Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vincent Stephens, Director of Multicultural Student Services, on scholarly and personal writing about music and queer musicians

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I’m implementing finishing touches on my manuscript Rocking the Closet: Queer Musicians and the Limits of the Closet and preparing a book proposal to send it out to an academic publisher.

I’m also writing for an essay collection on popular music called Sound Love.

What do you love about it?
Both projects represent two key aspects of my writing style. Rocking the Closet is an academic book that grew out of my training and dissertation research, and aims for a scholarly audience. By definition its content, structure and tone are formal but hopefully interesting to a range of readers.

Sound Love is a more personal work written in a more accessible voice. The collection addresses singers as disparate as Freddy Cole and Bobbie Gentry and is laced with personal insights and some autobiographical reflections.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
The editing process is always challenging because it requires writers to step out of their own voice and assess their work with some sense of distance. Depending on the duration of the project this frequently requires breaks from the project to achieve maximum clarity. Integral to editing is the ability to economize and use language precisely and efficiently.

How would you describe your writing process?
I approach academic writing, notably scholarly essays, with a strong sense of concept and organization. I thrive when I have a skeletal sense of my argument and its structure before writing. I also prefer to have evidence nearby so I can integrate components more readily. The first few drafts I write are rarely sufficient and require intricate attention to revising, editing and formatting. More recently I’ve worked on the book using a schedule and have found myself writing for longer periods than I anticipated which is a good sign usually.

For more casual writing I write when I’m inspired rather than on a schedule. I try to have an internal map and tend to be more willing to play around with structure and focus. My drafts tend to have a lot of sketching and notes. 

I like to write in a closed, relatively isolated space such as my home office and to play music for texture.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
I like clear and detailed feedback about overall concepts and ideas, the quality of prose, organizational structure and overall persuasiveness. I find that typed criticism is more useful than oral comments because on paper there’s room for more detail, I can reference it and nothing gets lost or forgotten. It’s also less emotional which is essential to developing a sense of critical distance.

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?
I value writing as a professional practice and for personal expression. There are essays/chapter I have published that represent important aspects of my intellectual interests and have professional resonance. But I have also written pieces that are purely for personal expression. At its best writing feels like a personal extension rather than a task.

Reading inspires my writing immensely. I learn a lot about form, style and voice reading great writing. I enjoy reading literary fiction, non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines and occasionally journal articles. Reading puts me in conversation with an infinite array of voices and perspectives and is essential to feeling informed, connected and human.   

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