Rewrite!

I think I’m beginning to understand the academic rhythm of summer and why professors value those uninterrupted weeks so much. Without at least a few days in a row with nothing else on your mind, it’s really hard to get in the right mindset. And it helps to have a few weeks to review the literature beforehand so you can actually sit down and just start writing. Or re-writing. For the first time in my academic life, I need to seriously overhaul two ‘promising’ papers entirely – reframing the contributions into totally different (and much better defined) literatures and narrowing their focus from the vague, seminar-paper style they are currently in. I’ve never done this kind of revision before, as I’ve never tried to get something into shape to present at a serious conference (ASA) or publish before. I have a feeling it’s going to be a weakness of mine as an academic. I hate re-reading my own work, let alone tweaking it. Fortunately, I have a lot of good feedback to work from, but it’s broad feedback – engage with this literature, not this one, focus on this story, not that one. That’s all helpful, but still doesn’t tell me where to start. I’m tempted to hit the books… but I feel like that’s the standard trap, to just keep reading. All this made worse by the fact that instead of reserving this summer for my own work, I’m (very happily) working part time on a couple different projects for my advisors. Even just 2 or 3 hours spent thinking through someone else’s problem makes it hard to focus on my own.

So, anyone have any strategic advice for rewriting? In particular, advice for going from “draft” to “submission” rather than dealing with revise and resubmits, say.

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5 Comments

  1. Good post. Will be interested in the responses.

    I like to revisit this every now and then:
    http://etss.net/evolution/how_i_work/tilly.htm

  2. I got some great advice that has come in really handy when I was writing my dissertation. After you have the first draft of each paper/chapter, define exactly what the contributions to the literature are. They should be specific contributions and shouldn’t be more than one (maybe two) larger ones and one or two smaller ones. I’ve found that for the articles that I read that I enjoy and find valuable, I am able to walk away from after reading and say, “THIS was the point of the article.” And, I’ve also found when I have had more than one or two specific contributions that writing the paper becomes unwieldy (as in nearly impossible to write and even harder to understand).

    I’ve also found that, to avoid the trap of reading too much, I have developed lists of specific readings that I felt that I needed in order to substantively engage with the literature. After you have your contribution outlined, then as you are writing it becomes clear which literatures you should be engaging and the list of “necessary” works becomes much smaller than just reading for general background.

    This is not to say that I actually really know what I am talking about — just the advice/tricks that I have found helpful.

  3. Christian

     /  June 15, 2009

    So are you gonna tell what the papers are about?

    • Christian – Sure. One is about the emergence of the macroeconomy as an object of knowledge in the 1920s-1940s. In particular, I’m interpreting an existing finding – that the phrase “the economy” only took on its modern meaning in the 1930s, and that previous economists and political economists (e.g. Ricardo, Marx, Smith) never talked about “the economy”. Then I look at how this new understanding of “the economy” allowed for a solution to a problem for the state – how to encourage full use of resources (i.e. end unemployment) without restricting liberties (i.e. wage and price controls), as posed by Gardiner Means (an influential economist in FDR’s administration). The solution is macroeconomic management – acting on aggregates, or “the economy”, rather than on particular markets.

      The second offers a new answer to why unpaid housework (e.g. childcare, cooking, cleaning) was excluded from the national income accounts. I argue that it wasn’t because early national income accountants (Mitchell and Kuznets in particular) thought housework was unproductive or outside the economic sphere but rather because there was no market price to learn its value from. So they came up with a wild guess, said that it was a wild guess, and didn’t include it in the final estimate – with the caveat that because housework (and other kind of production with no market price to learn their value from) was excluded, national income so constructed would make a shitty tool for understanding welfare across space and time. That paper is badly in need of reframing, as right now it’s written as a critique of a few feminist economists.. but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make.

  4. Christian

     /  June 19, 2009

    So what words did they use to talk about “the economy” before the emergence of that phrase?