Three Questions on Writing

I’m not a particularly good writer. Each summer, I try to read a book or two on writing and researching as much to make me more aware as a scholar as to inform my teaching of historical methods. This summer I’m reading Umberto Eco’s How to Write a Thesis and Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English. Reading about writing always causes me to second guess – perhaps in a productive way – my own writing process.

As a result, I have three questions.

First, I tend to try to write daily as a form of professional discipline. At the same time, I’ve started to worry, much like running, how much writing is just reinforcing bad habits? At what point does writing as a discipline impinge on writing as craft?

Second, I tend to revise constantly over multiple drafts. I have started lately to second guess my iterative practices. I wonder whether rewriting constantly has made me a sloppier writer from the start and knowing that I’m going to revise leads me to think less about the task at hand.

Finally, I worry that I never know when to stop revising. I have three or four articles that I’ve worked on for years. These articles, through revision, are probably the densest example of my thinking, but feel completely unsuitable for publication! On the other hand, a few articles that I’ve had published lately, probably would have benefited by another round of revisions. How do we when enough is enough?

The more I write, the less confident I feel about my writing. I suppose this is a good thing as I outgrow the any petty claims to “expertise” and realize that the more I study and think and know, the more I have to learn.

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