Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Research, On Writing

So, yesterday I had to go pick up my shortened curtains for the dining room (which look great, btw) at the place by school, so I also took the opportunity to go to the library and to check out a great many books for NB. (Note to student workers at the circulation desk: yes, I really am checking out all of those books, and I'm sick of your attitude that there is something wrong with that or that my doing so is a burden to you. Do your job and stop with the unsolicited commentary and/or pissy looks. Thank you.)

And then, shockingly enough, I did some reading and note-taking. What was sort of neat about this is that it allowed me to realize that I actually had done a lot of reading this spring before the house madness really took off, and also it allowed me to realize that I'm really into working on my project in earnest. It also got me thinking, though, about my process and why I do this stuff the way I do.

Because here's the thing: I do a LOT of long-hand note-taking. The dissertation/book cured me of actually writing entire manuscripts longhand, but a lot of the writing/transcribing that I do in these early stages is done sans computer. At later stages, I also edit long-hand. Here, for example, is my binder for NB. This is where I'm keeping all of my notes for critical books and some theory.

Yes, this is my low-tech way of beginning a project. You may wonder why this is how I do it. I sort of wonder, too. I know one piece of it is that when I type I can transcribe whole passages without actually reading them, so I miss a crucial step in thinking if I don't write out the notes long-hand. Also, because it takes more effort to write things out long-hand, I tend to edit my notes down to what I really might use rather than to try to transcribe everything that is marginally interesting. In other words, doing my notes this way slows me down and focuses me, and also it gives me an ownership over the texts with which I'm working that typing doesn't give me. Or so I think. It may also just be that I'm afraid to do it a different way. What if it didn't work?

So yesterday I worked for about 3 hours (not counting the time I spent in the library), and it was good. I am feeling a bit out of sorts about my project conceptually because it seems like every source I encounter - even the ones that seem like they would be foundational to what I want to think about - gets a crucial thing (or what I think is a crucial thing) totally wrong. But when you encounter that over and over again, you start wondering whether it's not everybody else that's wrong but rather you who is totally off your rocker. Ah, well, I guess I just need to keep plugging away and see where the reading/writing takes me.

And then I was talking with a friend last night and I realized that I don't even know why I'm doing this project really. Or, I do: it's because I really want to think about this stuff. But seriously: why attempt to write another book? Why is that the way that I need to think about this stuff? Why am I compelled to do such a project when, in the grand scheme of things, it promises to be a lot of work for not much reward? Am I a masochist? Something else? What is it that motivates me to do this sort of thing?

Anyway, I know I haven't really written a cohesive post here. I'm just sort of writing whatever pops into my head. But that's the latest. Now I'm going to go eat something and do some house-stuff and then maybe do a little more reading before Naomi comes over tonight for drinks and catching up and reminiscing, etc.


Earnest English said...

I love these posts that talk about ways of writing and researching. I find them so interesting and inspiring!

I think it's really neat the way you already have a binder for this project, which makes it real somehow. My mother does that as well for her projects, which are not academic. Somehow, I never do the binder, though I do have file folders that I keep my copious journal article copies with handwritten notes in. (Though a big part of my process is transcribing the handwritten notes from the margins to a computer file so I can have all the notes in one place and then, if I want to, print them out and cut and paste for organization. Organization is always the hardest thing for me because my brain likes to go in a bunch of branching directions at once rather than a linear point-by-point argument. In making that linear point-by-point argument, I'm always cutting out some of the connections, hopefully pinching them off so that stronger branches can grow elsewhere, since I love a gardening metaphor on a stormy Sunday.)

Maybe I'll do a binder for my book! Surely, I should start getting a binder together (or several) in preparation for tenure. I realize it's still four years away, but I'd like to be as prepared as a person can be.

I also think it's really important to write/type out quotes; you never know text better than when you write it out yourself. I often notice words and structures that I wouldn't have just reading. I tell my students to do this rather than cut and paste, but students. . .well, they often don't listen.

Work on, Dr.! Maybe you're just a book-length thinker. It can't be bad to have another book project for when you're going up for full, right?

Shane in Utah said...

Interesting. When I was working on my book, I started taking notes in these little A5 notebooks--I can only find them in Europe and South Africa, but they're about the size of most academic books, so they're perfect to carry around. Now I have 8-10 of them full of notes, so I can see the appeal of using 3-ring binders instead.

I mostly take notes by hand because I don't like being bound to a computer while I'm reading. It's odd, though, because I type quite fast and write quite slowly. But I'd never given much thought to the benefits you describe of taking notes by hand...

Anonymous said...

But seriously: why attempt to write another book? Why is that the way that I need to think about this stuff? Why am I compelled to do such a project when, in the grand scheme of things, it promises to be a lot of work for not much reward? Am I a masochist? Something else? What is it that motivates me to do this sort of thing?

You're a fucking scholar. It's what fucking scholars do!

Arbitrista said...

I always do a lot of long-hand note-taking too. I get a nice clean sheet of college ruled paper, prepare my fountain pen, and try to find a room with nice grey light rather than the harsh white kind. When I'm thinking on paper rather than taking notes from text I tend to rest my head on my arm. It's a weird little ritual, but it's where I do my best thinking.