writer's amnesia

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Does anybody else ever have the experience of looking at something they've written a few months earlier, and not recognizing it all as their own work?

I'm sitting here trying to work on my paper for the AoIR conference, and the obvious starting point is the abstract for the talk.

Now, I wrote that abstract. (I even went back and checked my outgoing mail file to be sure. Yep, it's a verbatim version of the abstract I sent to Alex back in February.) But I've read it over about ten times tonight, and I'll be damned if I can recognize it as my own. Where did I come up with that stuff? Why can't I dredge it back back out of my memory banks and pick up where I left off?

I'm probably insane for even acknowledging how foreign it looks to me now, considering that people who will be at the conference expecting me to speak knowledgably on this topic are probably reading this blog. Oh, well. Welcome to my world.

On the bright side, despite my sieve-like memory, I'm quite impressed with my February-self's ideas, and hope that over the next few days I'll remember enough of what I was thinking about back then to write the paper that I described so well.

2 TrackBacks

Elouise? Bourdieu. Bourdieu? Elouise. (Not really). Last weekend, I met Liz for coffee in an effort to help her get over her writer's amnesia. It was a simple idea, she'd bring her abstract, and I'd act like I didn't know... Read More

AoIR from miscellany is the largest category on September 29, 2003 10:23 AM

I'm writing my paper for the AoIR conference. The process has been somewhat daunting - everytime I look at my proposal, I experience something akin to what Liz describes as writer's amnesia. What the hell was I thinking when I... Read More


well you already know this but writing requires context. i manage my context by maintaining massive archives so i can see what i had been dealing with on whenever, so i can know what i might have been thinking. it isn't so much a matter of forgetting as remembering.

Yeah. I could kick myself for not blogging about the abstract when I wrote it. This is a good reminder to me to blog concepts in progress.

Happens to me often. I am wondering whether my forgetting the content of post or admiring it as I read it again is the primary indication of my approaching senility.

I have had similar experiences, and I feel it happens more with meetings that only require an abstract that is not very rigorous in academic sense. You cook up something at the last minute, send it in and forget about it. I have had embarrasing things come back to me that I thought "Did I write that, but I don't agree with that at all!".

On the other hand I also forget good stuff. I sometimes reread old papers and I am really suprised how well I made an argument or good a read a section is.

I don't mind forgetting the bad stuff...

On the one hand it is very unsettling to look at your own handwriting even(!) without a clue as to when it was written; on the other hand it can be a bonus when you sit down to watch a good movie for the second time and be just as surprised at the ending as you were the first time! =)

I am ashamed to say that I have, on several occasions, read something and thought "that's really insightful and well-put" only to find that it is something I wrote months or years earlier. I'm not talking about a full paper or anything, just a phrase or two.

Most recently, this has happened in advisees' papers. For example, at a Ph.D. candidacy defense (we do academic papers rather than a general exam for our Ph.D.s), I remarked that I liked the way a student had framed a particular problem. She told me I had better like it, since I had re-written it that way in an earlier draft.

And don't feel too bad, I've been watching some of the other panelists blogs and they (and I) are in similar boats.

You're not going to like this, Liz, but let me tell you -- it gets worse.

I read stuff on my own dratted blog that I don't remember writing. (No, not my husband's rare posts -- those I know I didn't write.) On my **blog**, for Pete's sake!

What's even worse than *that* is when I can't remember what a veiled allusion I happened to make is actually alluding to...

oh hell, I don't even recognize the first line of a post I've begun but a half-hour earlier.

the challenge - really - is to then come up with a head that somehow wraps around the place you began and the place you ended up.

it's all a disaster really.

I can't even remember bragging about a declining memory or a growing ability to forget. :)

Oh good, I'm not the only one (but I knew that). That's one reason I usually don't write an abstract until I'm ready to write the presentation (but, of course, I'm not an academic).

On the other hand, I *love* reading a column or article in a magazine, thinking it's well-written, and noting that I wrote it a few months previously. (Not so great when I think it's nonsense, of course.)

I may have even commented on that pleasure and the fact that blogs and zines deny it, because you see the "published" form immediately. I say "may have" because, well, I don't remember...

I think is about the best, most subtle and effective blog entries I’ve ever written. I’ll have to tell Liz about it. . . .




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on September 11, 2003 8:04 PM.

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