Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Writing Process: Snoozefest and Drive-by Prose

Historiann has a good post up about finding "teh funny" in what she's writing about and how that's a problem right now:
But, the problem for me right now is that there just isn’t a lot of humor in the story of a little girl whose life was filled with warfare and trauma for her English family, and the starvation, disease, and eventual destrution of her Indian family.
I hear you, Historiann. What's got me stuck right now isn't so much the subject matter of what I'm working on, although it's kind of grim, as the question of voice.

Right now I'm mired in the depths of what can charitably be called "snoozefest prose." If it were somebody else's snoozefest prose, I'd make fun of it and ignore it, but since it's mine--well, I still make fun of it, but I can't ignore it.

The thing is, the only way to get through to what I really want to say is to slog through the snoozefest prose, writing down sentences that I know I'll have to change, before getting back to it with an ax later on and turning it into something someone will want to read.

As an antidote to this prose, today I reread a conference paper that I gave last fall, one that received some good questions from the audience and compliments later. Like Historiann, I write in part to amuse myself and thought that this one might give me some ammunition for revising the snoozefest prose. It did. The conference paper's style was more much more flexible and funny because it was written to be read aloud. A conference presentation is the "drive-by" prose of scholarship: you say it and you're done.

Now it's time to get back to wrestling with the snoozefest prose. It helps, though, to know that someplace within it is drive-by prose waiting to get out or at least to enliven it.


Historiann said...

Hi Undine--I just got a link on my dashboard to this post, so sorry for missing it until now.

I think your point about language meant to be read vs. spoken language is really interesting. But, why not experiment with writing in your conference paper (spoken) voice as a way of lightening up your prose-to-be-read? (Why call it "drive-by," which sounds dismissive? Whenever we engage people and get good questions and inspiration for futhering our idea, I think it's "scholarship!")

undine said...

Thanks, Historiann. You're right about "drive-by" sounding too dismissive.

After writing the post, I went back, read a few more introductions to books, and tried to lighten the tone to more of a conference level. I think it's working.