Monday, March 13, 2006

post-Spring Break wrap-up 1, or, working in the coal mine

One of these days, I need to actually take a break during spring break...y'know, go to somewhere warm, drink too much, generally be hedonistic. However, when you're a "teaching" academic, any break from school is more about catching up than relaxing. While I did get caught up on sleep, I mostly worked.

The major project of spring break was to get my book revision plan done. Way back in late 2003, I submitted a sample chapter of my dissertation to a good university press, who contacted me at that year's American Studies Association conference. They liked it enough to ask for a book proposal.

So, over the next summer, I banged one out and sent it, along with the full diss manuscript, to their editors. They then asked for some changes...y'see, I wrote a proposal which addressed specifically how I would change the diss in light of them actually having read the diss. But they only read the proposal (which I can understand, being time-strapped myself) I had to take another stab at the proposal.

The problem was, I got side-tracked by the thrills of adjuncting. When you're teaching five classes in four disciplines at three different institutions, it's very hard to think about anything other than grading and class prep. Summer 2004, I got 1/2way through a draft. Summer 2005, I worked at the zoo. When I did have free time, it was spent mentally recuperating from the workload. I barely had/have time to stay an active thinker, let alone be a scholar...and this continues to be the case even now that I have a job...because I teach and grade so much.

(okay, I often avoid grading...mostly by writing this blog)

Every so often, I get an e-mail from the very kind, very patient editors, wondering if I'm still working on the proposal. I tell them, quite honestly, that I still care about the project and will get it knocked out as soon as I have the time, which is even the truth...but I rarely have time.

So, task one over the break was to actually get the book proposal knocked out. Reading my diss again was a very strange experience...I had to spend an awful lot of time unpacking stupidly dense language, as well as trying to get back into the same theoretical head I occupied while an ABD. It was a difficult read, and that amazed me, because I've always prided myself on not succumming to academic-speak...I guess I was fooling myself just a little.

I realized that most of my problems in the diss came from following a dissertation format. I was spelling out everything in the beginning, going through the analysis, and just dying off. There was no mystery to the writing, and my diss, as it stands, doesn't lead anywhere...which is par for the course, because you can't really treat that type of writing as an act of discovery.

The questions that the university press had mostly related to "what questions are driving this?" Instead, the diss was driven by issues rather than questions, because I couldn't write using the "and we'll work our way to the answers" format, which would've been preferable. Now that I can do that, I can actually justify the purpose/point to my project and communicate that to my reader.

Realizing all this made everything about the dissertation make sense. I know where the thing needs to go in order to be a book. I know how to get there with minimal pain. So, over spring break, I got 90% of the proposal knocked out. I've got some polish, got to add two chapter descriptions, need to make sure I'm not in academic-speak in the proposal, but it's doable. I plan to have the revision plan done by the end of this week, and I can then solicit opinions from a few friends and my kick-ass diss chair.

It has been a strange trip moving from grad student to full-time teacher, but I think I'm starting to turn it back towards "scholar"...and that feels really good.


Jennifer said...

This is so great!!!

To have an academic press interested in you is fantastic to begin with.

Your commentary on diss-to-book is helpful for me to think about the differences between them, especially as I embark on my own dissertation

Amy said...

Wow, that is a pretty intense way to spend your spring break. But yea that you were so productive! If you need another non-academic person to read your proposal, I will happily volunteer. It would be a nice break from the stuff I'm reading these days (like Pat the Bunny).