Mi profe recently gave me the following advice: “Don’t give it all up in the beginning. Because then people won’t want to know what comes later.” No, he wasn’t talking about my love life, although it seems generally like good advice in that arena too. He was talking about my writing.
“Lead the reader through your thoughts,” he said. “I don’t want to see the words ‘I argue that…’ anywhere!” Well, shooot. That’s the way I’ve been taught to write and to think since high school—and it’s been a long-ass time since high school!
I’ve been thinking about this piece of advice for a few months now, not sure that I fully understand what he means. I’d asked him when we last sat face to face to talk about my diss. He explained. And like usual, I took notes, listened, and asked questions. But I left not knowing how to digest these new directions for writing.
The thing is, he is an amazing writer. I mean, most academics are good writers—we’ve trained for tons of years to be so. But in his writing, he is engaging in a way that stuffy academics so rarely are. My mom went to hear a talk he gave recently in her town—and she even says so. (Which obviously means it’s true.)
So today I took his book—the first one, the one that used to be a dissertation, the one that I’d read my first semester in grad school way back when—on the bus with me. I read it in spurts, between stops and while watching to make sure the viejitos had places to sit. I thought about my own writing structure as the bus winded through the area where it all happened—the stories I’m trying to tell, the people whose lives I want to know about. It happened there. Here. I contemplated how he molded his argument. And I think I might finally be on to something, I just can’t quite grasp it yet.
Now that I’m back on the dissertation tip, I’m going to have to relearn, rethink and refashion my approach to writing. Maybe this will happen as I write. Maybe it will happen while I’m on the bus. Either way, it has to happen.