Last night I turned in the final BIG edit on a sixty page monograph manuscript due for publication in September (no, I won’t get paid for this one). Over a hundred footnotes, more than sixty sources and a page and a half of websites consulted. It’s not actual research, but it’s good information gathering. For this post, the topic isn’t important, it’s what I’m noticing about the process that’s got me quietly excited.
I have written for this quarterly before, back in 2008. It was the biggest piece I’d written since my accident in 2006, the one that wiped out my memory for a couple of years and forced me to re-learn/remember how to read, write, speak, and walk. That first big manuscript was a huge milestone. I sent copies to all of my family even though the topic was of no interest to them. They were just glad to see I was able to kick a little.
One of the reassuring things about writing for this particular publication is that it’s peer-reviewed. I very much appreciate the peer review process. That’s one of the reasons I’m popular with editors (that and I meet my deadlines). I like getting the feedback, and many of the reviewers will suggest other books and articles I should consult; they’re nearly 100% great suggestions. My work is better for their comments. I often write about subjects I’m not expert in. Some of the reviewers will know far, far more about it than I do. Their feedback offers me a way to double-check my own research. Well, properly speaking, I’m not so much doing research (which implies original query design and hypothesis testing) as information gathering. However, hundreds of people will use my information as a resource, who are counting on me to get it right. Reviewers and editors help me do that.
The accident was 2006; I wrote a fair-sized manuscript (my Masters thesis) slowly and painfully in 2007 (I graduated three months late; the miracle is that I graduated at all!). Then there was that monograph in 2008. Adaptive software rocks. Classmates pointed me to Mind Manager, EndNotes. I couldn’t, literally couldn’t have done it without that help. I wasn’t even in good enough shape to explain my gratitude very well. By the time I finished my Masters (I was about halfway through the program when the accident happened), my short-term memory had repaired itself enough that I could follow a conversation for about three exchanges. I’d say something, you’d respond, I’d still be able to follow it to frame one more sequential response, and then I would lose the entire conversation and topic. I’d have no idea what we were doing there. Without visual aids to keep track of my trains of thought for me (never mind citations and sources), I could never have written anything.
Fast forward: I started this latest monograph back in early 2011 and submitted it last summer or early fall. I’ve been writing a sixty page paper about a HUGE topic (my bad) that I didn’t know much about to begin with (kind of shocking, turns out I’ve uncovered one of the few big gaps I’ve discovered in my basic education). I have now internalized my professors’ advice to pare down your paper topics! It took several months to get the peer review notes, and I was so intimidated by their notes I put the whole thing away for more months, until the editor gently nudged me and pointed to the publication deadline. Once I was up against a deadline (you don’t miss deadlines) I got back in the saddle – despite having a big event coming up to prepare for, despite big org changes and projects at work, despite having a house so covered in cat hair it’s starting to really bug even me, and I live here and love those two furballs. Yes, editing this thing has been a lot of work. There’s been a lot of fact checking and theme development. But you know what? It wasn’t bad, just work. This time, I had a sense of the overall flow and could move (or remove) big chunks. I am completely comfortable saying this version is significantly better than the last. By the time I got to this stage in 2008, I really had very little idea what the final manuscript I submitted was like. Doesn’t that sound crazy? Back then I couldn’t retain enough to follow the flow through the paper; it was paragraph-by-paragraph editing. I’m pretty excited to see the change.
(At some point I’m going to stop measuring so much of my life in terms of how far I’ve come since 2006.)
I am feeling pretty squidgy about re-reading either my thesis or that first long manuscript. Oh, I have them up on my website – they’re credentials, after all. I have the published monograph on my shelf. I’m slowly gathering courage to re-read both of them. If I have reason for embarrassment, I ought to at least be aware of it, right?