Why does writing appear to be so closely imbricated with managing the self? This post does not answer that question.
Now I have made a small amount of progress on this paper. I have discovered a way to redefine it, at least for myself, so that it is less intimidating: I will think of it as a series of reviews or a journalistic essay with footnotes, but not as an article. I have discovered a way to handle the linguistic schizophrenia which plagues me (I need to write it in Spanish, but it wants to be written in English): I am storyboarding it in English, and composing from there in Spanish.
“Storyboarding” is what I do for presentations of all kinds, and my presentations are excellent – if I do say so myself – because of my secret storyboarding technique. I have sometimes storyboarded instinctively for writing, and I show the students how to do it often, but I had not realized I could invoke storyboarding actively, to unravel one of my own knots of ideas. Jotting down notes in any language that comes to mind, but then doing the actual composition in the language you need, is another technique I show students regularly, but I had forgotten that I could avail myself of it as well.
Finally, I have decided I have definitely read enough on the topic. I may reread some of my sources, but I will read nothing more unless it absolutely leaps out at me.
Still, it is harrowing. This is partly because it is one of those pieces I did not invent myself: someone needs a piece like this for their book, and I gave a talk like this, so I can write this piece, and the publisher is already lined up, so I really ought to just push it out. It should be easy, but it is precisely this sort of writing situation I find the most difficult: I do not feel free.
It is also because I am not being entirely grown up about this paper. I fear getting into it, because I am afraid that if I do, I will not be able to get out again. I do not want to go into a writing frenzy which might, for instance, cause me to stay up late or smoke cigarettes. I want to live sensibly.
To write (and I do not believe I am writing now, but speaking) is to define yourself, but also to lose yourself; the reason I both like it and dislike it is that I both like and dislike both the finding and the losing. This, although I know perfectly well that when I am truly inside a project, I stop and start easily, and the rest of life hums along on its own.
Lumpenprofessoriat has had an entire series of posts – and comments – and spinoff posts – on the labor theory of blogging, which I would love to delve into but have not (yet) because it would be such a good tool for procrastination. I will say, however, that in my younger days, I experienced academic writing as self expression. I enjoyed it then. At a certain point, however, my academic writing got colonized by, if I am not mistaken, use value. It was all too useful, it fed too many alien machines, and those machines had too many desires which did not harmonize well enough with mine.
At that point, academic writing became work – not only alienated, but alienating, which is the worst of it. Since then, I have done better by refusing to write anything which did not feel like play. . . until, of course, I came flat up against my current piece. If I do not find a way to turn this piece into play, I need to find a way to turn it into a mere memo. To do either, I must take power over it. I have been trying to detach from it but in reality, I need to infuse it with myself.
Perhaps related is the fact that, with texts I assign myself, I always know exactly how much material fits into each. With texts assigned by others, I never think I have enough ideas or material – and only then realize that I have, in fact, too many and too much. What I lack is a way to hierarchize them, a principle by which to add and cut; that is because the assignment is not my own.
I have been telling myself to “make it new,” but I believe the correct instructions would be to make it mine.