Friday, June 27, 2008

Reverse Engineering as Progress

First: thanks to all for the birthday good wishes. That's really great.

So, for the last few days, I've been able to say, more or less, that I've got drafts of all my substantive chapters. But unfortunately, one of them has always been problematic. It's the one chapter that seemed to be a grab bag of all the stuff that didn't fit anywhere else. I slapped a too-vague label on it, and was not at all surprised to see that it didn't hang together. So I've been back at it now, trying to make it all make sense. And the best way to this has been to reverse-engineer the chapter. Here’s what I've done so far:

1. I've gone through and figured out what I think the "hook" for this chapter is – that is, the chapter's unique argument. It's not as strong as that in the other chapters, but at least it's something.

2. Next, I scribbled next to every paragraph in my draft what I thought that paragraph's topic was.

3. Here begins the reverse engineering: I took out a blank sheet of paper, and began doing what I tell my undergraduates to do: write a story, using only topic sentences. It the story doesn't flow, you've got your paragraphs in the wrong order, or have paragraphs that don't advance the story, or are missing paragraphs that are critical steps. In this case, I ended up moving around a lot of stuff, but finished by seeing my point (and my path to it) more clearly.

At this point, I've done this with the first of two subsections of my chapter, and I have a coherent narrative of strung-together topic sentences. I've now got the confidence to go on – at this point, it's a matter of plugging it all in, and getting the flow right. ID is off packing for 24 hours, so I think I should be able to get this covered by the time I'm called upon to help him pick up his moving truck Saturday afternoon.

In the meantime, I've changed my word count: I've subtracted the 13,333 words of this chapter from my overall word counter, bringing my total progress from a glorious 88% back down to a more modest 74%. My goal is to have it halfway back (to 81%, I think that would be) by Saturday noon.

1 comment:

Belle said...

Yeah, see... that's the way I do most of my writing. I write, then rediscover what I'm trying to say. My muse hangs around longer if I don't emphasize coherency as a must.