A friend reached out this weekend because she was absolutely mired in a bear of a final paper. She didn’t want me to edit it (and I definitely don’t edit exams or papers earlier than the dissertation and/or journal submissions), but to give some advice on how to handle what had become unwieldy. My suggestion? The reverse outline. Here’s what I wrote:
My write-up on Ray Harrington’s award-winning documentary, “Be a Man,” from long-time client Stand Up! Records:
American universities are increasingly offering courses in masculinity—the ways it’s culturally and socially constructed, the ways its boundaries are policed, and the ways its constraints and contradictions put basically everyone on edge. But studying masculinity is different from trying, at an individual level, to define and achieve manhood. What does it mean to be a man? Who is that man? Ray Harrington has charmingly, brilliantly, and with utter vulnerability chronicled his journey to find out.
As he seeks his signature manly cocktail, discovers his dream car isn’t a half-million dollar phallic symbol, and maniacally gets into a boxing ring with a professional fighter, Harrington gathers his collaborators for a film that’s part love letter, part personal journey, part support group, and part road trip movie. Like any movie worth the popcorn, there are fast cars and fashion montages, dreamy landscapes and a lewd joke or two. Mostly, though, there’s an earnest rumination on modern manhood and how we all get by with a little help from our friends.
Featuring fellow stand-up comedians Kyle Kinane, Tom Wilson, April Macie, Doug Stanhope, Steve Rannazzisi, Robert Kelly, and Kurt Metzger, “Be a Man” boasts Grammy-winning Dan Schlissel as co-executive producer alongside Ray Harrington, who, despite a little razor burn and wrinkled linen, is, without a doubt, both a man and a “ten.”
Well, it’s awfully rad to get the “Yelp” treatment from one of my favorite authors! From Jooyoung Lee, sociologist at the University of Toronto and research fellow with Yale’s Urban Ethnography Project:
It was a joy working with Letta! She helped turn a sprawling manuscript into a leaner and more polished book. As a Hip Hop scholar, it’s often hard to find someone who knows a thing or two about the subject matter. But, Letta combined her lifelong knowledge of Hip Hop and music more generally to make my book less nerdy and more readable. Different chapters were at different stages of writing, giving Letta a chance to show her flexibility as an editor. At times, she’d go through my manuscript like a chainsaw-wielding super hero, shredding through redundancies and unnecessary uses of “the ways in which…” In other moments, she’d make small subtle revisions that made the book read and flow better. Most of all, Letta was a great help during those tough stretches of writing and revision, where nothing seemed to come out right. This is when her expertise really shined brightest. She would give me feedback that kicked me into gear and nudged (and pushed) me toward the finish line. Part writing coach, part muse, Letta Page is a top-notch editor.
I wish all my academic clients would approach writing their journal articles this way.
As a sort of “enriched outline,” writing a TROT! post for TSP means:
Identifying your main point or angle on a topic and capturing it succinctly
Writing down the main arguments you need to make to establish that point
Gathering the key sources that will back up those individual arguments
Summing it all up
This is to say, writing a TROT! post gets you about 50% of the way toward a solid paper, forcing you to briefly and intriguingly state your case, support it with the best possible research, and sum up, all in a page or less. Build on that scaffolding, and you’re nearly assured success. Just don’t forget to clean up that bibliography!
Forget instant: constant gratification’s where it’s at. I’ve noticed that many of the authors I work with tend to delay their excitement about a project, especially when it’s a book. Why? They usually tell me it’s not “real” until there’s a book in their hands. Ugh.
Recently, I was honored to spend time with my paternal grandmother as she died and with my father’s sister and brother as they provided care. Relatively speaking, she passed away quickly, after a short kidney illness, and peacefully, having had an incredibly sound health care directive in place. I was surprised to be tasked with giving Jeri Christianson’s eulogy: it was overwhelming to absorb the enormity of standing in for my father, of crystallizing a life, of leading my family through a life course transition in a way that would recognize the process of grief and change is both individual and social. Here’s what I wrote: Continue reading Jeri Christianson: A Eulogy→
And reading for pleasure. This piece first appeared, in different form, on TheSocietyPages.org‘s Editors’ Desk.
In case it’s hard to tell, that’s an imperative, not a descriptor.
See, many authors ask me for examples of how to incorporate a lot of information into something that’s thorough, academically sound, and engaging. It’s a tough balance, to be sure, but over the years, I’ve collected a number of books (and this is by no means a list of all of them) I can hand off as representations of that ideal. They likely have nothing to do with your area of study, but watching the authors’ deft hands at work (and knowing there are surely unsung editor elves in there, too) can be a truly enjoyable homework assignment. Think of it as “authorial excellence by osmosis.” Absorb and emulate these ten fine examples. Continue reading Read Widely, or Becoming a Better Writer by Reading→
One of my most popular pieces of writing yet, this first appeared on the SixDegreesUptown.com website.
Bodies are different. We all get that, and we all try very hard to remember that different appearance doesn’t equate to different ability. And yet, I got a very happy, “Ah-hah!” moment lesson that truly impressed that slogan onto my heart and mind: Don’t Judge. You Don’t Know. Everyone Will Surprise You. Do Your Own Workout. Run Your Own Run.
Here’s what happened. It was maybe three or four years ago, and I’d just started running. I think I cheered the first time I ran around Lake Calhoun—about three miles—without stopping to walk. As I should! That’s an accomplishment on its own. I did a 5K and I wasn’t fast, but I felt good at the finish, so I went ahead and signed right up for the Women Run the Twin Cities 10 miler. Whoops! Fear set in almost immediately. Continue reading The Ass Realization→
As a prematurely old person (that is, I’m technically 34, but I make a suspicious number of references to “those damn kids” and know the difference between e.g. and i.e.), I can be wary of social media. Still, I’ve found one way Twitter is really useful for the writers I advise: forced brevity.