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Gordon DesBrisay, History Faculty

Writing Process

What is the writing process like for you?

For me, it's a painfully slow and difficult process, but it's also a challenge and, at the end of it, I'm usually satisfied, myself, that I've done my best. I was thinking about that and I... There must be people out there who proceed in a sort of straight forward linear fashion. They have a carefully conceived question or project, they have a designated body of material to read and evaluate, and they do their research, they take their notes. They have done that and then they sit down and they 'write it up' as scientists say. I wish I could do that and it sounds swell and I think I know people who do do that, but for me writing is this circular process. I'll start with a question 'How do unwed mothers cope...' or 'I wonder what's in those documents... What might that set of letters that nobody else has ever read or read carefully or whatever...What might that reveal.' Just go in kind of cold. Then you do the... I guess I would begin with the primary research reading, stuff that is doing the original research that only I would do. That should raise...find anything interesting...then it will raise questions and issues, and you begin to see patterns, and you begin to realize that this might or might not be interesting. You might not know it's interesting until you triangulate by reading secondary material to see how other people have handled these kind of issues. Then you start thinking about how to formulate that into an argument and you write out an outline. Then you start writing, in the course of which, as always, the act of writing, of having to get it down and explain it, means that... that you learn it. You come to understand things in a far deeper or different way, which means you're probably going to be surprised by something and then you have to stop and go back and do a little bit more research in some sort of designated way, which might reveal something else that you then need to pursue. At least I do. I'm terrible for tracking down every possible loose end and inventing things that maybe nobody else who's ever lived would care about. Diving down these rabbit holes. For me, it is fundamentally this circular process in which writing is an integral part of my coming to understand what it is I want to say. It's not just saying what I know, it's figuring out what I know, through writing. It's the long way around. My own struggles have actually made me much more aware of that as a process and I try to...One of the reasons my students have to attend to their writing is because I want them to find it easier than I do.