Tag Archives: writing process

Novel Weekends (3): Scattershot

As a lot of you know, I tend to be rather scattershot in my composition process. I’ll often write a scene or a chapter completely out of order, rather than writing each piece in sequential order. It’s not always the most efficient or economical way of doing things, but it does allow me to work on those parts of the narrative that I find the most interesting at a particular moment.

Such was certainly the case today, as I started on a chapter that will actually be one of the ones that has a lot of action. Most of the book so far has to do with religion and politics, and that’s true here too, but this is a pivotal scene that sets the stage for a later religious conflict that will consume the second and third books in the series.

I also found that this chapter is told from the viewpoint of both a minor character–destined to be a larger presence later–and from an incidental character, the latter a soldier in the Imperium’s army. For some reason, though, I find this character to be quite compelling, so perhaps he’ll come back to play a rather larger role. Still, though, I have a rather large set of characters to start with, so I don’t want to overdo it.

That’s not to say that I don’t have a strong idea of the entire narrative arc of the book. One advantage of starting this project during NaNoWriMo was that I was able to sketch out the entire story in very broad strokes.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way that this novel is turning out. I do think I can crank out a fairly coherent version of this by the end of the year. It’s ambitious, but it’s doable.

Let’s do this.

Dissertation Days (20): Inching Along

Today was a moderately productive Dissertation Day. I didn’t make a huge amount of progress in terms of new words in Chapter 3, but I have finally moved into the final section. I think that another day or two of hard work on that section should see it ready for submission. It’s quite a good feeling, actually. Since it’s not really due until I get back to Syracuse in the middle of June, that gives me plenty of time to finesse it a bit before submitting it.

The Boyfriend was actually looking over my shoulder, and he made an observation that was spot-on. I tend to use a lot of complex (some might even say convoluted) sentence constructions, and while this adds a certain je ne sais quoi to my writing, they can also make it hard to follow my reasoning. Needless to say, one of the things I’ll be focusing on from this point forward is making sure that I add a bit of variety to my sentences.

Of course, it goes without saying that I also excised a few of those damnable couplets, which make far too many appearances in the course of this chapter. I’m sure that their ubiquitous presence says something about the way I think, but at this point in the day I’m not equipped to say what that is.

In other dissertation news, I also managed to make some progress in Chapter 4. I have this particular version labeled as the one that I intend to submit to my Adviser, but I’ve been known to be a bit too optimistic when it comes to those particular aspirations. Still, I do think that the version of this chapter that has been emerging sporadically over the last few months will indeed be the one that I send, even though it requires a lot of work before it gets there.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about the progress I’ve been making. The end isn’t quite in sight yet, but it is definitely somewhere just over the horizon line. While May is almost over and I’ve got some traveling coming up, I have most of June and July to be truly productive.

Tomorrow, I plan on finishing up a big chunk of the end of Chapter 3, as well as continuing onward with Chapter 4. Any progress, now matter how small, is a reason for celebration in my book.

Good times ahead.

Dissertation Days (18): Increments

Well, I finally returned to the semi-normal writing schedule. Today, I mostly worked on a read-through of Chapter 3, finessing some of the prose that has been rather clunky. Of course, I made sure to clip out a few of those pesky couplets that are such a troubling part of my prose (gods I hate those fucking couplets). There are still a couple that have resisted all efforts to get rid of them, but I’ve been successful for the most part.

I managed to make it to page 20 of the draft, and I’m pretty happy with the way that this first section looks. I’ve had to really hard to make sure that the section has allusions to what happens later, so that it’s clear from the beginning how the context that I’m laying out relates to the parts that come later. I think, at least in a dissertation chapter, that you want to have a number of signposts so that your reader can keep the bigger picture in mind.

Tomorrow, I hope to get through another 20 pages, and then I should just about be ready to get back into that section on Nero’s queerness. I am really struggling to get that section to fit into what I’ve written before, but I’m confident that I can at last corral everything into a coherent whole.

