65. 🦴 the x-ray method 🦴
thinking about organization and clarity
Hello, and happy Monday.
I hope that you are taking some time during this Indigenous Peoples' Day to rest. Recently, I went into the shop Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square and found a lovely sticker that I decided to put on the front of my process journal.
I love this diagram because it reminds me that we are all deserving of rest, no matter how much or little we produce. And a big thank you to @kwohtations for producing this wonderful flow chart in the first place:
✏️ Still processing.
My writing time last week was mainly divided into two tasks: (1) thinking about the re-organization of my book, and (2) x-raying my dissertation. I'd like to talk more about the second thing, as it has always been helpful in clarifying my writing throughout graduate school.
I want to first say, though, that I learned this method from my mentor, Naoko Shibusawa. So much of my work has been informed by her feedback and insight, and the x-ray method was one of the early gifts that she gave me in my grad career.
Essentially, the x-ray method is a reverse outline. I like to use the x-ray method for two reasons. First, it gives me a bird's eye view of a longer piece of writing, as I must distill each paragraph into just a phrase. This helps for evaluating the organizational flow of longer pieces of writing. Second, I am able to focus on a single, low-stakes task, which gives me a sort of runway for doing higher order thinking about my work. While I can't necessarily speak to the reverse outline as others have used it, I feel that the x-ray method gives me a better sense of the state of the writing as it is, rather than as what I'd like it to be. The steps are pretty simple:
Go through the draft and number all the paragraphs
On a separate sheet of paper, write each number down on a new line
After each paragraph, summarize what it is about in 3-5 words or a short phrase. Write the phrase down next to the paragraph number on the separate sheet of paper. If you cannot do that, the paragraph has too many ideas in it, which should be noted on the separate sheet as well.
Continue doing this until you've reached the end of the piece.
What you're left with is a "skeleton" of your paper as it currently is written. From here, I like to print out the x-ray and with a pen begin annotating the x-ray. I block out sections, draw arrows of ideas I want to move up or down, note the paragraphs that I should break into two or three, write down ideas that I still need to include, etc etc. It really is a way for me to interrogate the big picture of what I'm trying to get across while also addressing the more granular issues of the ideas found in each paragraph.
Have you done a sort of x-ray of your writing before? Let me know by hitting reply or writing in the comments!
📚 Still reading.
This week, I returned to a favorite book of mine for some much needed inspiration:
Sarah Gualtieri's Between Arab and White is a book that I first read early on in grad school. While this monograph broadens scholarship in many respects, I am most interested in it as a historical narrative that traces questions of identity—racial and national—among the first wave of Syrian immigrants to the United States. Gualtieri shows how questions of racial and ethnic identity in the mahjar were critical to Syrian emigrants' understanding of their place not just within their new host country, but more importantly within their homeland. This story is complicated by the time period in which this migration was happening (1880-1920), as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling alongside the emergence of Arab nationalism.
I remember being blown away by the breadth of archives that were incorporated in her evidence, and the way in which her argument on the "in-betweenness" of Syrians in the early diaspora led to discrepancies in their lived experience in the US diaspora. These two aspects of her work particularly resonated with me, because so much of my own work on the Iranian diaspora in the US has me contend with the messiness of racial identity. How do I communicate the many paradoxes at the heart of Iranian racialization in the US, and how do I do so in a way that also speaks to Iranians' own agency in their racial construction? Moreover, how do I show that the implications of their racial identity moved far beyond their place in the United States—that it additionally speaks to larger political discussions happening in the homeland? Gualtieri's work gives me some ways of imagining how to do so.
Every time I read this work, I find something new to latch onto and learn from. This time, it was the book's organizing principle. Currently, I am pre-occupied with my table of contents—essentially, how I want all the pieces of my book to hold hands and create a cohesive narrative. For Gualtieri, this examination of Syrian racialization in the American diaspora is organized through the ways in which it intersects with other social identities that these immigrants also had. Each chapter deals with one other element: migration, religion, nationalism, community, marriage. This organizational clarity ultimately allows for the messy nature of Syrian racialization to unfurl within each chapter while still maintaining a sense of narrative order and comprehensive ease.
🌀 Still consuming.
The Millions recently wrote up a list of the "10 Strangest Dystopias" in fiction. As one does, I immediately added every title to my "to-read list."
I loved this piece on how listening to foreign languages can enrich your writing.
I only recently found out that Taz Ahmed has a newsletter. Here's a recent letter of hers on "The Museum of Imagined Orientalism" that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Nikki Giovanni on Rest, Love, and Care.
📖 Book club corner.
For October's tiny driver book club, we will be reading selections from Yanyi's The Reading and be joined by Yanyi himself!
If you don't know about Yanyi or his amazing newsletter, The Reading, let me be the first to tell you that his words have been the fodder for much of my own conceptualization of what it means to be a writer. Yanyi himself is a poet. He is the author of Dream of the Divided Field (One World Random House, forthcoming 2022) and The Year of Blue Water (Yale University Press 2019), winner of the 2018 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. His newsletter, The Reading, is a creative writing advice column. Once a month, he answers a reader letter about writing and the creative process.
I've been such a fan of Yanyi's work for so long, so it is quite the honor to have him join us for this very special book club! Folks who sign up for the book club will get a GDrive link with a curated selection of pieces from The Reading in the registration confirmation email.
Here’s the event info:
Date & Time: Monday, October 25 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST
Suggested donation (for those able to donate): $3-20 through Paypal or Venmo (@idyalz)
🐶 A pup-date.
I wonder what is getting Higgins' undivided attention like that! Too bad he only looks at me like that when I have a sausage on my fork! 😂
As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!