29 September 2011

'And Now For Something Completely Different'

I took a vacation from my regular writing routine this morning. Sort of. Instead of writing about process and writing dissertations, I…did some writing for my job! I work as the Senior Graduate Assistant for the Faculty Senate President at my university. We publish a monthly online newsletter. This takes up a lot of our time at the end of every month. I spent the majority of my week--when I was not busy writing about process, writing dissertation pages, and blogging, that is--proofreading and editing articles and columns that my boss writes and writing headlines for them. I also write my own column, the Administrator in the Spotlight. This involves setting up appointments with administrators (typically top level) to interview, drawing up questions, conducting interviews, and condensing the material I collect from these interviews into approximately 500 words. I usually exceed this word ‘limit’, in fact, though I keep it fairly close when possible. In some cases I’ll hit 650 words, but our publication template allows us enough flexibility that this isn’t a huge problem.

I hadn’t written an article for the newsletter in several months (we don’t publish over the summer). I’m also now getting quite used to the new writing process I’ve adopted in order to complete my dissertation. Switching over to a journalistic writing style was therefore pretty difficult for me. This is not to say I didn’t get the writing done on time. But I quickly found that I had to lapse back into habits I am trying to break: focusing on word count, writing as concisely as possible, worrying about how polished my copy is, and so on. I didn’t enjoy having to do that. I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to approach my column creatively, though that particular fear proved to be unwarranted. The column, which is about providing a window into the types of jobs and functions that make life at my university possible but which staff, faculty and students may take for granted, by its nature allows for some creative leeway. For this month’s column I interviewed the Director of Development of my university’s theatre (think box office here). I spiced the introduction up a bit by suggesting that if ‘all the world is a stage’, then the Director could be considered an Atlas of sorts. Minus the punishment and suffering for rebelling against the gods.

Writing my column took up my entire morning. Because of this, I opted not to write about process. My logic was simple enough: this is something I like to do as soon as I wake up. Since I couldn’t do that, and seeing how I had already written a great deal for the day, I felt that I could move straight into writing dissertation pages this afternoon. However, I made the mistake of changing how I approached my dissertation writing for the day as well. I thought it might be fun to do a side by side comparison of the ‘same’ passage in two of my texts and see what changed. It was not fun. Not even a little.

I don’t believe the writing session was a complete waste. In fact, I learned that the second translator adds and subtracts quite a bit of material and that these additions and subtractions say a lot about how the practice of translation circulates in the discourses of conquest and domination. But approaching my texts in this fashion is rather tedious. And I think that seeing how the practice of translation operates across texts is paradoxically much more difficult when comparing texts side by side instead of doing close readings of them individually. I found myself more concerned with how closely the passages I chose to explore resembled one another (or did not) rather than with what they can tell me about how culture is constructed ‘in translation’. Comparing passages side by side thus felt like a much more round about way to get to the point where I was asking questions about the practice of translation as I understand it.

I’m going to have to accept that there will be times when I am forced to change my routine for various reasons. If today is any indication, that doesn’t mean that I won’t be productive. But I also think that my process is going to be the most beneficial to me if I don’t tinker with it on purpose. I think perhaps one reason I decided to change how I approached dissertation writing today was because I was feeling exhausted from juggling all of the different tasks I had to accomplish this week. In addition to writing quite a bit today, I also found time to work out and drive a friend to the dentist (and stop for groceries on the way back). I think that I felt if I changed things up a little bit that I would break the monotony of my routine. But I think perhaps that it depends on how I think about my routine. I may be doing some of the same things day in day out: writing, reading, writing, reflecting. But I’m also discovering new things about my reading and writing processes on a daily basis precisely because I am following a routine that encourage me to reflect on those processes.

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