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From the Archives

Visions and Revisions

Sarah Rovang

I finished Draft Zero of Chapter One last Sunday. Draft Zero is the no judgment, no shame, no sharing draft. It is the draft where I get everything out, even if it's tenuous or half-baked, where I marshall all of my primary sources and archival evidence and try to wrest some very tentative narrative out of the whole thing. Typically my Draft Zero is filled with little notes to the effect of "What was this source again?" or "Go back and check the year on this." The prose may be colloquial or heavy on the jargon. For this particular Draft Zero, I also decided halfway through writing it that what I had originally planned as one chapter needed to be two chapters, which has necessitated some artful excising and reordering. But it's done. I can call it a "draft" because there's a beginning, middle, end, lots of footnotes, and some kind of argument, fuzzy and penumbral though it may be. 

So this week I have begun reshaping Draft Zero in to Draft One. Draft One features complete sentences that mostly proceed in a logical way and slightly more cogent footnotes. I will let my writing group, immediate family, and advisor read a Draft One. These are honest, invested folks who will tell me when I'm on point and when I've wandered off into an argumentative hinterland while sniffing out some obscure technical point. 

Draft One is also when I start calling in the calvary (read: secondary sources). By the time I am starting to figure out what my argument is, I'm also thinking about who has made a similar argument or written on a congruent topic. I was revising a section on brand identity in the 1930s early this week so I spent a morning combing through Roland Marchand's magnum opus Creating the Corporate SoulToday I re-read a number of recent essays on the architecture of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The liberating and disconcerting part of my dissertation topic is that their are exactly 0 secondary sources that deal with REA architecture in any substantial way. The occasional and fleeting reference here or there, but nothing to build on or dispute or seriously engage with. I feel like I'm swimming in the deep end of the pool and constantly casting about for related arguments that will help my own to tread water. Histories of other New Deal projects, agriculture, technology, public policy - it's all fair game. Maybe some references fit better than others, and figuring that out is all part of the Draft One process. 

A typical screen from Draft Zero to Draft One editing. Lots of windows, lots of comments, lots of wringing order from chaos. 

A typical screen from Draft Zero to Draft One editing. Lots of windows, lots of comments, lots of wringing order from chaos.