Writing, Like Grieving, Is A Process



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by Napalm filled tires

Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro starred in a pair of insipid yet entertaining comedies, with Crystal portraying a psychoanalyst and DeNiro the underworld kingpin he was treating. One of the sub-plots in one of the films was the death of the famous father of Crystal’s character. Whenever he was offered condolences regarding his father’s passing, Crystal would reply, “I’m grieving; it’s a process.” I’m learning that writing is also a process, not a product, and that like grieving, it can take a long time to get over, or get it over with. In shorter papers that I’ve written, the process was fairly straightforward, and the end product not much different than I envisioned when I first began typing.

When I first arrived at Otago and began my meetings with my Ph.d. supervisors, they had me write a series of papers on a variety of topics involving Hawaiian music as well as ethnomusicological and anthropological theories and concepts I’d been exploring. Done. I was then instructed to draft my research topic proposal, and referred heavily to those earlier writings. Done. Once that was finalized and accepted, I was instructed to take all of those documents and merge them into a single document, and then begin to organize them into coherent sections, without deleting anything. The last part was strongly emphasized: nothing was to be deleted, no matter how bad or irrelevant it seemed.

I began work on this past weekend, and the merged document contained nearly 25,000 words. Since then I’ve slowly been organizing sections, putting small headings above each paragraph or two which summarize them and help me organize them in a logical manner. Paragraphs are moving between sections, and finding logical homes within the text of other essays. Less relevant and irrelevant material is slowly drifting toward the bottom of the document after having been mined for the few gems hidden within them. The document has actually grown in size a bit as I’ve added some text to smooth transitions from one section to another. I’ve also filled holes in content and logic which I hadn’t realized existed. What a process!

Guess, what? It’s actually starting to read like an academic paper. The field of ethnomusicology itself is really a study of processes as well, but that’s for a separate post.

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