June 30, 2007 § 3 Comments

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.

John Steinbeck

There are two things that academics are never taught: how to teach, and how to write.  The latter, particularly, is a cloistered and mysterious endeavour, universally common but rarely discussed.  As with certain animal instincts, you’re left to the shadows to find your way.

Needing guidance, I’ve turned to the authors of other kinds of prose, who, likely due to their alcoholism,  have a much richer tradition of talking about their craft.  In this conversation, you can hear the notes of inadequacy, frustration, and fear which accompany the deceptively simple act of committing words to a page.   Through them, you hear all the frantic selves that struggle to write.

For me, Steinbeck’s passage strikes especially close to home.  It does seem desolately impossible, but still it must be done.  And so, I tell myself that I won’t write a dissertation but a year of pages, one and then another, which makes the whole business seem just slightly less absurd. 

So far, so good.


§ 3 Responses to Experiment

  • GayProf says:

    I’ve always heard advice similar to Steinbeck’s. Focus on getting one or two pages done per day.

  • Frank says:

    A year of pages? Sounds like a blog.

    Although academics may never really be taught writing, they probably didn’t get to where they are if they were not fairly good at it to start with. I loved my history classes and did well on the tests, but my grades always suffered since I did horribly on the papers.

    Architects and engineers have a similar problem. They are taught forms and numbers in school, but not how to present what they have created to the people who will build it nor how to manage people much less an office full of them.

  • rada says:

    instinctual writing. now there is something i can understand.

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