Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vomit on Paper

That dreaded time of year is just around the corner. Well, for the responsible among us, it’s already here. For the brilliant among us, it ended weeks ago. It’s term-paper-writing time.

With one ten-pager under my belt and another 40-50 pages to go, I’d like to think I sit somewhere near “responsible” on the above spectrum. I had great intentions of finishing my papers early, giving myself lots of time to edit and rethink and write again. I had all my topics picked out by early October. But something always gets in the way: sleep, dating, work, visitors, reading for other classes. The distractions just keep coming. At the end of every week I tell myself, “Next week I’ll get into a routine”; I’m still going to bed at 2am, setting my alarm for 7, and staying in bed until 9.

Because I have no intention to continue in academia after my Master’s degree, 25 pages is likely the maximum I will ever have to write. Even the idea of crafting 6000 words on the study of Sayyid Qutb is terrifying for me – 6000 words of writing is the product of approximately 7 bajillion words of reading. I can’t even count to 7 bajillion, so how can I read that much?

More haunting than the research reading, though, is sitting down in front of your computer and actually having to produce something of your own. We’re all tempted to choose bold theses that will impress our professors, or to try to find a topic that suits our specific interest, or to write a flawless paper in the first draft the night before it’s due. We all want the A.

It’s a trap. And a useless one.

On Monday, I heard some of the best advice in my life on this very topic. “Vomit on paper,” my Reporting the Middle East professor, Shahan Mufti, said. “ Write about what you’re drawn to. Then look at your ideas and mold them into something readable.”

I like it. If I’m going to symbolically purge the paper, does that mean I get to binge eat while I study?

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