On Starting a Paper You Know Is Bigger Than You’re Giving It Credit For

April 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Starting a history paper is a lot like having a kid: at some point down the line, you know you’re squeezing a watermelon out of some bodily orifice. And just like raising a kid, at some point you’re going to be vomited on whether you want it or not (and if you want it, it’s alright. We’re far past judging here).

So it has begun. I’ve actually cracked the books on my 2000 paper, the final paper of the Masters of History program. It’s a doozy, but not in the way most would expect. It’s 35 pages long, including bibliography (which is usually around 4-5 pages itself), with 1″ margins and double spacing. In reality, that puts it at a nice, even 10,000 words or so. For me, that’s nothing. Give me an hour or three, a bottle of whisky, and I’ll pound out 10,000 words about Upper Silesia and ethnicity. Well, it might be about those things. At the very least there is the definite possibility that some of those words would be about/contain “Upper”, “Silesia”, or “ethnicity”.

Alternatively, give me a 1,000 monkeys and 1,000 bottles of whisky and we’ll see who get’s there first.

But the problem isn’t that it’s hard to do. In the end, doing history work is just a lot of reading and compiling. You read a book, identify which ideas and information apply to your paper/monograph/demented rambling and paste it in. “Oh sure John”, I can hear the other grads saying, “way to take the glamour out of history.” Honestly, I wish history had glamour to take out of it. The best stuff is all mud, blood, and disco, and r.e.: crippling lack of disco in 1920’s Germany, I’m left with the mud and blood. I would much rather be writing about this…whatever that is, instead of this guy. So the problem isn’t that it’s hard to do, it’s just that you actually have to buck up (buck down? And who’s doing all this bucking, because I’m pretty sure my girlfriend would get mad at me for bucking up and down all over the place) and actually do it.

It’s been good so far, though. The reading has begun simultaneously with the note-taking. See, this is the most important part and one that I usually neglect. You can read a 1,000 page book, and understand it even, but unless you friggin write down the important stuff in a manner than is easy to understand later when you’ve forgotten the other 997 pages of the book, you’re not very well off. Shock and awe, I know, but this is not a lesson I’ve been taking to heart my entire life. BUT, I’ve begun this paper right. There are notes taken, books read, and sources compiled. Let’s get this shit started.

Now I’ve just got to do the other 9,999 words and I’m gold. 

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