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Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Seinfeld

Ok. I often feel a little silly evoking Seinfeld as a model for work. He's just a comedian, right? You might not have even liked his show. Yet I got a lot out of one very simple Jerry Seinfeld technique, the chain where you work consecutive days on your scholarly productivity. You just take a calendar and put a red x on every day that you work and you try not to break the chain. This is surprisingly effective, because even a relatively short chain, like 10 days, say, can get you really far. I worked once like this from August to December and wrote a whole lot of the book for which I am best known. I kept the calendar too so I could show people.

It seems sad that a scholar would not be as devoted to his or her work as a sushi chef or a fucking comedian. That was my point about beginning the concluding paragraph of your paper with "In conclusion..." It just seems lazy, unthought-out. Really? like you're ending your paper by signaling to your readers in an unsubtle way that you are ending, when they can see for themselves that it is the last paragraph. That's the idea of my "signposting without signposting." You should have the skill to craft a paper that coheres, that the reader can follow, without putting up really obvious markers of where you're "at" at every moment: "Having discussed the first four points of my argument, we shall now turn to point five." Jeez Louise, you don't have to write like that.

Being a poet helps, because there is no point too trivial in a poem. Punctuation? Consider the difference between "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep" and "The woods are lovely, dark and deep." Those are two completely different lines. The serial comma just ruins that line. I published an article and the copy editor wanted me to change the title from "Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker?" to "Was García Lorca a Poetic Thinker?" What a horrific change that would have been, besmirching my cv for the rest of my life. Why? The title is a very direct question and the extra syllables clog it up. Plus, nobody says "García Lorca." That would mark me as an outsider to my own specialty, like calling Leonardo "Da Vinci."

It's not a question of being pedantic or anal-retentive. Ok, maybe I am both but that's not the point. No detail is too small.





5 comments:

Clarissa said...

"I published an article and the copy editor wanted me to change the title from "Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker?" to "Was García Lorca a Poetic Thinker?" What a horrific change that would have been, besmirching my cv for the rest of my life."

- I agree completely. If I'd seen an article titled this way, I would have wondered whether you were not feeling well. :-) It would sound a little grad-schoolish.

I have started a new Seinfeld Chain this week. This is the best motivational trick I have ever encountered.

Leslie said...

I can't write without a good title even though I now you are supposed to create titles last.

And, OT, I am in shock. Someone has written my Vallejo book, or one quite like it, and I am discovering this a year late, for my sins.

http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/3704z0k8

Has to be read, it is about fractured subjectivity and there is a lot in it about Europe in the 20s and 30s.

Andrew Shields said...

Work on the title should be part of the process of writing anything (whether poem, novel, or scholarship, or anything else). That's why there's the expression "working title": the title you have while you're working on it, but also the title that helps you do the work.

Jonathan said...

I am constantly working on the title of my book and of each chapter. Now I wonder if I could get away with no subtitle. Could I have a book called "What Lorca Knew" with nothing following it? My subtitle "Spanish Poetics for the Twenty First Century" seems corny to me.

Leslie said...

I am for doing away with subtitles. I am supposing they became popular because of marketing and catalogues.

If one is going to have to order the book to get to see it, and is not familiar with the author and has not seen a review yet, then the extra information in a subtitle is helpful.

Your subtitle is OK, could be better I suppose. Maybe the right cover art could do the job of a subtitle?