Well everyone, I’ve completed my second Dissertation Bootcamp. It was a rough one, because I came down with a pretty nasty cold at the dawn of the 2-week period and battled it throughout the duration. The good news is: in spite of my illness and some bitter cold temperatures during my commute to campus every morning, I wrote about 34 pages during bootcamp! I am therefore roughly half done with my Elvis chapter. The bad news is: I have become image-dependent.
I assume this is a pretty rare problem for most writers, who don’t necessarily plan to include a whole slew of illustrations with their book-length work for adult readers. In my case, one of the pieces of feedback I received on my first chapter was that images would really help readers to visualize and process some of the very specifically visual arguments I am making regarding dance, costuming, and bodily comportment. Thus, my second chapter included 48 figures (all diptychs) over the course of its 76.5 pages (before endnotes). Even then, I was worried that this might amount to too many images–one certainly doesn’t want the images to overshadow or distract from the actual text. The final file size for the chapter was so large that I had to share it with readers via Google Docs rather than email. The jury’s still out on what my readers think about the image issue, but the file size problem alone really should have given me pause when adding images to this final chapter. Unfortunately, I somehow already have 36 figures in about 45 pages of text. Surely this is too many, but with Elvis I struggle to accurately describe his movements because they are rarely comprised of formal, recognizable dance steps. Thus, I find myself relying on images for all of my descriptive segments.
Even though I know I can easily go back and delete images when I’m revising, I’m worried that my constant use of images to illustrate my points means that the writing itself is far weaker and less nuanced. I already have the tendency, as a writer, to assume that I’ve made my point when I haven’t quite done so on paper (the point is always thoroughly made in my head!), so something tells me that the presence of images is only exacerbating this tendency.
There’s also the issue of readers’ preexisting knowledge. Unlike the Nicholas Brothers or Gene Kelly, Presley was not a formally trained dancer, nor was dancing his primary entertainment form. So most readers think of him first and foremost as a rock ‘n’ roll singer, not dancer. As a result, I feel more compelled to constantly ‘prove’ that Elvis is dancing as I develop my argument about him, partially to reassure readers that he belongs in this dissertation, but also to reassure them that my argument about his dancing is, in fact, different from the familiar and much-rehearsed argument that he appropriated black music…though it is clearly related. On this register, it feels almost as if I am still at least somewhat worried about being “Obvious, Unimportant, Unoriginal,” a fear I discussed on this blog waaaay back in November of 2014 (over 2 years ago now!). Some things never change, I suppose.
A reasonable solution to this problem would be to restrict myself to 1 or 2 figures per 5 pages of writing, forcing myself to choose my images more wisely and write “better” prose. But it feels like this will slow me down at a time when I need to be writing quite quickly in order to meet all of my deadlines, self imposed or otherwise. Thus, I think I’m going to just continue working whatever way is easiest and hope that future me, in revisions mode, will still approve of the plan to move faster rather than more responsibly forward. With luck, it will be easier to revise when I’ve achieved a bit of distance from this specific chapter and have begun to approach the dissertation as a whole body of work.
Well, with this problem noted, I guess I should simply get back to it and push forward. I still want to have this final chapter completed by early January, and I’d say I’m definitely only about halfway through Presley’s screen career. So, there’s much left to do!
Happy Holidays, everyone! I wish you all a less work-heavy winter than mine.