Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Back in the Saddle Again

This past week I’ve been helping a friend by writing the end notes for her historical work on an area in the Grand Tetons National Park. I advised and edited and proofread for many years when I was teaching. I worked hard at it so that when my students went off to college they had an idea on how to put all their information into a paper. Since I personally had a 12 year gap between my first stint in college and my second stint, I, too, had to go back to everything my Junior and Senior English teachers had taught me about writing and documenting research. There is a certain logic to it; however, it is sometimes difficult to grasp. Once it sinks in, a light bulb comes on. It’s like a difficult math concept — once you “get it”, you wonder why others struggle. James once said that about calculus — one day the cord to the light bulb was pulled and it all came together. In the meantime, follow the examples given in the style manual/book.

I taught Modern Language Association style for research. That’s the form English majors use. The other different styles are variations. But, of course, the idea is to document where you found your information. Give credit where it is due. We all believe others more if they can verify how they arrived at their ideas. (One day at church during the homily, the priest was quoting facts and figures to support his stand — then he said, “Of course, 57% of all statistics are made up.” Bruce and I laughed, as did a few others who were really listening.)

My friend said that she wanted to add endnotes to her work to verify her research. I agree wholeheartedly. It adds validity to her years of work. Besides, you never know who, down the road, will want to check some of that information.

That reminds me of the story about the young man who was struggling for a subject for his dissertation in science. His professor finally told him to go back and check the seminal work about spinach and its iron content. The young man begrudgingly did so only to discover that the original work was incorrect. Spinach had only one tenth the amount of iron it was thought to have — the decimal point was off. Wow, what a fortunate accident that was for the rising young scholar. Debunk an old myth. That will make the scientific journals!

A favorite (girly) film of mine is Possession — I had read the book by the same name, written by A S Byatt. A young researcher discovers a mystery letter from a famous poet that leads to all other kinds of information, and a mystery woman. However, prior to his discovery he is searching out biggie topics like how many jars of jam the famous poet’s wife put up in the summer of 1886. (Yawn.) I kept thinking of that as I typed the entries. Someday someone might discover something really earth shaking about the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

So, I dug out the references for Chicago style, which is what history texts use. It didn’t take me that long to get it all together for the first draft. We’re still clearing up some questions and typos. However, it’s rather nice to be back in the saddle again. Next comes proofreading the text. Wyoming, here we come.

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If I blogged as often as I think about blogging, I’d do little else. I started this blog because, most of my life, I’ve chided myself for not keeping a journal. I always felt somewhat deficient. I was an English major, for heavens sake. English majors are supposed to read and write. A lot. And I have — just not as much as I think I’m capable of doing. Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion even has a “sponsor” called POEM — the Professional Organization of English Majors. I should be a dues paying member. (smile.) In the early 90s I wrote poetry rather regularly. Then I went back to graduate school for my specialist degree and that seemed to stifle any creative energies. That degree was in education, not English. (gag . . . gag) At least my BA and MA required me to read a great deal. It was legitimate. State sponsored, if you will.

I still don’t think I read enough. Somehow I think I should read a book a week. I could — if I spent half of my days with a book under my nose. Reading still seems like a wonderful luxury to me and my Puritan work ethic says anything you enjoy that much is probably not nice. Maybe even illegal. As a child I used to sneak books after “lights out.” Just hide the flashlight I’d take from the kitchen drawer. Stash it under the pillow. Make the sheets into a tent and I was all set. Mother will never find the flashlight when she makes the bed the next morning, I hoped. Dad will never notice the glow of light under the bedroom door. I also went through a phase when I snuck candy into my illicit late night reading sessions. Boy, Mother did notice the chocolate stains on the sheets, and I got into trouble. (This is the woman who kept a bag of chocolate stars next to her murder mysteries which were all stashed in her bedside table. Years later when I would borrow a book from her, I’d often find a chocolate stain on the corner of a page.) Finally, though, I wised up and switched to Maple Nut Goodies and Circus Peanuts. They didn’t melt. However, Dad often complained about the flashlight. The batteries always seemed to be dead.

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