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Writing is hard


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#1 Darren H

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 01:45 PM

I had no idea where to stick this thread, which is really just an excuse for me to whine.

The reason I haven't been participating much lately is because I have finally found the discipline to turn my doctoral dissertation into a full-time job. I spend all day, every day at the library, staring at my laptop, trying desperately to string together a few sentences that I don't hate.

The problem, I think, is that I'm a better reader/editor than a writer, so I'm constantly, obsessively reworking the same lines. It's incredibly gratifying when something turns out well, but, man, I really wish it would get easier.

#2 Russ

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 02:37 PM

I wonder if it ever does get easier, even for the best and most prolific writers. I suppose that's what makes it unmistakeably work. No matter how much you love it, or how much ancillary pleasure there is to making meaning out of words, it's real labor.

#3 Darren H

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 02:53 PM

Philip Roth has described his life as a long series of 9 hour days in which he hoped to produce two pages worth keeping. (That's a poor paraphrase and a horrible sentence construction -- Roth hopes, each day, to produce two pages.) When he starts a new novel, he usually writes for several months, rereads everything he's produced, pulls out the two or three passages that "have some life in them," throws out everything else, and begins again.

Edited by Darren H, 06 June 2005 - 02:56 PM.


#4 Diane

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 03:27 PM

Since our book club is reading/discussing her work, I'm thinking of Flannery O'Connor. If I recall correctly, she rewrote and rewrote and rewrote and was never satisfied. I think she finally just had to let her stuff go, which must have been hard.

Anyway, good luck, Darren.

#5 Greg P

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 03:49 PM

Couldn't find the quote, but I know I read or heard it somewhere. "Writing is about staring at the blank page in your typewriter until your eyes bleed."

Here's another one to go hand-in-hand with that: "The easiest thing to do on earth is not write"-- William Goldman



#6 Crow

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 04:10 PM

It's not writing that's so hard, but good writing, which involves a lot of rewriting and rewriting and more rewriting. To write a truly quality novel is quite a daunting experience, to take the time to craft quality sentences and make them all flow together in a beautiful way. And to shoot for Phillip Roth-quality work is a huge leap than simply writing Left Behind-type dreck.

#7 Jason Bortz

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 05:49 PM

Honestly, I love writing--for me it's easy.

It's writing so that others understand what I'm getting at...that's the hard part.

#8 DanBuck

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 06:27 PM

There is writing.

Of which it is hard - even for those who've written much and well, to compose and be read. Of ogres and times long ago, where perhaps people of that very same trade of the pen didn't toil so ceaselessly.

The words.

tongue.gif - In honor of Bortz.

#9 Darren H

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 08:28 AM

"The best dissertation is a finished dissertation."

If I send you their email addresses, would you mind forwarding that message to my committee as well? wink.gif

Thanks for the encouragement, Ken. I've always said that my dissertation would be much easier to write if I weren't so interested in the subject matter. But I really want it to be good -- that and the fact that I'm not sure I want a career in academia have conspired against me throughout this entire process. I'm feeling a bit schizophrenic.

#10 M. Leary

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 09:21 AM

I feel your pain Darren. It is difficult to write a dissertation, especially when you are not sure you want a career in academia. Admittedly, it would be fun, but there are plenty of other worthy career paths.

It seems that two or three pages a day is a good goal for dissertation writing, it is all the legwork that goes into those two or three pages that gets me. And then the amount of time necessary to make sure that those two pages are formatted correctly, and then the hours that go into editing out the mistakes your supervisor finds, and then the hours spent on the final copy. And then there is always the chance that your committee will call for more revisions.

And then the realization you have just written and painstakingly edited 350 pages that only 10 people will ever read.

Hope that cheers you up.

#11 M. Leary

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 09:36 AM

Oh. Thanks. After reading that I actually cried for a little while.

(Crying like a baby is a little thing I learned from Stef.)

#12 Darren H

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 09:48 AM

When I told my dissertation director that I was giving up my teaching assistantship to take a full-time job -- this was several years ago -- he warned me of that 50% statistic. "Please don't be one of those people who live their lives ABD," he told me. "They're haunted by it." His use of "haunted" has always stuck with me. Obviously.

Let's see: The four members of my dissertation committee, me, maybe my parents. That's seven. Looks like I'll need three more readers to sustain Ken's made-up stat. Volunteers?

#13 Persona

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 09:50 AM

QUOTE((M)Leary @ Jun 7 2005, 09:36 AM)
(Crying like a baby is a little thing I learned from Stef.)

View Post




Well when your best buddy is leaving town, there's not a whole lot else you can do.

-s.

Edited by stef, 07 June 2005 - 09:51 AM.


#14 M. Leary

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:01 AM

QUOTE(Darren H @ Jun 7 2005, 10:48 AM)
Let's see: The four members of my dissertation committee, me, maybe my parents.  That's seven.  Looks like I'll need three more readers to sustain Ken's made-up stat.  Volunteers?

View Post



Sure, I'll take you up on that. You do have me beat by three people right now though. My wife sat down at the kitchen table the other day and said: "Here, let me read through your proposal and edit it for you." Of course I was right chuffed ("right chuffed" means "really happy" over here) to have her do so. I literally looked over ten minutes later and she was asleep and drooling on the word "writerly" at the bottom of the second page.


QUOTE(stef @ Jun 7 2005, 10:50 AM)
Well when your best buddy is leaving town, there's not a whole lot else you can do.

-s.

View Post



Oh man, that was really nice. Now I feel bad for making fun of you...D.W. Murnau.



#15 Russ

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:18 AM

Mike, Stef implored me to change the reference to D.W. in my custom title. I think we're supposed to move post-D.W. Murnau. It is to Stef what Party at Kitty and Stud's was to Sylvester Stallone.

Darren, I'd love to read your dissertation. I can't promise substantive critiques, but I'd be happy to read it. What's ABD?



#16 M. Leary

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:27 AM

Sorry, as a traditionalist/purist, I feel it is my role to keep reminding current public discourse of the accomplishments of the past. "D.W. Murnau" was Stef's greatest past accomplishment.

Perhaps a more apt analogy though would be "...is to Stef what The Thing With Two Heads was to Lee Frost.

#17 Jason Bortz

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:34 AM

So what's your dissertation on, Darren?

#18 Persona

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:59 AM

(m), your lies become even less convincing the further away you are in proximity.

-s.

Edited by stef, 07 June 2005 - 11:03 AM.


#19 Thom

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 11:19 AM

Move past "D.W. Murnau"? Is it possible? That comment is as relevant today as the film, The Birth of a Sunrise.

#20 Darren H

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 12:12 PM

Jason, I used to say that my project was about Cold War literature, but it's really a cultural history of the post-WWII American Left. I've built the project around what I'm calling the "crisis points" of the Left: the anti-Communist era of the 1940s and '50s and the rise and fall of the New Left in the 1960s and '70s. My first chapter lays out a groundwork discussion of those crisis points, then the rest of the book looks at, first, postmodernism, then the rise of neoconservatism, but it does so by looking at plays and novels that return to the crisis points, reimagining those historical moments as a way of making sense of the contemporary situation. For example, why does Tony Kushner raise the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg in Angels in America? What does the McCarthy era illumine in a play about Reagan's America? And what does that critical conversation between the two eras teach us about a politics of the left? Those are the basic questions I'm after.