Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

From Fieldwork to First Drafts

24 December, 2013

In my last post, I was all exuberance, having just returned from a lovely fieldwork trip to east Kentucky where I spent some time with the old-time banjo master, George Gibson.

When I got home, like the good little well-trained folklorist that I am, I typed up my field notes and did my transcribing and logged my photos etc, etc. But the next step was to enter the hell that was (and is – it’s ongoing) the writing of the first draft of the paper based on that fieldwork. My aim is to link George’s dissemination of his local music and banjo history scholarship to his efforts to stop gas drilling on his property and conservation initiatives more generally. This connection seems to make sense when I’m thinking about it, but it’s a different matter when it comes to arguing it into coherent form on paper

It’s also taking so much longer than it should, mainly because when I should be writing, I am variously:

– Re-ordering my Netflix queue.

– Cleaning my house.

– Rearranging my wardrobe.

– Sorting out my To Do list (of course, “Write first draft of George Gibson paper” is at the top)

– Turning my compost pile (and this from a woman who avoids manual labour at almost all costs).

– Looking into meditation retreats I might go on in 2013 or 2014.

– Ordering face-masks, moisturisers and vitamins online.

– And, of course, endlessly checking Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook, I posted there about first draft agony and received some apposite responses. Someone drew my attention to Dorothy Parker’s quote “I hate writing, I love having written.” And this came from photographer and friend Beatrice Murch “there is no good writing, only good rewriting” (which she attributed to “some college professor”). One of my own professors pitched in to direct me toward Anne Lamott’s short essay “Shitty First Drafts” from her book ”Bird by Bird”.

Finding and reading “Shitty First Drafts” provided me with yet another displacement activity. The piece is full of reassuring advice of the ‘you are not alone’ ilk. However, there’s always the exception: “Muriel Spark” Lamott writes “ is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning – sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming”. Oh, how glorious it must be to write like that!