Archive for April, 2012

I’m having a hard time starting the writing process. It’s not because there’s nothing to write, but I don’t know how I want to structure it such that I won’t end up moving things around or writing useless things repetitively. I am definitely the type of person who has always needed a basic outline and some motivation to just start writing, but I find the dissertation process overwhelming. I mean, when I write a research, seminar, or conference paper, I begin with a basic outline that looks something like:

I. Introduction/Main Arguments

[List of 2-3 main arguments or ideas I want people to be able to take away from what they’re about to read. A hook, if possible, to open up the paper and make it lively… All of this can be modified later, but I need to have something upfront or I’ll go off on tangents like no other.]

II-IV. Sections and sub-sections, hopefully with a description of the point of that section and a list of case studies or examples.

[I think this is where I go downhill… I’m not specific enough in the outline and/or I stray too far from my original point, delving into details no one cares about. The problem is, however, that this is not true when I discuss theory. I have an extremely difficult time logically connecting theories – or should I say what’s going on in my head – for the outside. In most cases I’ve only just figured out some of this myself, but sometimes I’ve read so much on the topic and I forget what the reader doesn’t know. Multiply these problems x chapters that are supposed to connect and you have my dilemma. I’ve got things to say, but I’m terrified to start writing myself into incoherent and/or overly-detailed (and often repetitive) oblivion, which I have been known to do on more than one occasion. I wish the KISS motto applied to dissertation writing, but I feel it’s much more applicable to teaching, proposal, and journalistic writing, all of which I’m probably far more capable.]

V. Conclusions and pushing in new directions. This is more or less a place where I re-state arguments and then delve into other possible areas I didn’t address that could be addressed, or things people really want to hear about that I’m not capable of discussing in any detail.

[Most recently this would include the changes to the rice industry in the 20th century – I really do not think I am capable of producing 1,000 words on it without doing a lot of extra reading and thinking, despite what certain professors would like me to do. Also, when people ask me specifics about current Chinese sports. <soapbox rant>People, I study Chinese history. It so happens I also study 体育 (tiyu – which is kind of like sport, physical culture, physical education, etc all wrapped up in one). This means that, aside from the social aspects of Jeremy Lin’s appearance on the basketball scene and various claims to his “Chineseness,” I am not all that interested in following him because, to be blunt, I don’t give a rat’s ass. Same goes for following the daily lives of Yao Ming and Li Na. I know who they are, I know why they’re important, I know a bit about their lives in the state system, and that should be enough. Sorry that I can’t provide you with a detailed analysis, but, again, I don’t give a shit.</soapbox rant>]

What I’m struggling most with at the moment is that middle bit up above. I’ve never been good at being succinct in my writing. But now more than ever I realize that I’ve also never been that good about line-by-line outlining — usually I come up with something basic and just go for it. (Often to the detriment of those who have to read that first draft.)

Advice? I’ve been using Scrivener a bit recently, but I’m not sure how I can do this outlining more effectively with it… am I missing something? How do you keep track of all the loose pieces you have?


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So, the bad news is that I’ve just found out and finished reading something sort of disappointing – someone else has looked at some (not all, thankfully) of the same documents as I did at the FMA in BJ and written them up… in English. Would have saved me a lot of time and effort in the archives last year.

The good news is that his coverage is not that detailed beyond a subset of the documents, he doesn’t have any other documents aside from the FMA (of which I previously wrote an extensive paper) and he relies on secondary sources in English to round out his analysis, rather than the ones I have either from Chinese secondary publications or other archives (in Chinese and English).

Basically, the argument is that this event I’m studying didn’t really challenge anyone or anything and was problematic from the outset. He makes some sub-points and arguments, but I was really relieved to know he has not connected the event to overall Chinese policy in the early 1960s nor has he related it to domestic ideas of socialism or third worldism – indeed, he pretty much rejects the very notion that anything related to these events was actually, well, believable. I find that sort of aggravating when I read papers that analyze the everyday chit-chat and paper trail between national leaders that make a presumption that they were just talking nonsense and acting like spoiled children, pissed off at one another for one thing or another. Personally, I think that even if the ideas presented in the framework of these sports events – utopian socialism, anti-imperialist struggles, cultural diplomacy through friendly relations, etc – may have been hogwash on some level, they were very real in terms of being a tool through which to motivate and encourage people to action. These phrases, this terminology meant something to the people involved at the time. Much like when some people today use the phrase “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” or believed in “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (among many examples) these phrases in the early 1960s also held significance in informing and forming peoples’ understanding, knowledge, and world views. Therefore, before we dismiss them all as “inevitable failures” (which is more or less the sense I get from this article I just read) let’s step back and consider the circumstances at the time and try to imagine what would make people continue to invest their time and energy in something. This article basically suggests that the entire endeavor behind this specific movement (and events within it) was screwed from the beginning and that was pretty clear—and yet somehow he then goes on to argue that they pursued the continuation of this movement/events for the next 3-4 years or so. Obviously, then, it was not clear what would happen and the events probably actually DID hold some significance.

Well, at least I now have more justification and motivation to publish something about these events. And it’s nice to have someone else who translated some of the documents already since most of my notes are in Chinese. 🙂

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