Week 4: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

An “exposed investment in someone else’s truth.” What an insightful, generous, weighty way to think about the responsibility of the anthropologist. These are Sienna Craig’s words from her essay On Unreliable Narrators. So much of what she wrote resonated for me. Thinking about how people try to reliably narrate an unreliable world. About the vulnerability of unreliability. Or the contagion properties of the unreliable, of how the category or label can move through a group, set in motion truths of a fiercely certain sort. And, of course, of the anthropologist as narrator, reliable or not?

Here we are at the end of Week 4. Almost half-way through and moving, it seems, at warp speed. Is your writing keeping up? Are you energized at the moment or in a rut? Those in need of inspiration, flash back to Kirin Narayan’s interview, to perhaps the suggestion to listen to and honor your own creativity. Re-read Gina Athena Ulysse’s essay, and grant yourself the permission to be OK with getting stuck:

Decades ago, I realized that I am not a linear writer, but more of a quilt maker. I am content when I produce chunks. I have also learned to not berate myself if I can’t come up with anything. There are works by certain poets and art books near my desk (or in the moveable studio bag), which I need and reach for when words are not whirling out of my head as I face the screen.  As long as I am present in the space and in conversation with artists or even in silence, I now consider myself writing.

Productivity is not just putting words on the page. That is important. That is huge. But it is only part of the writing process. How did your writing go this week?

Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

15 thoughts on “Week 4: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

  1. I was sick this week which meant generating new text was not easy. Instead, I moved back into reading mode, note-taking, editing, and organizing. Things I could do while slightly foggy, but still present in the work. Most importantly, perhaps, I managed to set aside time each day (except one) for writing. Having this time as a regular part of each day, as something that is expected and not just desired, has made a wonderful difference. Goals for this coming week–making final revisions to an article coming out soon in the journal Teaching Anthropology, and significant progress on the article I’ve been working on since Week One (which shall be done soon, she says. Truly!).

  2. In terms of writing this week was disappointingly unproductive. I fell back into my old habit of giving work and household/family demands priority. The momentum from the first few weeks was completely lost and I felt rather frustrated. I am just going to have to accept that establishing a good writing habit takes a lot more time and practice! I have however ( thanks to the great interview the other week) started Kiran Naryan’s fabulous book ” Alive in the Writing” and I think that it is really helping to remind me that writing can be as engaging and fun as it can be hard and frustrating!

  3. This week turned out less productive than the previous ones. Partly I was distracted by meetings, symposiums, blogs, and so on, but at the same time it would be fair to admit that I have been a bit hesitant to work on my thesis chapter.

    I’m still wrestling with the question of how to frame my story in a way that doesn’t harm anyone, and yet also fits an ethnographic format. In an attempt to deal with that, I have tried to force myself not to let my worries kill my creativity. As such, I’ve tried to write as unrestrained as possible to get the story out, so that at a later stage I can polish it into a form I feel comfortable with. I’m not sure if this is the way to go, but for the moment it’s the only thing I can think of. What I really do not want is to stagnate the whole process by not writing at all…! Let’s see what next week will bring.

  4. I wrote a little on Monday and no more. I sent a report for my supervisor to read, so I’m just waiting for a response for me to work on improving it. Next week I’ll go back to writing.

  5. I was able to write almost every day this past week and very nearly have a rough, rough draft of another chapter. The most productive part of the week, however, was talking with people about my first chapter draft and figuring out what I would like to do with it–now that I have what I am calling “raw material,” how to bring out certain characters, weave in stories and ideas clearly and powerfully, and put in more of my own voice. I was thinking of myself as a weaver of ideas in creating a narrative about the stories people have so generously shared with me, as Sienna’s post reminds me. We are all vulnerable in the storytelling process, I think.

  6. The guest post on Monday was so timely, I’ve been making strides on my narrative writing style but it has brought up much angst over whose voice is actually coming through my writing. I’m not at the end of the narratives which was my goal but I’m having so much fun writing them I don’t actually care. I still think the first draft of this chapter will be edited by week 7, my supervisors deadline.
    I’ve been transcribing/translating for most of yesterday and today, I will end up with one narrative based on PO and another on recorded life story both in the same chapter next to each other, at the moment they appear so different I don’t know whether it will work or look strange.
    By week 5 I should be in analysis mode if I can drag myself away from the storytelling!

  7. Things actually picked up this week – I realized midweek that the paper I was working on had become 2 papers, and I was able to get a good chunk of grant writing done over the weekend. Today will be more editing, but the draft is almost ready for comments, and I am almost done with the lit review for the spin-off paper. Once again, a positive correlation between running and writing – more of each this week!

