Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Word on Writing

Approaching this dissertation was initially terrifying. Will described it as, simply, 100,000 words. Some perspective on that number, which made my head go numb: a double-space page typed in Times New Roman, size 12, with the margins at an inch will hold roughly 300 to 350 words. Even if I write only in small words, cramming 350 per page, this dissertation will be about 280 - 300 pages. To further put this into perspective: the longest sustained piece that I have written in my life was 22 pages, or roughly 5,000 to 7,000 words.

Having said that, I am not sure I have ever written 100,000 words in my life. Maybe if I compile all the short and long papers written between 1998 (the start of my undergraduate career) and now, I would be close, but not too much more.

As I sat in my room, mulling this over, I had to change my pants often, leaving the window open. Oh that, I say to my disgusted roommates, I don't know why my room smells like shit.

The sheer amount of time it was going to take to write more than I have ever written cumulatively was baffling. I honestly didn't think I would even know how to set on the path of writing anything approaching that long. Luckily, Will is a smarter man than I am.

He asked me first to read something about genre theory and just review it. This is a waste of my time, I thought. I should be reading all these great books about comics I have. I read the book (most of it) and wrote the review, noting the problems with genre theory. Will liked it, said my review voice was good (which I feel is slightly better than saying, you are really good at not presenting original ideas; a better backhanded compliment there is not), and sent me home to write a paper about how genre theory mixes with comics.

This paper I liked a little more as it got me to think about what I was doing, though my comic studies books were collecting dust, getting lonely. Nonetheless, 10 pages later, and it looked like I had the beginning of an intro, a tiny bit of introductory primordial ooze brewing something longer, and more interesting. Will and I discussed it; read: Will sat down with a chisel and a hammer, and began asking questions while whittling down what I considered to be an airtight argument. He again, sent me home to revise this, adding a little more to it, expanding sections, and trying to add something about narrative theory.

I have begun expanding some sections, and incredibly, I have written 15 pages and some change (4,600 words). This chapter, if it works, will nicely introduce all my key concepts, establish a baseline for my criticism, and the genres definitions I will use. All in four weeks. Finally, I got to use some of my cool comics criticism books, and feel a little better on that end.

So, in the manner of so many 80's sitcoms, cue the slow, tinkling piano music: today I learned a valuable lesson. Not just in humility, facing the fact that I don't know everything about everything; more than that I learned the value to slow, steady prewriting and continuous revision. See, before this, I was a single draft writer, never being able to put words on the page until I was certain I had read everything I needed to, had all my ideas, and could bang out 10 pages in a few hours. Now, I can see that I need to let my ideas incubate, that I need to write before I lose the good ideas I had early, and that I don't, in fact, know everything about everything.

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