When I was outlining my paper for Archives, I scrawled myself a little note about Step 3: Profit! My note was in reference to early promotional writings about America. Substitute emigrate or invest for the initial step of collecting underpants and it fits nicely.
It turns out it also applies to the paper itself. I tried to make the leap from colonial-era materials to historical societies with a bridge of popular historical writing. With more pages and discipline, I could perhaps have done so more effectively. With more time and discipline I might have decided to winnow down the focus of the paper. But it was still a perfectly cromulent paper. I’m actually flirting with the idea of revising it. I’ve never done that before. Papers have always been fire-and-forget (or at least fire-and-abandon: I did make sure to ask for feedback on this one). But I am wondering if doing a second draft (as opposed to rolling revisions) would be instructive and/or yield something a cut above cromulent.
I have been paying more attention to my process. On that front, the paper was a mixture of brilliant success and standard failure. I did some reading in advance and acquired a pile of useful books and articles. I eliminated some as interesting but not applicable for this paper. I took notes in the manner of last year’s Ghanaian witchcraft paper: especially useful quotes and general points of interest in a word processing document.
Most useful was the front-loading of the structural work and outlining. Even though the structure was ultimately somewhat unsatisfying (I knew that before I was done with the paper), doing the work in advance of the writing meant that I didn’t meander or decide to completely reorganize my arguments mid-writing. (Spec creep is never your friend.) I had a point, I kept hammering it. I knew how I wanted to support my thesis, I plugged in the citations. All in all, a pretty workmanlike approach. That’s fine. “Workmanlike” implies the continuing creation of work product.
The fail came as a matter of scheduling. Having done some work in advance, I was feeling very self-congratulatory and the due date snuck up on me. I ended up having to do the actual drafting (to say nothing of the outlining and a bit of reading) in a week. Not a big deal: fifteen pages, otherwise clear schedule. Nor was I intimidated by having to single parent over the weekend: The Daughter is a delight. So the timing was not the fail.
The problem was letting myself fall into (no, let’s be honest: embrace) nocturnal and otherwise unhealthy patterns which are not even good for undergrads. Staying up till the wee hours and getting very little sleep. (I’ve found I sleep a little more efficiently–if not happily–when the Spousal Unit’s out of town.) Spending long stretches of time sewing. Watching TV. Making poor food decisions. Having the TV on as background noise. (Oh, look, Adult Swim’s running Cowboy Bebop. Two in the morning? That’s early; The Daughter sleeps late. Let me just finish off this quilt square, then back to the laptop. Oh, look, free Showtime preview. Now how many episodes of The Tudors did I miss? Ah, who cares, bad costume drama is fun. Ba-da ba-da ba-da ba-da ba da. Plink plink plink, a paragraph here, a paragraph there. Plenty of time left. One more episode won’t hurt. I could totally assemble another quilt square. It’s late, I should probably call it a night and get a fresh start writing tomorrow. Oh, yawn, the baby will wake up any minute, I don’t want to have to break up my writing rhythm. Now The Tudors music is stuck in my head. Okay, I should eat, can’t type while I eat; read or watch an anime?)
I ended up finishing the night before the paper was due. Printing was a bit of a pain: I decided it was less irritating to print from the desktop than get the laptop to play with the printer. The desktop only has Open Office, which I try to like but just isn’t ready for prime time. (Oh, the horrible, horrible things it has done to my resume…and it’s not consistent about the horrible things, which is the worst part.) Fortunately, since the paper had minimal formatting, it didn’t come out too screwed up. It did come out shorter (with shorter measured in pages). I am not an undergrad, overly concerned about real estate and modulating my font choice accordingly, so I had no inclination to play games. I did a bit of tweaking to bulk it up a little and un-orphan section headers, re-printed the sucker, and set off for Philly to turn it in, with The Daughter in tow. I’d originally intended to combine the turning-in of the paper with a side trip to Temple to drop off my books, but didn’t feel up to the additional hassle, weight, and time. Instead I just tucked the paper into the diaper bag, wrapped The Daughter up in the kid squid, and introduced her to the folks at the front desk of the APS (where she was of course a big hit). Paper turned in a whole hour early, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. We stopped off at the Bourse, where I had a sandwich and Kaia had a bottle. This was her first time in a high chair (as opposed to on an inverted high chair in her car seat bucket, the thing all the high chairs warn you to absolutely never do and the thing everybody does) and it turned out that the one high chair the deli had lacked a functioning strap. In a moment of tired bad momminess, I let her slouch in the high chair anyway. (She was concentrating on her bottle, not escape.) I felt a little bad for dragging her out for such a short, utilitarian errand, but she’s young enough that she didn’t know the difference and seemed to have fun on the Blue Line.
So I feel self-congratulatory on some aspects of preparation, less on the actual implementation. To a certain extent, papers are like a gas: they expand to fill the available space (and time). I need to be more effective about setting deadlines for myself. If I can contain my distraction to a smaller segment of the space/time continuum, I’ll be much happier in the future, and more effective.