Revision…

I’ve heard it said that writing is like giving birth to a child.
It’s painful, it seems to take forever, you’re likely to wish you’d
never started it about halfway through, and at the end of the process,
you’re left with something that, perfect or not, you’re completely
enamored of. If that’s the case, revision’s kind of like performing
brain surgery on your child. It’s really difficult, and you’re
constantly afraid that you’ll hurt it.

I certainly have that feeling whenever I revise a paper that’s less
than six months old—eventually I *can* gain distance from ‘em, but when
I’m revising something fairly recently written, like a paper for a
seminar—I’m far too attached to it, and I’m constantly second-guessing
myself. I feel clumsy, like every change is actually making things more
complicated and confusing. I have trouble not rewriting a phrase three
or four times. Often at least one of those times, it reverts to the
original.

I’ve been plowing through this thing, a couple times over. Other
than direct changes recommended by the professor, not too much is changing.
There’s tidying up, and some added bits, and some structural changes to
sections, but this isn’t the most radical rewrite.

The recommendation to follow was the elimination of my three
block-quotes. I really like block quotes—and I like a lot of them. I
always prefer to let the original voices speak for themselves, as much
as possible. While I know it’s necessary, my instincts seem to be
better satisfied with providing a minimum of interpretation and
explanations. I think part of me would be happier editing a volume of
selected primary source texts than actually writing a book.

The first and third block quote, honestly, weren’t too bad to weave
through a paragraph. There were parts of those quotes that could be
eliminated—or at least elided or paraphrased. The middle one,
though—I’m not sure it works.

It’s from a speech by Teddy Roosevelt, and it’s already edited
down—there were two ellipses in the block quote as it was. The rhetoric
is pretty lean and well-constructed, and the language mirrors the same
ideas I’ve already established into the paper—something that I feel
strengthens my argument. So not too much gets edited out. It ends up in
two quotation-loaded paragraphs.

I really feel like the parts of those paragraphs that are mine don’t
really add too much. It feels like when you get a used textbook and the
previous owner’s highlighted only the most obvious passages. I trust
the recommendation, ‘cause the other two didn’t need to be block
quotes, and I can see that now, but I didn’t until it was pointed out
to me. But it doesn’t feel effective.

Other than that—the introduction was easier to fix than I’d
thought—I knew it was too long before, and while the thesis now falls
in between pages two and three, that’s still better than when it was
toward the bottom of page three.

The conclusion, on the other hand, is still weaker than I’d like.
I’m no good with conclusions—I never found a satisfactory strategy for
dealing with them. I end up just restating my initial argument in a
more detailed way, and then do the verbal equivalent of creeping
backwards out of the room. I know the first part is the right strategy,
but the latter part—that’s sheer desperation. I try different
strategies for the final paragraph, but they all end up sounding like
I’m trailing off.

Otherwise, yeah. Just keeping it to basic stuff. Unnecessary shifts
in tense or person. Trying to avoid the passive voice. Making my
assertions stronger.

That part’s kind of counterintuitive. In American Studies, I feel
that a lot more emphasis is placed on agency and contingency and the
inevitable incompleteness of outside interpretation. You hedge your
bets. Even if you have evidence to support that someone did something
for a certain reason, it’s safer and more accurate to say he “seems to
have been doing it for this reason.” It’s about not speaking for your
subjects. In History, from what the professor has told me and what I’ve
noticed in our readings for this class, it’s seen as sufficient to say
that the guy did it for that reason. More of a voice of certainty and
authority. After two years in an American Studies program, that’ll be a
hard habit to break.

Overall, though, it’s almost finished, and I’m pretty sure that I have at least not made it any worse.