  8. I was able to make progress on a background/historical section for my article this week. I feel like I’ve written some version of this historical background for this research at least 50 times now, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to do it efficiently!

  9. Like Carole, sickness (more my daughter’s struggling with it, but I’ve got this cough that just exhausts me) really kept me from writing. For the most comfort and ease, I worked on my lap top propped up in bed or on the couch and worked on revising Chapter One of my thesis line-by-line, but even then I did not get very far. I also tried to work on just re-igniting curiosity and wonder at good writing, recording inspiring quotes in my creativity journal and reading some good stuff. Dr. Craig’s essay really hit the nail on the head in terms of fretting over the reliability of narration, both as we glean information and meaning from our research participants, and then how we make sense of it and represent it. I am very happy to dwell in those interstices, but at the same time feel like I need to puff up and become a more reliable, straight-forward narrator. How can one be a clear, evocative writer but still deal in matters grey? Perhaps we shouldn’t try to win over every reader, as Dr. Narayan suggests, but just the ones that matter. Ah, struggle, struggle. Going to see the Dr. today, hopefully we can get this health thing back on track, and hence my productivity too.

  10. Not a great week for me, productivity-wise. I had a lot of grading and reading to get through, and did very little writing in the midst of all of that. I did however, read Renato Rosaldo’s ‘The Day of Shelly’s Death’, and get to have an extended discussion with colleagues about what Renato’s ethnographic poetry might offer other anthropologists. Reading the book encouraged me to think about how poetry has served as a particular kind of lens and outlet for me, both in and outside of research, and got me thinking about the kinds of voices I would like to bring to my work in the future. Luckily my weekend is looking a lot freer now, so I can get some more words down on paper!

  11. I put in a lot of hours in the last two weeks and finally completed revising a chapter. However, the chapter now has more than 22000 words and I am too tired to make it shorter. I also learned that I am awfully slow when it comes to (re)writing parts that need deep reflection. It took me a week to write a total of about three pages of that stuff. I am new to this style of writing and there is so much to learn. Sienna’s post was amazing. Like Carole, it resonated so much with me and I still need to go back to the piece to figure out the meanings of some of the things that went over my head …

  12. This week was a struggle again for me, but thankfully, not as bad as last week. I am very grateful for this writing group as it makes me dedicate at least an hour a day to writing. My productivity during these times, however, seems to be waning–at least in terms of how many words I am able to produce. But as many of the posts have reminded me, reading and ruminating are part of the writing process. I am trying to not only remember but convince myself of this.

  13. These past two weeks have been a bit of a struggle. Last week, I managed to get in writing at least four days, but it didn’t feel good, present. This week, I was flailing around and making no progress. Yesterday, Valentines day, I decided I needed to stop beating myself up (there were a lot of very time sensitive demands and I was dealing with sickness). So I gave myself yesterday to just be and this weekend to take care of the pressing travel details, so that Monday I can begin anew with a clean slate. The posts are inspiring. I feel that I haven’t been entirely engaged with them (similar to my attempted writing) and am looking forward to the time I am setting aside to read them and let them sink in. In the meantime, this weekend is about some much needed slowing down.

  14. I started the week by re-reading Gina’s essay that its okay to get stuck and worked through Saturday and Sunday to finish working on a section of a essay that I am writing with a colleague. I told myself its okay to get stuck but also to get back to writing, reflecting and reading. Scribbling notes helped and attending a wonderful book release session helped as well.

    This week has been productive but I am yet to finish my fourth chapter. I really enjoyed reading Sienna Craig’s essay and it made me reflect on my writing style. Enrolled in a Department of Sociology and working through anthropological tools of enquiry can be a mixed bag at times.

    In Chapter 4 for one of the sections, I wanted to use a life story to illustrate my argument and then the Sienna’s essay of unreliability made me ponder the ways in which we could “juxtapose” our narratives and I of our selves to negotiate unreliability… this also has to do with the the video interview I have been listening with Stoler and Ruth Behar… All in all deadlines might have gone hayward, but flashes of reflections, ideas have emerged like a collage… the needle and threads are at work … looking for getting the deadlines in order.

    Please continue this writing group series !!!

  15. Another late post because of an all-over-the-place week. The good news is I finished the funding proposal and am happy with it, now I just have to wait for the funders to be impressed :). The bad news is that I am still working in intensive bursts but not on a daily basis, perhaps an effect of the looming deadline combined with the approaching beginning of semester madness.
    Now, on to the next task, a book proposal and a proposal for a strategic initiative in my university. Very different kinds of writing entailed requiring me to inhabit very different head spaces, I will reflect on that as I work on these tasks

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