A Creative Career

How to write a fancy-ass paper

22 July, 2010

I’m trying to get started on my paper for the fat studies conference and, like usual, I’m not making a very good start. I’ve written this outline about 10 times but I’m struggling with all the filler. By nature I’m rather a succinct person and once I’ve written something I am loathe to repeat myself. I guess for me the outline is good enough. If I was really ballsy I’d leave it there and fly down to Sydney and improvise the whole thing!

I’m also struggling because this paper is about me, and it’s about my experience as a fat woman on the internet. I’ve used the internet to write about the minutia of my life since about 2001, so when I have to take many steps backward and write about all of it from a distance it enters an awkward memoir zone that I do not want to enter for a few reasons.

  • I’m 29 and although I’ve lived a fairly interesting life I don’t consider myself to be in any kind of position to be writing a memoir. I haven’t done anything significant!
  • THIS. IS. ACADEMIA! *kick to the chest* I’ve written little about how academia intimidates me but I am truly scared about presenting this thing in front of an audience of people who are a lot smarter than me. Then again, many don’t have my experience so I guess I am in a position to tell them all my anecdata, but still. SCARED PANCELESS.
  • What if I can’t remember things? My memory is not very good. What if I embarrass my loved ones by telling stories about myself they’re not comfortable with? Even though part of my charter in life is to talk about uncomfortable and awkward and challenging things, I still feel this overwhelming pressure not to embarrass anyone!
  • In my experience as a very technologically savvy person I’ve been dismissed by many people as trite or not connected with reality. Basically my paper is about being a fat person on the internet, and I feel a lot of insecurity about both these things (and indeed the premise of my paper!) because fat women are totally not taken seriously, and also because the internet is seen by many as a funhouse or sorts. It’s for porn and it’s for lolcats. It can’t possibly be a meaningful part of a person’s life! (No! It can! That’s why I’m presenting this paper! Listen to me! Please!)

There’s a notion that process should be hidden in favour of exhibiting a finished piece in all its glory. Part of the reason why I blog is because that notion really doesn’t help me. I feel it only adds to the mysterious aura of creativity and how many perceive it to be god-given, and not a bunch of hard work. Let’s not kid ourselves: creating stuff is very hard work and it involves a lot of thinking and process. After writing out that list, I feel a sense of… having given my anxieties form. And you know what? Those shapes and forms are exactly the sort of things I want to illustrate in my talk. Writing helps me flesh out problematic concepts, and this realisation may well be the key to writing this paper!

So, I will hit “Publish” on this collection of ramblings to record this difficult process. I hope I’m able to approach the paper more easily now!

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  • 2 things- 1st is that everyone in academia feels as if they are an imposter, and that everyone else is smarter than them.
    2nd- here's an idea for your presentation- I modelled my last 50 minute lecture on Seth Godin's presentation http://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_sliced_b… It was fun to write, fun to deliver and the student responded well to it. It helped me to give clear messages, not overwhelm with too much info, and entertain.
    Best of luck Natalie- you will be fine because you write well and have something to say.

  • I completely understand about feeling weird about the internet. I still can't tell people I am working on a 'blog' at the moment without feeling like an idiot, or speeding up the word blog, or mumbling it under my breath because I still feel like a whole pile of people really don't take the internet seriously! And because I know that deciding to blog about my experiences as a fat woman, I am joining into this huge great canon where so so many women who have inspired me are well established! (One of them being you!)
    I think it is those insecurities that will make your piece important and real and great to listen to, and ultimately make others feel comfortable to share and consider their own experiences.
    Best of luck, from Ally!

    http://iamoffendedbecause.blogspot.com/

  • Bri

    If it is any consolation I feel the same way about my paper and the presentation of it! I am just starting work on it and I am feeling very insecure and unknowledgable! People consider me to be an 'academic' but I don't because I don't feel like I talk like an academic and I don't remember things very well etc etc. In the end, this conference is about sharing your interpretation and your experience of being fat. I am certain there will be heaps of people there who will appreciate a plain language presentation that keeps it real and accessible, I know I will appreciate it and I bet others will too. Can't wait to meet you!

  • Your little list of things resonated with me – every one of the points.

    Remember that just by being you you are representing so many of us out here in interwebland who agree with what you stand for, and forget the acadaemia part of it. It's all about the vibe. :)

  • Thank you, and it's kind of humbling being a representative!

