Thursday, December 30, 2010

In the interest of full disclosure

It's been a busy break.

Winter Break started, effectively, just under three weeks ago. In that time I've been almost completely submerged in writing theory and pedagogy, hard at work on my book. I've written about 17,000 words in the past two and a half weeks, so that I'm now roughly 60% done with a first draft of the damned thing.

I say "damned thing," but of course you know I'm loving every minute of it. Some paragraphs are slow going and take me an hour or more to kill, and others just fly from my fingers. It's all fun, though, and I'm excited about how the book's developing. I'm working away at several chapters simultaneously (I've started every chapter but the second and the seventh), and they're starting to grow and to grow together. By the end of next week I hope to have completed first drafts of Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6. (That'll leave 1, 2, and 7 to go.)

While I'm at it, I'd like to give a massive shout-out to my writing colleague Libby of East Carolina University, who gave me fantastic feedback on my introduction, and excellent ideas for later chapters. She's the first of my colleagues in composition and rhetoric to read any substantive portion of the book, and her reading, and her response to it, has encouraged me greatly. Peace!

Unsurprisingly, in working so closely on the book I've begun to think about ways I can model to my students good writing and good writing process to an even greater extent than I already do. I'd like to offer them a window on my own writing process in whatever way I can. I'd like them to see rough drafts, wrong turns, dead-end ideas, reviewers' feedback, and revision, revision, revision.

Obviously they're not going to give a day-old donut about every single version I write of one or another dry math paper. But it can't hurt to show them some of my first-draft research notes that are little more than mathematical freewriting (see below), or the copious comments and suggested emendations my editor offers me on draft chapters of my textbook. If it accomplishes nothing else, at least showing these things to my students will show them that I too am human, that I too make (often very stupid) mistakes, and that I too am continually growing as a writer and a thinker.

Without further's a sample. Below are the first five out of nine pages of notes I scribbled out the other day as I was working on a paper dealing with the combinatorics of complex polynomials. In these notes, if you look closely (I don't recommend it) you'll see everything I indicated above: wrong turns, dead ends, and idiotic mistakes. (My Facebook friends may even be able to notice on one of these pages the (-1)(-1) = -1 mistake that was the focus of my Facebook status for several hours earlier this week.)

After all, I'm only human.

Coming soon: my thoughts on putting together my first-ever first-year seminar, on Ethnomathematics! This course begins in a little over a week, and I plan on writing my syllabus this weekend. Stay tuned...


Derek Bruff said...

A course on ethnomathematics! I'm jealous!

I shared some of my writing process with my writing seminar students this fall. I showed them (briefly) four different drafts of the first chapter of my book, the copy editor comments on the chapter, and the final version. I *think* this managed to make the case that when you're writing something important, multiple substantial revisions can be necessary! I suspect many of them weren't used to doing substantial revisions prior to this course...

DocTurtle said...

Yeah, I plan on showing my proofs class the comments I got from my excellent consulting editor on my introduction. Red ink everywhere! It's humbling for me, but it'll be heartening to them, I hope, to see that even expert writers need help to do what they do.

eliz said...

What is your book about? I can't look at any of those pages. I get an error when loading it. Speaking of (-1)(-1) = -1, I overheard a kid on the bus in Seattle last week say 0/0 = 1. I tried really hard not to laugh.