I turned in my first full draft of my senior thesis today, so now maybe my life will be ever so slightly more sane… Maybe. It was a pretty frustrating process but I am pretty excited to move forward with edits and am pretty sure it isn’t complete crap. So that’s something. This is a little rant I wrote during a particularly frustrating moment. I was trying to wrap my head around how I write and what the implications of that process are. Not sure if it will hold meaning for anybody else but I found it really cathartic, so here it is:
Resisting the Urge to Start Over
(Or, the Glorious Temptation of Crafting Introductions to my Senior Thesis)
The blank page is a huge comfort to writers such as myself who think through arguments as they write them. The blank page offers a fresh place to start, a fresh take on the research I’ve been sifting through for the better part of a year. If my ideas ever feel stale or overworked, I simply return to my introduction and write a new one. Because once you start writing, the words and the connections begin to flow. If you buckle up and brace yourself, you can ride that flow for as long as your computer battery lasts (or until you hit the page limit.) This is usually how I write. I do research, outlines, prewrites, bibliographies, and all those other things that fall under the umbrella of “good study habits.” Then I start my introduction and all of that prep work is thrown out the window. I start over, essentially from scratch, and all of those ideas bouncing around in my head finally begin to come together into something resembling a coherent argument. When I write a paper, I do it all in one sitting. And I always ALWAYS start with the introduction.
This method of writing has served me quite well. It has helped ensure that my writing flows and made it nearly impossible to get off track. Sometimes my later self comes back to read my earlier self’s work and is surprised at the direction our argument has taken. However, I trust that process and trust my earlier self to have written something compelling. As I dutifully read through for grammatical and spelling errors, I usually end up being re-convinced of that original argument after all. Then, I happily turn it in and start thinking ahead to my next assignment. I don’t look back and I really don’t edit, at least not in any substantial way. It’s not the way we’re “supposed” to write, but it works, so I stick to it.
It doesn’t work on my thesis. When a paper is 60-80 pages long, writing it all in one sitting is absolutely insane. Even writing it all in one week is near impossible. However that is what I have found myself doing, because I keep starting over. I wrote my introduction and then followed it for seven pages until I was about half way through my first chapter. Well done, Meghan. You made some progress today. Tomorrow, however, when I return to my writing and find that the argument isn’t complete, that my earlier self has yet to close all of the threads of her argument, I am no longer convinced. I find it impossible to continue because I can’t go back to the mindset of the night before. This old argument is dead and done. Today I have a new idea for an introduction, a new way to weave together the fragments of evidence and analysis into a coherent thesis. So I start over. I write an introduction. I am newly inspired. I follow this inspiration for maybe 9 or 10 pages this time. And then the next day I will repeat this process all over again. But 60-80 pages of introductions do not add up to a single senior thesis. I can’t keep starting over. I can’t keep giving in to the pleasure of a blank page.