Writing what I know, not what I don’t know

I did it! Even though, as always, I wish I had somehow achieved more this week than I actually did, the fact of the matter is that my article draft is complete and being looked over by two trusted colleagues. The best part is that, even if they think it has a long way to go, the hardest part of the work is done: I have something written. Now I just need to revise it.

Here’s the thing –with Belcher’s book, the reason you can “write an article in 12 weeks” is because you are already starting out with text. You’re just revising it into something that is publishable. What’s tough about this book is that I’m drafting a large project for the first time in a very long time. In fact, the last time I worked on such a big project was when I wrote my dissertation. Writing articles has been time consuming and challenging, but a lot of the leg work had already been done because many of them were based on dissertation articles. The things that I’m re-learning right now is drafting brand new text. And as I draft, new ideas appear that I haven’t really thought very much about.

I figured with the book that first, I should just write what I know, and don’t write what I don’t know. I know it seems really basic, and maybe it is to most people. But what kept happening last week as I kept coming across new materials and directions was that I would get overwhelmed by the fact that I was writing in unfamiliar territory. How could I write about something I didn’t know very much about? Well, obviously I can’t. But I do know something about the subject, otherwise my writing wouldn’t have taken me there. I have ethnographic knowledge of the subject, even if I don’t have theoretical knowledge of it. So, I focused on writing the ethnography and analyzing it within my frame of reference. This week, I wanted to finalize the article I’ve been working on and just didn’t feel like drafting, so I decided to let the ethnography “simmer” and start looking exploring the existing literature on this new subject. And this has helped ease the feeling of being overwhelmed.

I don’t know if I am just a poor ethnographer, or maybe I’m not doing it right, but my research always seems to wind up answering a research question I didn’t originally set out to answer. One thing I really hated about my dissertation was that it felt… scattered. It doesn’t have one single, cohesive, elegant argument that really brings it together, and that is what the book needs to do.



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