The Acwri Chronicles #3: Just when you thought it was safe to stop writing

This week’s post is about writing (again), editing, and wasting time.

Apart from a few outstanding changes I’m going to tackle today, my board paper is pretty much done.  There was a very stressful hour where my supervisor suggested I save the huge Mass Observation section for later and submit the bits of the chapter that weren’t there, but I explained that I hadn’t actually written them yet and I wouldn’t be comfortable submitting 6,000ish words knocked out in 4 days (including a weekend) under duress and without being able to run them past him.  Phew!  Besides, I really want feedback on the Mass Observation stuff.  Besides it having taken ages, I’m going to give a talk on it at a mini conference in a couple of weeks.

So I’ve actually gone straight back into the writing breach, first to write an abstract (which I was sending to my friend so no pressure BUT STILL), and then to actually write the talk.  I need at least 20 minutes, and so far I have 10 minutes and 30 seconds.  I was quite surprised when I wrote loads of words, then read them out to realise how little time they took up.  I think I will fill the time okay in the end, but it was a scary moment.  I even deliberately make myself talk slowly because I know I naturally talk quickly, but I still seem to say about 200 words a minute, which seems like a hell of a lot.  How the hell do people manage to fill an hour’s lecture slot?!

But I’ve actually found the talk-writing process okay overall.  It’s a lot easier than writing a journal article as you don’t have to fiddle with references quite so much, and you get to take lots of breaks to practice and see how long a section takes to say out loud, so you’re not just writing solidly.  Then there’s the knowledge that you don’t have to be judged by referees.  I also really think people will be interested in what I have to say, which helps.

As for editing, luckily most of the things I’ve had to do are minor - a few autobiographical details here, a clarifying statement there.  I need to read up on a couple of things, which I usually quite enjoy, so long as I have an idea of exactly what I’m looking for.  I think the biggest challenge is going to be adding in a reference to ‘the political theories of Sir Robert Filmer’, who I’ve never actually heard of before.  I hope there’s some sort of ‘Sir Robert Filmer for Dummies’ book.  It doesn’t help that I think the library is closing early today because of unofficial end-of-term celebrations - which I’m going to, but argh.  I think my least favourite kind of editing is having to move things about because it can send my footnotes into confusion, not to mention bits where I’ve put ‘as mentioned earlier’ or ‘this will be further examined later’.  I don’t have to do that yet, but I can see it in my future.

This week, I also met a fellow historian at the British Library and we had a chat about my work.  From what we ended up talking about, it occurred to me that I could be more effective in my use of the oral histories.  I’ve been transcribing whole interviews ‘just in case’, but often I can’t relate a lot of the material to only children.  So I think I’m going to just take down the comments about being an only child from now on, but I hate this feeling that I’ve wasted a load of valuable research time.  Even though I keep telling myself it’s an academic hazard, and indeed a hazard of many jobs - authors cut loads of stuff from their books, film-makers shoot loads of footage for only a small percentage of it to be used, bands record loads of songs only for them not to make the final cut for the album - I have this guilty, stupid feeling, like I’ve wasted valuable research time and money.  But I guess I’ll be more productive from now on.  And the lady I met up with came up with some other ideas that I hadn’t thought of too, yay!


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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