I also managed to write 500 words of Chapter 4, almost entirely in the historical context section. Gradually filling that out allows me to clarify what it is that I’m trying to accomplish with the chapter as a whole. The conceptual framework is still a little hazy, but I’m inching closer to a coherent argument. If I can manage to eke out a draft, no matter how rudimentary, by the end of July I will be happy.

Tomorrow is definitely going to be a busy day. I’m going to try to keep up the momentum with Chapter 4, as I don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s very easy to let my wheels start spinning in the midst of the revisions on Chapter 3, with the result that I can’t really accomplish anything else. Now that the end of Chapter 3 is (I think) at last in sight, I should be able to resume concerted work on the final chapter. (Can I just say how glorious it is to write that final sentence).

Tomorrow is going to be a glorious day.

Dissertation Days (17): Headaches

Much as it pains me to admit it, this has not been a very productive day on any front. I managed to eke out some progress on Chapter 3, though I did nothing at all on Chapter 4. I had a bit of a pet emergency (Beast, my kitty, had an asthma flare, so a large part of the day has been spent fretting over here; she’s doing much better, thankfully). I also developed a splitting headache, so that ruled out a lot of work progress this evening.

Still, I did manage to do some copy and paste from earlier drafts of the chapter, so the section on queerness, Nero, and Quo Vadis is starting to slowly take shape in a coherent form. I’m still struggling to bring together the strands of queerness, colour, and the terrifying nature of history, but I think I have the avenue I need.

I’m trying to avoid a huge theory info-dump right in the middle of the discussion. I think I’m going to have to just winnow out any theoretical references that aren’t directly relevant to what I’m doing, and relegate the others to a footnote. I also have to find a way to bring together my discussions of queer theory in general and the queer film theorists that I’m also working with.

I think that I need to focus on just the queer theorist Kathryn Bond Stockton and her notion of the queer child and Lee Edelman’s notion of jouissance and the death drive. Now, if I can only make sure that they mesh with both my arguments about chromatic history, I think I’ll have something significant to say about how this film imagines history (I also have to make sure that it fits in with the preceding discussion of S&D and D&B). Lots of balls in the air. I do like a challenge.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, more work is probably not in the offing tomorrow, as I have more family obligations. Sometime, probably early next week, I should be able to get back into something of my normal groove.

Until then, I fear that the installments of Dissertation Days will be as sporadic as the actual progress I’ll be making on my chapters. Still, I’m going to carve out each piece as I can, and that will have to be good enough for now.

In my book, any progress is good progress.

Dissertation Days (14): Sometimes I Love What I Do

Today was one of those glorious day when the pieces at last started to fit together. It was a truly productive day, and I managed to finish the section of the chapter devoted to Samson and Delilah. 

finally found a coherent way of talking about the ways in which the terror and chaos of history is expressed through Samson and Delilah‘s emphasis on costume, fabric, and tactility. If you’ve ever seen the film, you can see the ways in which it expresses a very disruptive and chaotic form of desire, one that cannot be entirely contained by the conventions of narrative.

I really do think that I’m making a contribution with this line of argument, for I’m trying to work against a dominant strand of criticism that tends to see Delilah as little more than an object of the gaze, a femme fatale who is the screen onto which men project their fantasies and fears about women. To me, the period of the late 1940s and early 1950s is far too fractious and unsettled for that to be the whole story, and when you think about both the terrors of modern history and the essentially unruly nature of color as a formal element of cinema, you get a very different picture of the epic films of the period.

I didn’t get to finish my section on David and Bathsheba, alas, though I did hash out the thesis of that section so that it’s a little more clarity, so at least I accomplished that. There isn’t quite as much to do with that section as S&D, since it was always a bit clearer.

That just leaves the last section on Nero and Quo Vadis, and that is definitely going to take a couple of days to both write and make sure that it fits with the rest of what I’ve already been doing. Still, with grit and determination I know this can be done. I know it.

At the rate I’m going, I should be ready to submit this revision before the end of the month. That basically means I’ll have taken about a month and a half to make some pretty significant revisions, so I’m okay with that. Even if it needs another round, I think that the next bit won’t take as long.

Once it’s done, I’m on to Chapter 4. Onward and upward, friends.

Onward and upward.

 

Dissertation Days (13): Breakthroughs

Somehow, it seems that revision and incremental writing seems to take so much more energy and time than producing new material. It’s one of the bitter ironies of writing a new chapter draft. As a result, it took me several hours to work my way through a mere few pages, but luckily I had some substantial breakthroughs.

This came about as I was finishing the section on queerness and communist subversiveness. It actually provided me with the final piece of the puzzle that I needed, so that I can finally make a compelling and (I hope) original point about the way in which Nero’s queerness in Quo Vadis works as an expression of the pleasure of terrifying history. There’s nothing like a bit of collective queer fantasy to encounter the ineffable nature of history, am I right?

Still, despite the fact that today was a bit of a slog, I made good progress today. The queer section is pretty much done in its broad contours, and the same is also true of the section on colour. A little more fine-tuning might be needed to make sure that that section is ready for submission, but overall I think it does the work that it needs to do.

Since this is a pretty large and complex chapter, I’ve found that I’ve had to use a bit more signposting than I usually do, just to make sure that the reader is able to follow my logic and understand why I’m including the evidence that I do. It does pad out the chapter, but I personally think it’s helpful to have those rhetorical bits when you’re dealing with a 40-50 page piece of academic writing.

I’m quite happy with the way that this day turned out, really. The queer section was a hot mess this morning, and now it feels like it actually works in the chapter as a whole. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. Now I don’t actually feel bad about not doing any work tomorrow.

Yes, you read that right. I am indeed taking off tomorrow. Then it’s back to work on Monday to finish up the close reading sections of both Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba. Once those two sections are done, the home stretch will finally be in sight. What a glorious feeling.

It’s going to be a great day. I can feel it.

Dissertation Days (12): No Rest for the Weary

Well, I have to break my habit of taking weekends to do creative writing (so no Novel Weekends this weekend, alas), in order to make sure that I continue the momentum with this chapter. I can still see the finish line in the distance, but if I don’t want to lose sight of it I have to keep moving.

I’ll be honest, though; it feels like this revision is eating up my entire life. Ugh. This is what happens when your first draft is a bit of a hot mess (even though it took like 8 months to write). Still, I just have to remember to be patient with myself. Sometimes, the more complex an idea is, the longer it takes to eloquently and coherently articulate it.

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. While I finished up a few sections, there are still that are a bit glaring in terms of their inconsistency. However, the section on female sexuality is almost complete (should be able to definitively finish it tomorrow), and I aim to also finish the section on sexuality and queerness as well. I might even (if I’m extraordinarily lucky and determined) make it most of the way through colour. I was particularly happy with the way that my discussion of fashion turned out today; hoping for more of that sort of breakthrough tomorrow.

Once again, I managed to trim out a few pieces of superfluous material, which I did through a combination of deletion and relegating things to footnotes. I’m well aware that most people don’t even read the damn things, but there are, I think, little tidbits and supplementary information that can’t necessarily be included in the main body of the text but that you want to see the light of day.

So, tomorrow is going to be a busy day. Sunday, alas, is a bit out of the running for work of any kind, though I might be able to squeeze a few pages of the close reading of Samson and Delilah. If not, I am definitely going to try to get both that section and the one on David and Bathsheba done on Monday.

The chapter is sitting at around 18k words, which is pretty long, but I am determined to keep this under 20k. Anything longer than that, and I fear that it is going to lose focus altogether.

But, onward.

And.

Onward.

Dissertation Days (11): Getting a Handle on Things…

Sometimes, when you’re writing a chapter, it can feel like the vast expanse of time stretches out before you, and you feel like you are never going to be able to get the beast whipped into shape.

That was how I felt a few days ago.

Now, however, after a particularly productive day of revision (despite the dismaying news about the healthcare vote), I feel better than ever about the direction that this chapter has taken. For the first time since I started writing it about a year ago, I feel like it has the coherence that it’s been lacking.

I managed to carve out a few more pieces of fat, condensing a few paragraphs that were a bit repetitive. The first section of context is almost fully fleshed-out. I should have that done by tomorrow at the latest, and I might even be able to get a second full section done as well. I’ve begun colour-coding the paragraphs that I think are in a final form (blue is my go-to for completed paragraphs), which seems oddly appropriate, given that this chapter is all about colour.

