Thursday, August 13, 2009

Making Introductions

One of the best pieces of writing advice I got as an undergraduate was from my first medievalist mentor: "Write your introduction last. You can't write it until you actually know what you're introducing." I still think that's good advice, but with a caveat: you write the first draft of your introduction after the first draft of the work. Then you revise the work, and revise the introduction. And again. And again.

I started the introduction to this book MS almost two years ago, back when I had to give a presentation at Fellowship Institute (see here and here for the tale, and here for my realization that it actually was the introduction that I had been writing). It's gone through some changes: a lot of the gratuitous theory references have been moved to the footnotes, and are only alluded to in the text. I've added more concrete background for the nonspecialist. And since most of the chapters took their final shape only after I had written my presentation, there were a lot of changes.

Still, today I read over my introduction, and I was taken back to about 21 months ago, when these ideas were new, and I was having epiphanies left and right. Some of them turned out to be very important; others, less so. But that ongoing wrestling with the big ideas was just that: ongoing. The thought of the journey from there (and even further back) to here, one week before submission, has got me feeling a bit reflective. So expect a few more navel-gazing posts over the next couple of weeks.

Your humble correspondent, pictured here with a lapful of vintage theory, 21 months ago in Fellowship City office.


Anonymous said...

Oooh, Goffman... it's been a long while, but I still remember the "Normal Appearances" chapter of Relations in Public--complicated meta-presentations like the appearance of normality rendered so as to convey that it's actually not real, and on from there. (I think I may have been stoned when I read it, which no doubt impaired my understanding but probably increased my bedazzlement.) He was what we used to call a wig. Thanks for evoking that faint memory.

The History Enthusiast said...

That looks like a really cool desk, and an office conducive to getting real work done (unlike my windowless basement office that's a sauna, but I digress).

AliceAcademic said...

My best piece of writing advice came from Prolific Prof., for whom I was a research assistant in grad school, and he told me this when I mentioned my difficulties with conclusions (apparently they are everyone's and not just mine): "Write the introduction last, then revise the whole piece, then revise the conclusion, and then revise the introduction again." Seemed crazy to me at the time, I wouldn't have known what revision was if it hit me with a stick. I was shocked to hear that HE revised things.

Anyway, congrats on such major progress on the conclusion, and good luck wrapping up the book!!

Susan said...

I know this advice, but I always write something because I have to start from somewhere -- I can't start writing in the middle, usually. Then I go back again and again to see what else it needs.

And your fellowship city office:way cool.

Dr. S said...

I remember that picture!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

This is all good advice, and the kind of thing that I'll be sharing with my students this fall in their Boot Camp course.

And S -- Shit. Am I recycling photos?