely occurrences, but ultimately, your project is one of a kind. You likely didn’t use the same type of sources as the next person, or you used a different type of method, or wrote in a different style. All of these things are factors that will contribute to a potentially extraordinarily different experience in working on your project.
So for the time being, I’m trying not to concentrate on how much I’m going to have to cut, but rather on just getting all of my ideas out onto the page. I’m not going to worry about my advisor because it’s my goal to do as much work as I can on my own before I have to get my advisor involved. I’m not going to worry about the length, but about making sure that I’m saying everything that I need to say.
There are so many potential problems I could focus on while I’m working on one of the most important projects of my young life– but instead I’m going to remember that this is a chance for me to say something really special, and that no one is going to be able to say it the way that I can.
It’ll work itself out.
I’m going to think positively about it.
I’ve gone through too much to let someone else’s experiences dictate how I think about and approach a problem.
I have enough negativity of my own– I’m not letting anyone else’s in.