Monday, November 12, 2007

Help! I'm trapped in the future tense!

Yesterday I ran up against a wall of proposal-speak. Everything that I wrote was in the future or conditional tense: "I would like to...," "This chapter will...," etc. This makes sense, since the things I've written most recently have all been, in fact, proposals, dissertation & conference x 2. But to actually write an argument, I need to snap back into the present tense of literary analysis.

I tried sketching out the structure of the chapter (which had helped with the diss proposal), and ended up realizing that all the interesting readings I wanted to do were smushed into a single sentence that basically said, "readings go here." No wonder I was stuck in the future; I was taking the work of the present for granted.

So this afternoon I would like to write a few pages about my object of study, with, like, quotes and everything. Rather, "I will write a few pages." What should be "I am writing a few pages..."


Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Argh - that was one of the frustrating bits of the dissertation for me, particularly that eventually you have to go back and put all those things into the tenses you'd wanted to use in the first place. And that you have to jump between tenses when you shift between your work and the work you're referencing.

If you want to waste time in a nerdy, grammar way, try writing a paragraph of the dissertation in entirely self-referential sentences just as a way of realizing how sublimely ridiculous the whole process is.

kermitthefrog said...

Um, the paragraphs I've written look like that already, thanks. ;)

(in all seriousness, not quite as bad as that, but frustratingly ridiculous nonetheless)

Sisyphus said...

Heh heh.

What I always tell my writers-blocked students is to sit there and just start off a sentence with "This book is interesting because..." followed by _____ point is important because..." You always chuck that first paragraph you start with anyway, right?

More seriously: leap into a close reading of something and then spiral out towards framing it and linking to other criticism later; it's a great way of getting that "grant-writing taste" out of your mouth.

kermitthefrog said...

sisyphus - thanks - that's almost exactly what I started doing today, although I think my brain is still quite scattered amongst various critical arguments (and it doesn't help that I'm dealing with a gigantic and itself very scattered novel). But as soon as I started with the close reading, I felt better.