Working with the selvedge

In my last post I wrote about the value of critical friends and the way they can help you see the flaws, gaps and bumpy sections of your writing. After getting a critical friend to read the paper draft I’d put together in my DIY writing retreat I had a good plan for where to go next in the rewriting journey.

I took to my paper with gusto, slashing some sections, rewriting others, trying to get it all to hang together neatly, in the same way that I try to line up pieces of fabric when sewing. I look for the grain of the fabric, I work with the selvedge to stop the fabric from fraying. In the rewriting process, I look for the selvedge of my paper, linking pieces together to ensure that the paper as a whole is strong and works in unison.

As is so often the case, I turn to Pat Thomson’s blog, to find that she has so eloquently captured ideas that I’ve been tossing around in my brain as I try to get things clear. In her latest post she articulates much of what I’ve been throwing around. She argues that the key part of writing is the revising , not the editing and that nearly all academic (and other writers) have to engage in this business of rewriting. It is in this process that we get to the heart of what our work could be and shape it into a final version. For me one of the most important things to remember in shaping new pieces of writing, is to ensure that I don’t leave that revisioning process until after I’ve sent the work in to a journal. When I worked as an intern on an international journal, this was one of the things I saw, people who’d sent their work in too early, before they had a critical friend cast a gaze over it. The temptation to rush is strong in academic writing, and yet, ideas need time to formulate, papers need time to sit and rest, so that we can return to them with fresh eyes, eyes that are not filled with excitement at having finished a draft.

So today after letting my paper rest for a week and after having two more critical friends read it over, we decided that it was time to submit it and to see where it goes from there. I read something the other day about always having one paper in draft form underway and one under review as a good goal for academics. At the end of last month, I submitted one paper, and then kicked this one off. Now that I’ve submitted this one, it’s time to turn my attention to a half-finished paper I had on file.

 In tackling this one, I think I need to go back to the very beginning. Time to revisit what Thomson and Kemmler describe as the tiny text to see if what I wrote is actually where I want to take that paper. While I have a half-formed paper, I don’t think it will be as simple as saying I can just finish it off – there must be a reason why I left it half-written on my computer and my guess is that I rushed to begin it, without a clear sense of what I was hoping to achieve in it, and then, with loose foundations, I found I couldn’t build on it. So, it’s time to go back, to work with the selvedge of that paper and stitch it into something new.


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