Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Oh Yeah, And I'm Writing A Book Too

I had a big crash on 4th April, while I was drafting Chapter Three, and took the following day off to lie in bed reading novels, eating sourdough chips, and knitting. It felt so necessary that I took another day off, and then another one, until I decided I might as well take the week off - I'd been planning to have a week off after I drafted Three and Four, but I obviously needed it earlier. It was a good week: I saw some people, slept a lot, read a bunch of novels, knitted, wrote some fanfic.

I spent the next week writing a paper for the School of Culture and Communication seminar series, and had another big crash on Tuesday, the night before I was due to give it; J heroically rescued me from the depths of what an online friend of mine recently termed 'writer's hysteria', in distinction from 'writer's block', partly by telling me that this is MY book, and I woke up the next day feeling like I was back from somewhere, like I just... hadn't had access to myself for the previous couple of weeks (They STOLE me! I kept saying, indignantly; I'm not sure who 'they' are).

The paper wasn't great, because I'd been writing it from a position of anxiety and self-doubt, so it was sort of paranoidly trying to justify itself with quotes from theorists,* which got in the way of its figuring out what it was supposed to be about - it ended up falling half-way between being a reading of Hannah Arendt and being a reflection on different modes of space. But what was great was the reactions of the audience, who were amazingly generous and informed in their questioning, and we all kept talking for about forty minutes, I think, after the paper ended. In particular, Scott McQuire - who if I'd looked up his webpage before I'd given this paper, I would never have had the nerve to give it; he's done a huge amount of work on space, technology, and the city - asked a question about mobility, and how space is produced by the way people move through it, which clarified something I'd been groping towards for a long time.

With the result that, in talking about the book to J on Sunday night, it all suddenly fell into place. Suddenly and simply. I know what it's about, I know what the structure should be, I know how each part relates to each other part. It's like, if any of you have read The Merlin Conspiracy, it's like the way the hurt lady's knowledge instals itself in Roddy's head: I can zoom in on one part at a time, and still be sure that the whole will be there the next time I need it. Finally, I can get into the actual process of the writing of the book, sentence by sentence, without constantly being off-balance, unbalanced, by anxiety over whether every new sentence, every possible tangent, is going to wreck something in the not-quite-thought-through structure and make me rethink the whole thing. From scratch. Again. It's no longer the case that in the gap between one day's work and the next, one thought and the next, one sentence and the next, is the constant threat of an abyss which will swallow me whole, and the book along with me, if I don't make the leap exactly right.

So it's funny. All I have to do now is write the book, and maybe that should make me a bit intimidated (two months to write a book!) but pah, the writing is the easy bit. I've written 1500 words of the first chapter now, and I don't think I'm going to be proceeding by cutting-and-pasting from the dissertation, because now as I sit and write I get into a lovely trance state which tells me where to go next, and editing cut-and-pasted text needs a different sort of headspace and a different process. But it's taken me two months (or, you know, SIX AND A HALF YEARS, depending on how you look at it**) to put in place the infrastructure which makes the production of sentences possible - and now I've finally got to the payoff. Now I can sit down happily writing Tom-Cho-like sentences (the nearest I'm capable of, anyway).Because at last I'm so sure of the book that I can say it all as simply and directly - and poetically - as possible, because I know how each sentence is linked in to the mainframe.

So now the joyful work begins. I'm absolutely loving it.

And what's particularly interesting about this is that now, writing theory feels pretty much the same as writing fanfic. I'm sure it never did before. But fanfic was always something that (paradoxically, maybe) I owned, where it was okay to say what I wanted to say - not to figure out what was 'right' - because those were the rules of the game. It's taken me twenty-five years of education and training (and maybe ten years of re-educating my emotions, my fears, my sense of my own capability) to get to that point with my academic writing. To be able to own it. So yeah, this feels like a pretty big deal at the moment.

* Memo to self: whenever you start thinking that you can't possibly write whatever you're writing until you've understood Heidegger, this is invariably a sign that YOU ARE ON THE WRONG TRACK. I know where this one comes from: one of my PhD supervisors, at the end of every conference paper or public lecture he attended, regardless of its content, used to ask a question implying that the speaker didn't understand Heidegger, so I have this superstition that when I understand Heidegger I will finally be UNASSAILABLE. Unfortunately I didn't figure this out until I'd already bought a copy of Heidegger's Parmenides. Oh well. I'm sure it'll come in handy.

**I started my PhD in October 2000.


nixwilliams said...

And what's particularly interesting about this is that now, writing theory feels pretty much the same as writing fanfic.

YES YES YES. it's that moment when things fal into place, and YOU KNOW what's going to be best for the story - what info needs to be given where, etc. and YOU KNOW that you're the one with the idea and YOU KNOW that it's going to be ok. the only problem with this theory/fanfic thing is that my supervisor looks at me strangely when i mention my desire to slash judith halberstam with, well, pretty much anyone. because she's hott. as i was saying recently, it is now all about the hottness of theorists, rather than what they say. dammit, i've fallen into theory rps!!!

Una said...

Fantastic. Fantastic. I'm so glad the down time turned out to be that final mulching period before it all comes together.

And on writing the thing: I read somewhere recently that JM Barrie was asked about how his new play was coming along, and replied that it was almost finished - all he needed to do was write the dialogue.