  • It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling intimidated! I think between all us internet fatty presenters we have the power to transform the notion of Big Scary Academic Thing into a Rad Internet Fatty Meetup Thing. YEAH?!?!!

  • Wow, you really expressed what I'm feeling there. So many people are like “WTF IS A BLOG” when I tell them about what I do, and it's hard to translate this thing I'm so proud of to IRL terms.

  • I'm beginning to suspect you are so right about everyone feeling a bit impostery in academic land!!!

    And it's funny, I'd already decided to present my talk with the support of fun visuals. I'm thinking about using software called Prezi, which is a really fun and fluid way to do presentations. You can even embed video from memory!
    http://prezi.com/

  • I'm not often compelled to comment on blogs, but I wanted to make a few refutes to your fears, which, although they are perfectly normal and great to have, shouldn't stop you from doing what you want to do.
    First of all, you HAVE done something significant in your life; you have reached out to many, many people and spread the word of fat acceptance. I think that's certainly more significant than what most people will do by age 29.
    Next, in my experience as a modern literature major in college, although some people in academia will frown upon you being “real” and vulnerable in your choice to share life experiences, most will very, very much appreciate that you were willing to share yourself. You'll also do it in a fresh way that I think can get your point across better than a robotic traditionally academic paper. Just because you're doing your own thing that others wouldn't do doesn't mean they won't appreciate what you're doing.
    If you're scared of embarrassing people, simply ask them if it's ok to share that story! There is certainly no shame in asking, and they'll probably be happy you asked, but if they're as open as you are, they will probably be ok with it.
    Mostly, I wanted to say thanks for being unabashedly YOU…that's what makes your blog interesting and inspiring to read, and that's what will make your paper great. If you speak to what is truly you and what's meaningful to you, it'll come a whole lot easier.
    Good luck!

  • Dani Barley

    A friend just linked your flattering outfit post, so I'm a new reader, but I'll also be at the Fat Studies conference (talking about Internet Porn!).

    Seriously, the folks at the Somatechnics centre are awesome. I presented at their conference last year (my first academic paper) and it was amazing. Everyone was wonderfully supportive and the people who are bound to be at this one are likely to be equally awesome. Don't stress because we'll all likely be in the same boat.

    And I am so down for this to be a rad Internet fatty meetup thing. :D

  • I'm pretty sure your paper is going to be great! You're an excellent and incisive writer, and I know you have stuff to say.

    If it helps at all, I don't think the internet thing is going to be an issue at the conference because, well, academics are generally geeks; the internet is profoundly changing the world and anyone who thinks about culture on any level will have an understanding of and respect for that; all the cool kids in my school are doing their thesis on networked identities and such; the somatechnics research centre is pretty amazing in terms of savvy and supportive peeps; the fatosphere is really central to contemporary fat acceptance and therefore to fat studies so it's a fantastically relevant thing to talk about.

    I know all about the imposter thing, though. Ugh. Sometimes academia sucks (but mostly I heart it with big shiny love heart eyes).

    I am SO excited about this conference and meeting up with everyone!!!

  • Oh hello, person writing about internet porn! I think we're on the same panel (I'm doing Shallow Hal). I'm also planning to write about internet porn in my thesis, so I'm super-interested to hear what you have to say.

    I think I saw your paper at last year's conference too – was it on body modification as reclamation?

  • Greenest

    Heather's right – I'm in academia and I've presented at conferences but I still feel like some sort of fake!

    Practice, practice, practice is the way to go with presentations. I'm not so good at remembering things either so I just write up my paper and slides and go over it again and again.

  • Dani Barley

    Yep, that was me! Also, hello fellow fat sexualities panel presenter! :D

    I won't hijack this comment forum to talk my research, but send me an email and we can discuss it further:
    dani.barley (at) gmail (dot) com. I don't think I can get much more excited for this conference.

  • moon

    I always am scolded for not elaborating on my purposely succinct points. I think of it as repeating myself, but I've learned, no – elaboration's required in a good paper.
    I hate to do it, but it does make a better paper.

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  • Did you find resources that helped you? I’m (perhaps) writing a paper for a different conference and I’m stuck too for many of the reasons you mention! damn academia.