Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Week in Writing, Day 3: Ebb Tide

Today is international Talk like a Pirate Day.  Arrrr.

Coincidentally, pirates figure big and important in my paper, which ought to make it inherently exciting. Yet my paper is not.  In fact, in my musings today (which was really all I wrote), I wrote this sentence: "This is full of pirates, FFS!  How on earth am I managing to make that boring?!?"

And then I heard an interview with Jill Lepore on NPR, and I thought, "Love her work or hate it, but she knows how to write in a way that people want to read."

(I should note that this comes one day after I found out that my sister-in-law found my book less than gripping, and two days after receiving some rather dismal sales figures for the book for the last year.  My confidence in my ability to interest readers is pretty low right now.)

And so I once again trashed what I had written, and went back to the conference paper I presented.  And tomorrow, I get up, and try to think like a reader, like my sister-in-law, like Steve fucking Inskeep.  Because I know this can be interesting.  I'm just not there yet.


clio's disciple said...

Well, wait wait wait; who's the audience for this book? Because I think academic writing intended for scholars (of Blargistan, say) is often not that exciting to a general audience. And Lepore is in U.S. history, which has a larger built-in general audience in the U.S. than anything else does.

Also, I happen to think pirates are highly overrated in the popular mind. It doesn't actually surprise me that historical pirates are not that exciting. :)

Dan said...

My adviser consistently gives me the same writing notes, which drive me crazy but always lead me to vastly improved revisions.

1. Make people act.

2. Tell a story.

And that's pretty much it. Hope it helps you as much as it does me.

Susan said...

What Clio's Disciple said. I think with any project, you have to think about audience. You write a different book for a general audience than you do for your colleagues. A few thoughts:
-- dissertation books are rarely page turners: they prove we can do it. Even Lepore's dissertation book is heavy going.
--papers need to be interesting to colleagues, not to sisters-in-law. In fact you might want to think as the articles as more scholarly, the book as more accessible.

Get the draft done first before trashing it for readability.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Oh, not to worry, everyone. My prose tends to be pretty turgid. So if I shoot for "sister-in-law", I should end somewhere in the middle.

I just figure that if even *I'm* not finding it compelling, something needs to be done. And making it more readable will be a start.

Anonymous said...

oh noes! We missed talk like a pirate day! Dang nabbit. I mean arrrrr.

Amstr said...

I did hear a remarkably boring job talk on early modern pirates a few years ago. The best thing in the presentation was the teaser photo of Johnny Depp. And I thought the same thing, "how can pirates be boring?" But this job talker somehow managed it. (I should add that it was about pamphlets on pirates--a literature talk, not history per se.)

I hope you find interest in your pirates soon, and readability is always a good direction to go. (Maybe readability leads to interesting?)

Susan said...

Yes, but making it interesting is the rewrite - when you say, oh that's the juicy center!

Janice said...

I'm hoping this new start gets you into a happy groove. It's never easy, knowing that you're writing along on a project where the prose just doesn't sparkle. Sometimes you can fix that in the rewrite and sometimes not.

I thank my reading buddies and editors every day for helping to fix my own turgid prose but sometimes a fix isn't enough, you're right!