Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Writing update

The editors of the special issue of Cultural Critique I just wrote the paper for emailed today to let me know that they don't think it needs any revisions before it goes to peer review, hooray and phew, because it was no fun to write and I don't know if I could revise it.

This week I started work on Teh Book again: I'm trying to bash out a completed draft of Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the rate of one a week over the next, well, five weeks. Chapter 2 was in fairly good shape when I started, and work went well yesterday and today, so I think that'll be fine. I don't know how coherently I can write about writing it, but here are a few scattered speculations (not on value):

At this stage I just need to write it. But what is this thing called 'just writing'? For me and in this context, I think it means: not obsessing about 'style'; accepting that about 90% of everything that I have thought and read on all the topics and concepts that spiral out from the heart of this book is not going to make it into the book, and letting it go; not going off on new and interesting connections that the close readings throw up; doing more of the work of scene-setting and clarification (this is my hardest thing, I hate doing the work of scene-setting and clarification, it makes me feel vulnerable and banal, vulnerable to being called banal. One of my friends got called banal at a conference recently and, excellently, there was much fall-out and discussion of this in the interstitial spaces of another conference where she and I were together; it's such a catch-all word; anything can be banal; it makes you do the work of doubting yourself without doing any of the work of critique; but it's impossible to defend against).

The nice thing about all of that - particularly the bit about letting 90% of the thinking not appear - is that it makes me realize fully for the first time how much work I really have done on this book. I can walk past all the chapters in my head, brushing my fingers against them, like stones in a stone circle, and I know what is going to be in them: I know what my key words are, and what passages from the literary text are going to be close-read, and although I might not be able to put it in clear and straightforward words every time, I can feel roughly what the shape, the argument, of each chapter is going to be. And that really is a big deal. So I really didn't waste my six months' research leave.

Which is a relief, as you can imagine.

The other thing which is making this bit of the writing go well is that I seem to have achieved the right distance from the material (at last! eight years later!). For the last couple of days, at least, I haven't been too close to it, seeing the unmanageable, unruly, glorious complexity and particularity of every word in every passage I quote; but I also haven't been too far away from it, feeling like every sentence I write bears the unbearable weight of the demand to justify its existence not only in the book but in my life, not only in my life but in the world: to justify itself to everyone everywhere at the same time, from my boss in the Classics department and my ex-supervisor in Cultural Studies to my scary, clever, wonderful, activist theorybitch friends on teh interwebs. It feels like working the material from a distance, like with giant mechanical hands: this is partly, of course, because mostly what I've been doing is shoving already-written sections into place and writing new explanatory, introductory, clarifying or linking sections almost in private, note form, so we'll see how it goes when I have to do more close-up work.

Yesterday, the day I started, J told me I was white all day, white and not-there, like a ghost; printing three old versions of the chapter out and making a tiny skeleton outline of the final version put colour back into my face.

The most exciting thing is that - mostly and so far - I like it. I like my book. I was really scared I wouldn't.

I spent the weekend tidying my study in preparation for starting, and I have a nice, clean, workable work space now, with drawers in a little cabinet for all the different chapters, and a desk-top organizer for pens and articles, and a flat surface for towers of books, and all my little magical objects collected around my computer (the pottery toad I bought at the North Bristol Art Fair last year, the glass coaster with a heart on it that J bought me at a market in Queensland just after we got together in 2003 and she had to go back to Australia, the little pipe-cleaner Deva a good friend of mine from Blake's 7 fandom made me a few years ago, the tiny wombat in a mortarboard that J gave me, the photo of the statue of Wellington in the park in Leeds near the university campus whose boots are always painted red by some helpful street artist, the Judy Horacek card 'kissing with crockery' which J sent me years ago when we weren't living together and when what we most wanted is what we have now; living in the same house, working hard in different rooms, and kissing when we bump into each other from time to time in the kitchen, distracted and not-there, and then going back to work).

Oh! Incidentally, this is International Blog Against Racism Week. So I will be blogging against racism soon, and you should too.


Beppie said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on "just writing"-- my supervisor keeps telling me to do that (I'm working on the second draft of my thesis right now), and I keep getting bogged down and finding excuses not to write-- or at least, to write very slowly and painfully.

And I wish I could find that correct distance from my work that you seem to have found-- for me, I either feel like I'm immersed in it to the point of drowning, or so detached that the critical side of my brain just starts to shut down.

M said...

I totally agree with beppie!
I'm also (trying to) write my thesis, and being able to read your thoughts about writing, and about everything else you comment on in your blog is so great!

Thank you for sharing.

Ika said...

hey, thank you both for yr nice comments! am thinking more about what 'just writing' means at the moment, esp. after talking to a writer friend at the weekend, and writing some fiction at the same time as Teh Book, so will probably talk more about that at some point.

and good luck with finding the distance, beppie - I will say that this is the book of my thesis, which I submitted in 2003, so, you know, in my case it took a really long time to get there...