I also managed to slice out several of those nagging couplets that I keep writing about, and I’ve also begun to address one of my other pernicious writing ticks: my reliance upon a repetitive way of introducing quotes. I tend to rely far too much on quotes to begin with, and I tend to almost always introduce them with “As so and so argues…” I’ve not only begun to cut down on quotes, but I’m making a self-conscious effort to find new ways of introducing and integrating them into my writing.

I’ve now been working on this revision for about a month, and it makes me feel so much better to finally have a handle on things. I know that this version might also need some substantial revision, but I’m proud that I was able to turn it around in such a short time. If I keep working through the weekend, I should be on track to get this version submitted by May 15 (or May 20).

There is still much to do, but once this version of Chapter 3 is sent in, I can finally turn my full attention to Chapter 4. It’s possible I can have that done by August. It’s a more conceptually limited chapter, so we shall see.

I can do this.

Dissertation Days (8): How Do You Turn This Thing Off?

I have this nasty habit. Whenever I feel like something remains undone in my work for the day–a finer theoretical point left un-nuanced, a part of my basic thesis still resisting absolute clarity, a paragraph left ashambles–I can’t stop thinking about it, even after I finish my writing goals for the day.

That’s the case tonight. I made some headway today, both in new material and in revision of what’s already there. Still, my introductory paragraphs, where I set out my essential argument and discuss how I’m going to demonstrate it, don’t quite come together yet. They’re closer than they have been, but there’s still some refining that needs done if they’re going to hold up (and hold the rest of the chapter together).

It stresses me out, I’ll admit, that I still haven’t gotten them where I want them to be. I muse and mull over the essentials until I feel like one more moment of thinking and the whole thing will fall apart (which it does, at least in my mind). Still, I console myself with the knowledge that this whole process is basically like distilling, until you get the perfect product that you want, the finest and purest articulation of your argument. It’s the getting there that’s the hard part.

Still, I am making progress, there is forward movement, it’s just sometimes difficult to see that when you’re in the midst of the process to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking of progress. I managed to write 500 words of Chapter 4 today, and I think this will actually be a draft that I can submit sometime toward the end of this summer. My goal is to have basically all chapters drafted by the beginning of the fall semester. It’s really the only way that I feel like I am realistically going to be able to defend in the Spring.

Tomorrow, I am going to continue revising, with minimal composition. In fact, I don’t think I’m going to set a specific word goal. I’m getting to that point in the draft where there is a lot of material, and I need to make some tough choices about what I need to keep. So, that’s the goal for tomorrow. At the end of the day, five pages, FIVE, should be in something close to submittable shape.

Let’s do this.

Novel Weekends (2): Looking Backward and Forward

Well, I met my word goal for today, so that’s good. Started a chapter that I think is going to be somewhere close to the end, when basically all of the characters have had their ambitions thwarted in one way or another. It’s a pretty dark moment that I’m portraying here, since I’m attempting in this work to convey a sense of what it might feel like to live in a moment, a fleeting period of time, when the entire fabric of the world order unravels right before your eyes (sound familiar?)

The prose is still a bit clunky, though I do think that the more I write and the more I focus, the better and more natural it sounds. I’m revisiting the Prologue that I wrote some time ago and…it could use some work stylistically. I like what it’s doing, but I really need to make sure that the prose is more polished.

I also tend to be a bit heavy on the dialogue, but I think I’ve broken that up in this chapter from today. There’s a lot of action, since it entails a coup and the breaking down of old orders, as well as the feeling of desperation one gets when the tide abruptly turns against you. It’s one of those feelings of utter terror, when you know, you just know, that things have slipped, irreparably, beyond your ability to control. That’s what I’m trying to convey in this chapter, as well as how you cope with the aftermath of such a defeat.

Overall, I like how the novel is coming along. Its conception seems strong, but I need to continue working on its execution. That’s always the hardest part, regardless of what I’m writing.

But, I know I can do it.

I am determined.