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I am very proud of the short scholarly paper posted here, which I have just finished. It has not yet been published.
It was written by me for an upcoming academic conference.
I had very short notice and a tight deadline — about a week to research and write the piece.
I hunkered down and was virtually chained to my computer for the past few days. There was a lot of spade work to be done before I could begin writing.
On Saturday morning, two days ago, I was still doing what would be called spade work. I was very focused and energized. But, later in the day, I found myself being over anxious — too “wired.” I decided I had to shut down and do nothing for the evening.
I woke up refreshed on Sunday morning and ready to work. But I had a feeling of consternation in that I couldn’t see how I could get the piece done by the end of the day. It was due Sunday at the latest. The editor said she had to begin preparation for publication on Monday.
I told myself, Roger, no more “research.” No more examining your source materials. It’s time to WRITE. (Note that I had about twelve hours left.)
I had a draft already, but it was an amorphous mess of some preliminary overall thoughts I had had pertinent to my topic and some sections partially written, plus a lot of stuff I had cut and pasted from downloaded source materials and “dumped” into the text.
The creative process started to kick in (if that’s the right way to say it) — miraculously — in my genius brain. (Don’t’ worry, I’m being facetious.) I saw a way I could possibly structure and organize the presentation. I wrote five or ten subheadings that seemed to provide a sort of outline and to group content into some meaningful order. Then I rearranged my materials under the subheads.
“Let’s see how long it is now,” I said to myself. Twenty pages. The editor wanted six to eight pages including an abstract and footnotes.
Howe can I possibly get it down to the required length in such a short time, I thought.
I went at it and started pruning. I found that a lot could be cut, such as long quotations, or repetitive quotations and examples.
The piece was still too long. I did a tightening job which required intense effort and craftsmanship. Lo and behold, I had gotten the piece down to just under eight pages.
Any writer will tell you that the hardest thing to do is to write a short piece when you have more material that you can fit in.
After slaving over a piece of writing — short or long — optimally the materials you are working with, words and paragraphs, suddenly gel and cohere — almost miraculously, it seems — since a moment before you had what was essentially a mess in front of you to work with, or — perhaps one should say — clean up.
There’s such ego satisfaction in pulling such a job off. (The editor responded immediately with very positive feedback.) Here’s what I think this piece illustrates by way of pointing out what good writing requires and how excellence and professionalism can be ascertained:
— an ability to work a great deal of documentary material (based upon arduous research) into a tightly constructed piece
— how to assemble all this material and then present it in a coherent fashion, so that the piece reads well
— how to achieve an admixture of evidentiary materials with expository writing in which one conveys lucid, well thought out opinions and insights that do not get “lost in the traffic”
— Roger W. Smith
September 16, 2019