Hacking (of the Literal Kind)

My grad school colleagues know me as someone who uses a number of digital processes for the dissertation project. I guess that’s what happen when you spend three years associated with a program that teaches grad students how to effectively use tech tools for research, teaching, and the job search, and when you’re the person telling everyone in your department that photographing documents in the archive can be a lifesaving process. (And from the looks of it, this blog gets more than a few hits each week for my May 2010 post on Hacking the Dissertation Process.)

Maybe that’s why my advisor seemed surprised when I told her about my other hacking process…the literal cut-and-paste process I use when I’m editing chapters. This is the part where I hack the printed pages into pieces, as you can see by the image of chapter 2 strewn all over the floor above. I fell into this practice as a college freshman when I took my school’s comp 101 class. Back then, it was just a 10-page paper, but it worked. I cut the draft into paragraphs, numbered each, and wrote notes on the sides of each paragraph – sometimes editing sentences, but other times just noting what the theme of the paragraph was so I could rearrange content more effectively.

I did the same for my undergrad thesis, and the whole process has reemerged periodically during the dissertation stages. For all my digital processes, I can’t deny that this cutting and pasting works for me: it gives me the ability to visualize the whole piece a little better because I can see more than just one or two pages on the screen. I can try out what it will look like/sound like to rearrange paragraphs.

Additionally, my cut-and-paste hacking job makes the writing process a bit more physical. I go from sitting at my laptop to crouching on the floor on all fours, moving around from section to section while my dog looks on with a quizzical expression of “How crazy are you TODAY, woman?”

Tonight I’ll sit down and slice up chapter 4. I anticipate cutting a topic from the chapter, but my reread last Thursday convinced me that it’s going to be a little trickier than I initially thought. Tomorrow, I’ll go through the paragraphs at the start of the revision efforts so that I can try out the cuts and reconfigure some elements. Then I’ll begin the rewrites. That’s the part where I stack up all the pieces, sit down at my laptop, and go paragraph by paragraph, editing texts, rearranging information, and otherwise trying to figure out what needs to come next.

It’s a messy process, but maybe those are the best kind.

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One thought on “Hacking (of the Literal Kind)

  1. I totally do this too! Glad to know I’m not alone. I’ve got the monster chapter (the one that was going to be one chapter, but then became two chapters) all over my living room right now.

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