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Sunday, February 25, 2018

No more "drafts"

I've decided not to write "drafts" any more.  (I did away with "rough drafts" and "shitty first drafts" a while ago.). What I mean is not that I will never revise anything, or rewrite it if it isn't good enough, but that I will write it the first time in a more or less acceptable form (better than most people's final drafts, in some cases).

When I gave our local humanities grant-writing person my first version of my NEH application, she commented that my "rough drafts" were often better than the final versions other people were sending out.  Yes.  Once again, that is not because they cannot get any better, but because they are not "rough" at all.

This method will help me not to have to have all these half-baked fragments every where, that take more time to sort out later. Of course, when one goes back to work on the document, one fixes things that are wrong in other paragraphs. But once the document is complete it is a shareable document. Then you can revise according to what suggestions you get.

 I believe you shouldn't share something unless it is already in a presentable form. That way, you aren't wasting their time by asking them to correct things that you could have easily corrected. If you want comments, they should be on something that has been worked on enough so that the only comments needed will be substantive. This does not imply stylistic perfection, which you'll never reach anyway, but adequacy.

If you want to bounce ideas off of somebody, then you can do it conversationally, or in a conversational mode like email.


I started to write something and stopped myself at the word posit.  That's a fine academic word, but it marks itself as academic in the first sentence. What if we could write using two or three of those words a page?

These are advanced tips. I would never tell a junior colleague to avoid posit. I would say not to use subtend. As a full professor I have the luxury of choosing my words carefully.  


Anonymous said...

OK, one for my side. I have always felt these super rough drafts were detrimental, and trying to do them on the theory that my lack of belief in project was perfectionism just made it even harder to write. I don't know that I have ever done a rough draft. Not even in elementary school. It's notes to presentable. This means I never write as much per day as people who are just scribbling furiously away, but I get more done per year than they do (this is if I am working). Now, I do keep a lot of notes, so maybe those are what people call rough drafts, but I don't think they're that.

Jonathan said...

Yes, of course you don't ever produce a document without having written anything down first in terms of notes.

I take notes for my project on the blog, for example.

The idea is that the student will feel hampered by having to produce something presentable and write nothing at all, so in a well meaning way we say, just write anything down, do a rough draft or a shitty first draft, and you can fix it later. Don't worry for now! For me as a writer that creates extra work, though. Of course I change sentences as I am working, but I don't ever approach the task with the idea of getting a bad first draft on paper. Partly, because I can do it more or less well the first time. I have the luxury of having refined my skill at writing by writing a hell of a lot.

Anonymous said...

Right - that advice is for students who haven't written a lot. We already wrote a lot in elementary school, though, and beyond, so I wasn't that kind of student even in freshman comp. (I remember being shocked the first time I did peer editing in that class, people's drafts were so incomprehensible, and realized why the T.A. thought my writing was good when I didn't think my ideas were all that special and wasn't really sure of my analytical skills.)

(But this is of course my general complaint about much advice -- it's for new beginners.)

Jonathan said...

I'd like to give advice to non-beginners. But so many are still beginners, like Graduate Students and junior colleagues. I remember saying, well, you learned to write the thesis statement in High School, right? Most graduate students still cannot write a thesis. If you master those basics, you actually be a successful academic. You will automatically be above average.

So when I get advice, from musicologists on my most recently begun project, it is this. I know what I want to do, but need someone to just say, this is how to get from point p to point q, or from s to t. My musicologist colleague just told me to read the work of certain people who know how to write about music for non-musicians. Once I knew that avenue was open the whole project fell into place. (Even though I haven't read them yet.).

Anonymous said...

...I think my whole beef about it, from p.o.v. of person advised, is: you ask a specific question, how to get from p to q and they will not answer -- they keep this information for the men, probably, and to me they just say have you ever heard of a thesis statement? It is beyond irritating.

...My beef about it from p.o.v. of being advisor/mentor/director is that most people don't give advice designed for the people they are talking to, they give the advice that they themselves need or that confirms their view of the world. Then I have to deal with the students they have bamboozled or effectively abandoned. It is tiresome.

Jonathan said...

I feel I still need some mentoring, but there are fewer and fewer people "above me," so to speak. We have mid-career mentors here, but I am beyond mid-career now. It's been a long time since I've had any mentoring, as much as I've needed it. I've had to figure out other ways of figuring out where I'm going.

Anonymous said...

I've got a GREAT mentor for administrative stuff, someone at a neighboring school.

Otherwise I don't think I've had any. I certainly did try to apply inappropriate writing advice to myself, though, with poor results.

Leslie said...

***On theses: the first writing advice I ever got was for my dissertation and it was to write without a thesis.*** I thought it was odd but if most people can't formulate a thesis then maybe it makes more sense?

Jonathan said...

That's horrible advice.

Leslie said...

Well, you know who gave it! She wasn't aware of how many papers I had written before and was shocked at the dissertation draft I gave her later, saying, "This reads like a book! How did you do that? Well duh...