Before learning about the importance of crafting strong paragraphs, and before doing reverse outlines to reflect on the organization of my argument, I had to learn two important lessons about being an academic writer. There are so many technical aspects to crafting a well-written text, but all the technique in the world can’t make up for trying to write about ideas that are too big or impossible to prove.
I needed to learn what kinds of things I could say about my project before I could actually write anything meaningful. What kinds of claims have been made about these objects? What kinds of discourses are they a part of? With which part of that discourse am I willing to engage? That my project touches on well-known and heavily published material only puts more pressure on these issues.
I also had to figure out what I actually wanted to say before writing too much. There is nothing worse than getting lost inside 40 pages of a text having persuaded myself that there is something important mixed in with those ramblings. All the tips and advice about academic writing were useless to me until I figured out what I actually wanted to say.
I’m also choosing to write with a confident voice, even though another voice in the back of my head asks, “what if you are missing something really big?!” I have to just focus on my work and let go of my low-confidence-crutch as I try to figure out what is an arguable claim.
These are the hard lessons for me, and I feel like I was on my own for much of this struggle. I may be wrong about being alone, but, well, feelings aren’t really right or wrong. In reality, if I had been able to identify and articulate these as the challenges I was facing, I could have asked for more direct help from those around me who would certainly have delivered it. But because I couldn’t see that my problem was that I was asking questions that focused on issues that were either too big to prove or not the most important and relevant aspects of the project, I couldn’t explain where my energy was being wasted.