Death By Conference Paper

It’s taken me the best part of a week to write a 30-minute conference paper, and I’m really annoyed that it took so long.  Normally, I can put papers together pretty easily, and in fact find it more pleasurable than thesis-writing because I don’t have to reference, unless I’m entering a competition.  Granted, this paper has had to be 50% longer than those I normally do, but I didn’t foresee it taking more than 50% longer to write, especially as all the information I needed was there in my thesis, and just needed refashioning.  I can’t help but think of all the other stuff I could have got done this week if I hadn’t been writing and rewriting this damn paper.

The (hopefully) final paper I now have is pretty much my fourth attempt.  Twice, I wrote part of the paper before giving up because the structure just wasn’t working.  My thesis and conference papers tend to centre around a lot of case studies, in order to show the sheer variety of only-child experiences I can only convey by presenting several individual stories.  Five minutes’ set-up and 15 minutes talking about different cases works fine for a 20-minute paper (well, nobody’s ever complained…) but with an extra ten minutes of case studies, I felt like I would be drowning my audience.  My third draft was still pretty case-study heavy, though I’d divided them into groups, but at least I got to the end of it, which is more than I can say for the first and second drafts.

In the fourth and final draft, I’ve introduced a bit more variety and stopped trying to do so much.  A Twitter friend saw my ‘so many case studies’ worry and suggested I talk about my sources and methods, which was a really good idea.  As they’re part of my everyday life, I tend to forget that my sources and methods are things that people might actually be interested in, especially as I haven’t come across many other historians who use NVivo.  Whereas before I was covering a hell of a lot of ground, talking about both whether only children got out into their neighbourhoods and where they played, I cut out the whole ‘where they played’ part and replaced it with sources and methods.  I still talk about 15 people (in four groups), but it feels a lot less boggy.  The conference is next Saturday - hopefully my talk is good enough for an audience now!  Well, I need to practice and put some timings into the PowerPoint before then, but the writing bit is the hard bit.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘slow scholarship’, and aside from the whole privilege thing (you try going slowly when you’ve got limited funding and already spend more hours on teaching work than you get paid for.  Plus, I WANT THIS PHD OVER WITH), I don’t think it’s for me.  As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m very much one for instant gratification and response, which is partly why I blog.  I’m not a very patient person, and I like to feel like I’ve made progress and got things ticked off the to-do list.  I even walk and shop quickly so I can get it out of the way and get to things I actually want to do sooner!  I hate feeling like I’m not moving forward, or only moving forward incrementally, so this has been a very frustrating week for me.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK