Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Week in Making and Unmaking

This week, I decided not to keep pounding my head against that wall that I smacked into late last week. Rather, I would look at it and strategize my way around it. I kept writing bits and pieces -- I'm a serious convert to the "write every day; even a couple sentences" school of writing -- but the word counter barely budged. I was clocking maybe a page a day, which is flippin' fantastic if you're teaching, doing service work, parenting, etc. But when you're on a fellowship without family or kids and have nothing but time to work, isn't going to cut it in the long run.

But I managed, finally, on Friday, to figure out a way over, under, or around that wall. I put together what I think is the fourth outline for this chapter so far (entitled "new-new outline"). I determined that some of the big, detailed bits I had cranked out this week were going to go in a chapter that I thought was already done, but that on second thought, will probably have to be lightly reconceptualized. Today, I wrote provisional headings for each of the subsections, and sometimes each paragraph, making notes as to what parts of the old MS went where.

And then the unmaking began.

At the end of last week, I had almost 14,500 words in this chapter.

At the end of this week, I had added a little over 1,000 words to that.

And now, after having re-configured and pulled and plugged... I ultimately pulled the plug on almost exactly a third of my words. Sitting here at this very moment, I have just under 10,500 words.

I'd be more freaked out, except for three things:
  1. The words are not really gone-gone. Many of them, as I said, are going into another chapter -- I already have a home for them. And others (though surely not all) may find homes eventually.  
  2. I've done this before, much more definitively: I ruthlessly deleted -- I mean, made really, really gone -- somewhere around 35 hard-won pages of my first dissertation chapter, and when writing the book, I made the decision to cut an entire chapter that just wasn't working. In both cases, it was scary, and in both cases, after the shock wore off, what I had left was ever so much better.
  3. I like counting words, just like I like fitness monitors and to-do lists I can check off and little chore charts with gold stars. I like visible stats on my progress. BUT -- and heed me well here -- I've learned that it matters so much less how many words you have than whether they're the right words.
And that's the really good news: I think this chapter knows where it's going, finally.  At least, until I run into the next wall.


heu mihi said...

All good news--yay! But surely this is a typo: "over 30 hard-won words of my first dissertation chapter." I must know: How many words *did* you delete? Or were you so fanatical about your word count that 30 words actually were devastating? (I kind of like the latter theory!)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I caught that, too, and was probably editing as you were posting. Yeah, 30 words makes no sense; it was 30 PAGES that went bye-bye.

Susan said...

This is why I don't word count - it will be impressive at times, and then when I'm existing or doing what you're doing, it goes back...

Historiann said...

You are so right.

This is a lesson that blogging taught me: not everything I know has to go into a given post/article/book chapter. We don't have to tell all, and usually, it's better NOT to (for a variety of reasons.)

Tree of Knowledge said...

So I read this before I went to bed yesterday, then I had a crazy dream last night where you had linked to a site where you were tracking your chapters and sections by title and word count. I clicked over to see what you had, and the site was really cool (it had a pale green background and was very well organized). I could only see chapter one and the subheadings, so I scrolled the mouse wheel down to see the next chapter, but I also clicked a button at the same time and I moved one of your sections, but I couldn't figure out which one or how to fix it! I panicked for a little while then followed the link you posted where you had used the same site for your diss, thinking I could see the logic of the site and figure out what I did and fix it. But I did the same thing to your diss! I freaked out for hours of dream time before emailing you and explaining what happened. Dream me never questioned why anyone would link to their actual work and leave the only copy of it available to be messed with by strangers. That is a serious design flaw in the program. When I woke up from my anxiety filled dream, I actually had a moment of panic before realizing it was a dream. But still lay there and convinced myself that the site was only chapter and subheading titles and word count and no actual words.

Comradee PhysioProffe said...

Seems to me that counting words is misguided. It's like counting innings for pitchers, when you should be counting pitches.

Susan said...

Can I add that I love the idea that the *chapter* knows where it's going. That's always my experience. The chapter takes over!