How do you really know by the end of the process which ideas are your own?

(Trying to keep a looser grip on the pen—mindful, and may also help my wrist (after yesterday’s garbage incident))

Did lots of work yesterday—not more than other days perhaps but it’s finally coming together for me what it is I need to do for this paper. When I tried to write before, I couldn’t keep straight all the different sources I have. So I’m doing the annotated bibliography first and putting in the annotations what it is I want to take from each article.

Since there’s no Works Consulted page in APA style (as there is in MLA), and I have to cite each source someplace, I might as well do this. I will end up writing this paper more like I used to write my journalism articles—funny, because I asked C___ about this: do you first put down your quotes and sources, and work them up into a coherent whole, or do you just sit down and write and put in sources later or as you go? He said he does the as-you-go method—he has all his 400 sources (or whatever huge number he said) next to him and he grabs for one to search for the idea he wants to use. Thing is, though, is that seems a bit dangerous, because after reading so many sources, how do you remember which ideas are your own, which are somebody else’s, and if somebody else’s, whose? One person’s? Others’?

Since you have to cite everything, all ideas not your own, how do you really know by the end of the process which ideas are your own? I mean, this is an iterative, generative process—back and forth, you get some ideas from books and then “process” them yourself—are they fully new or not? I notice that even as I’m writing these annotations how I’m writing out not just the ideas that are explicitly there in the work, but the ideas I had while reading the work, which is different but still seems to need a citation. And in that process I’m adding something, and I’m thinking how this idea will fit into the paper. Without explicitly thinking of structure, my brain is kinda working on it subconsciously, tumbling these ideas over in my mind like a rock tumbler; eventually you get something nice and shiny coming out.

And writing this way is sort of a reductive process—when I’m writing to fit a formula, it’s a reductive process, taking away stuff that doesn’t fit, seeing what’s left, etc. Just writing enough to meet the expectations—as opposed to when I write on my own, which is an open-ended, expansive process. My ideas lead me up and away. I’m not in control of even where we’re going with this idea. It’s beautiful!

I guess once again I’m describing the composing (expansive) vs. editing (reductive) duality—and yet, this project for class is frustrating in part because it doesn’t have a composing part, really. Maybe that’s what gets me down about it . The whole thing feels so constructed—and when I read these research articles, that’s probably main reason why they’re so terribly written and thus so hard to read. People are writing to some formula, some model of dull writing—well, not purposely dull, but purposely anonymous, plain, passive voice: “When there were disagreements among raters, discussions were held” (not exact quote from the piece I read yesterday, but close). It’s a sentence with no meaning! It’s not an absurd sentence, or even an abstract sentence—it just tells you nothing! So what if discussions were held—what were the discussions about? How were disagreements resolved?

But I’m thinking that these people write so poorly (maybe some just aren’t good writers) partly because of the demands of the discipline, and of the journals—lifeless, disembodied prose—”things were done.”—what? No, you did things, she did things, etc.

[From journal of Tues., 6 July 2004, Journal 36, page 203-4]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.