Category Archives: writing

Intermission ft. “How to Ignore Bad Advice”

Greetings!

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.

GOOD ADVICE:

  • 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

GOOD SUPPORT:

  • Offer to go write with your friend
  • Commiserate during difficult moments and celebrate breakthroughs
  • Cheer them on! Positive vibes are always appreciated

BAD ADVICE:

(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.

 

Intermission ft. Self-Doubt in “Are You Sure You’re Doing This Right?”

My last month has been great. I’ve been catching up on sleep, making myself good food and voraciously reading and watching shows and movies I missed during the semester. I’ve been journaling and making art. (Examples of both are actually at the bottom of the home page of this site! I can’t do much online but I rigged this to connect to my instagram page, RavynnCreates, which you should absolutely follow.) But I’ve also gotten some work done, too– I’ve already met with Jody about what my Lemon assistantship is going to look like next year and I’m killing it at my job at Michaels. (I’ve already gotten two really kind customer survey feedback reports, both of which are tacked on a board in our break room.)

I’ve even been having fun. I’ve always been mature and serious, so my idea of fun has always been very different than my peers’ ideas. But more recently I realized there’s point in always acting like I’m 40 when I have a solid twenty years before I get there and I have plenty of time after that to act like an old fuddy duddy. So I got a little more social. I stopped avoiding outings with friends and started taking people up on more lunch and dinner invitations. I’ve just been out and about more instead of retreating into my shell as I am so wont to do, going kayaking with buds or even just hanging out at coffee shops by myself. I’ve even *gasp* been to a concert!

Up until last Saturday, I’d never been to huge concert– unless you count going to BET Honors my fourth year of college, but that was definitely more show than concert– and I always assumed that my favorite artist would have to be headlining for me to go. (Read: I was pretty sure J. Cole was going to be my first and only concert.) But Chance the Rapper was in town, and I knew enough about him and his music to merit purchasing those spur of the moment lawn tickets. My friend and I hit the road to VA Beach, and I got to not only see the concert, but two of my dearest friends while we were there.

In between all of the various exciting outings, I have also been able to hang out with my parents and my uncles, who were up visiting from Key West last week.

And in between all of that?

I’ve been working on my Masters Thesis.

Even though I made a schedule for myself, starting seemed daunting. My first move was to get organized. I collected the two papers I wanted to use for my portfolio, collected my professors’ comments on those papers, any e-mail correspondence I’d had about the papers, and my SASA conference paper into one binder. I added a pad of paper to the back so if I had to take notes (which, clearly, I would) I could keep everything together.

So I had a nice heap of things I needed, strikingly organized in a clear binder with colorful dividers but that was about all I had.

I carried my project around in my purse with me for a few days so whenever I hit up a coffee shop (which was often), I could fish it out and look at it, as if staring at it would make clear what I was to do next.

For a while, I tried editing what I already had, slashing away at poorly worded paragraphs, circling ideas that were crucial but under developed, but it slowly became clear that though my Black Panther essay was the one that has been carrying me as a scholar, it’s also a mess.

I would have to rewrite it.

At first I was stuck in between a ton of emotions– frustration that there was nothing I could save, fear of starting from the bottom again, and a little disgust that I hadn’t written anything better. But I started to look at it as a good thing. The fact that I knew I had to try writing this paper again meant that my ideas had grown, my theory and source base had expanded and my execution has gotten better. Even just from semester one to semester two, my papers have gotten leaps and bounds better (though admittedly they still aren’t particularly well written.) I wanted my semester one ideas to be communicated with my semester two knowledge base.

It’s a good thing.

Then, after that panic subsided and I was able to move forward again, I started to worry that I would never be able to write in the tradition academic way. I wondered if I would ever be able to write clearly– create sentences, to quote Baldwin, that are “clean as a bone.” I remember reading a girl in my cohort’s paper at the end of the semester thinking, this is one of the clearest pieces I’ve read, this could be in a journal. She and I were both in the masters part of the program, but she could write like that and I still have trouble writing about only one idea at a time.

I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t “serious” enough of a scholar. I started to question the validity of my questions and my research interests. I started to question if I was doing something wrong. Clearly, comic studies and Black studies are vibrant fields, but I felt as if my work was missing components that made it relevant.

It didn’t help that I didn’t get the academic blogging internship I applied for.

Rationally: yes, I did submit my application late; no, I did not actually need to do the internship in addition to everything else I was doing this summer; and no, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Irrationally: I wondered why I wasn’t considered and instead of reasoning that a large part of it was my tardiness (which is probably was), I let the rejection be an indictment of my work. I blog, yes, but it isn’t “serious.” I do history, kind of. I do Black studies, in a way. I wasn’t doing work in a way that one particular group didn’t affirm as valuable. I wondered if I could be doing something better, what I could be doing better. I thought, maybe I should drop blogging all together and spend more time in the library, maybe I should try doing more archival research and then I’d be taken seriously, maybe I should stop trying to claim Black studies– is my work laughable?

I confided my worries to a fellow Black doctoral student in a different program and said to her, “Sometimes I really wonder if I’m even doing this right.”

She kind of smiled at me and said kindly, “I hear you and I hear your concerns, but I really doubt you’re doing this wrong.”

At the moment, I smiled and acted like I was reassured, but the truth was, I was still carrying around my project and not really doing anything with it. I was reading more articles and books, writing little summaries of them, just generally plodding along but not really moving forward.

This past week wasn’t much better. I spent a couple of days scouring the National Archive, hoping there might be something I could use for my paper so I didn’t have to go to Michigan to the archive my professor had suggested, mostly because I didn’t apply for summer research money. Finally, I returned to the Wakanda Syllabus, a tidy document of comic/Black studies resources, written by Dr. Walter Greason and posted on Black Perspectives, for new inspiration. A solid half of the material, I’d already come into contact with in some shape or form, but I made a point to click on every link.

One of the last sources linked me to an article in RVANews about a comic archive at VCU.

And it was like everything fell into place.

Another hour of researching uncovered that the archive had original issues of all of the comics I’d wanted to use, plus hundreds more that could almost certainly be relevant.

I took down as much information as I could, including the name of the archivist and her phone number, already getting excited that I had found something so relevant so close to home. This archive, at most an hour away from my apartment, might resolve a lot of the hiccups of self doubt and invalidity that I’d been feeling about my work.

(So definitely stay tuned because I’ll probably be writing about my first archive trip before long. Honestly, thank Rao that this archive is so close.)

I probably need to stop worrying so much and just let my mind take me where it wants to go. I wouldn’t be here if at least a few people didn’t think I had potential. I’ve got plenty of ideas– I just need to learn to stop doubting them. They’ve gotten me this far, I doubt they’ll fail me now.