Writing is hard I

November 01, 2003



Writing is hard

I have spent the last couple of days reviewing my draft of chapter four. This, like three, is a chapter that has a good ending but where I have had trouble setting up my conclusion. The current version of chapter four, after the August rewrite, is three sections of about twenty pages each. The first sets up the situation at the end of the 1830s, lays out the historiography, and argues that continuous controversies shaped the way that religious groups understood one another and they way that they understood civil religion. The second section argues that popular interpretive schemes that people used to categorize religious groups fell apart during the late 1830s and 1840s: temperance and abolition together managed to split the largest denominations even as ultra-ism imploded as a credible intellectual scheme. The final section argues that the crucial new understanding of how to handle the problem of the one and the many grew as a response to anti-Catholicism in the Presbyterian church. This new understanding provided a groundwork for people to imagine a new sort of unity, as "evangelicals" rather than as "Christians" by the end of the 1840s.

That was a muddy and opaque paragraph. It matches the muddiness and opacity of a lot of the stuff I have been editing today. I have a lot of trouble articulating some of my ideas - either I get too subtle or I miss my point and have to beat around the bush. I use a lot of shotgun prose - fire a lot of sentences at an idea and maybe one of them will phrase it correctly.

I need to chop chapter four down to about 50 pages, I need to lose the silly parts of my argument, I need to make sure I can justify everything I am claiming, and I need to say it clearly and forcefully.

So, that is what I am doing rather than starting National Novel Writing Month. This blog is a workplace blog, it lets me explain what I do, vent my frustrations, and get some ideas for what to do next. It is unlike most other workplace blogs in that I work alone. Sometimes as I sit at the dining room table editing manuscript I am reminded of the very sweet, very sad movie "Tout Les Matins des Jours" One of the characters there, a widower, spends the second half of his life rising, eating breakfast, going to a separate shed with his viol de gamba, and playing music all day. As he plays, his late wife's image appears before him, and she keeps him company and gazes at him for as long as the music continues. Late at night, he stops playing and comes back to the house to sleep. Towards the end of the movie he comments to his daughter that he has led a very passionate life. She just looks at him, confused as to why this musical hermit could make such a claim. But we, the audience, know his secret and are touched.

I am not that bad, or that maudlin, but I do find that I have a very busy day behind my eyes even as I sit at my table looking over sheets of paper.

I should be ready to type up my edits by Monday. It is going faster than some chapters, if only because it is now NOVEMBER and I am feeling time pressure.

Posted by Red Ted at November 1, 2003 10:08 AM | TrackBack