All In On The Slow Burn

As a writer, there’s something to be said for taking your time.

For crafting. For reflection. For musing over the words until each and every one is right.

I almost never do that these days.

But when I do, I go all in on the slow burn.

cas smoulder at dean

For example:

Last month, I wrote a paper in two days that it took me a year to write.

At the end of March, I gave a presentation at the annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) conference. I dig PCA/ACA; I had a great (if occasionally contentious) experience there last year–when I was still writing about Wincest, sniff–and I was fired up to go back.

Ok, fired up and terrified.

Terrified because I was trotting out new material: taking a paper out for its first joyride.

I haven’t done that since last July.

Because see, in the three conferences I went to last fall, I was working with, honing, polishing up just one piece–one that was itself born of a presentation I gave in last February.

Talk about a slow burn.

And, and, this year’s PCA/ACA paper was about Misha Collins, sophistic rhetoric, and fan practice. Writing about Misha alone added a level of difficulty for me–yeah, I should really write about why, um–and throw in sophistic rhetoric, a concept with which I knew my (fan studies) audience wouldn’t be familiar and son of a bitch! What the hell was I thinking?

cas ghostfacers what's up


So in the run up to PCA/ACA, I was freaking out pretty hardcore–in no small part because, as of 18 hours before our panel, my presentation, she weren’t done. I had four pages on the way to nine or ten, right, and most of my images picked out, but. My two colleagues who came to the conference with me this year, which was awesome–they thought I was fucking nuts.

No argument here.

But here’s what I realized, when all was said and done:

I may have put the words on paper in two days, but I’ve been writing this presentation for a year.

Almost exactly a year.

At the 2012 PCA conference, I criticized Supernatural‘s Powers That Be for being dicks to their (female) fans in episode 7.8, “It’s Time for a Wedding.” After a spirited discussion with our panel’s audience, one of the other presenters on the panel asked me: “Well, if you don’t like the producers’ model, do you like Misha’s better?”

Me: Uh, I know nothing about Misha.

[You know, other than: he’s gorgeous.]

misha orange underwear

[Damn it! That totally doesn’t count.]

But against my better judgement, this notion of Misha and his fandom went peanut butter in my head, stuck fast as I started to spend more time on tumblr (sob) and drifted further into the real-world side of Supernatural fandom.

Cut to fall 2012, to a class in Classical Rhetoric and our examination of Gorgias, my beloved sophist and, oh. The world’s first rhetorical troll.

Not unlike Misha’s Overlord persona, I thought.


My ever-tolerant prof let me run with that comparison in my final paper for the course and holy fuck was it a disaster. Goddamn.

Because I tried to write the paper without, you know, actually spending anytime with Misha’s rhetoric. Oh, I read his Twitter feed. I ran around his fangirls’ sites on Tumblr. But I could NOT BRING MYSELF dig any deeper than that: I knew I needed to watch his Random Acts videos, to learn about GISHWHES, maybe even creep on some con videos, in order to convincingly argue that his rhetoric reflects sophistic rhetorical techniques.

But I didn’t do any of that. And the paper fell worse than flat.

jimmy novak defeated


It had a fucking awesome title though: “Encomium on the Overlord: The Sophistic Fandom of Misha Collins.”

That’s the one part of the paper that made it to PCA, that title.

I stewed over that bastard for months. I couldn’t even bring myself to read my prof’s comments. Ugh. I actually hid the thing deep in a bookshelf. Out of sight, out of painful mind.

But of course there came a time when I was drunk enough to yank it out, to read through my prof’s (overly generous) commentary and the chopped salad of ideas on its pages and ok, it didn’t totally suck. If nothing else, I learned how NOT to approach said presentation. I learned that I damn well better get over my weird Misha aversion if I was gonna write something to match the fucking title.

If I was gonna write something that I actually liked, that is.

So I did. Gathered my data, wrangled my theory, and still drove to PCA/ACA with my presentation undone.

It worked out fine eventually–thank the gods–and I came out of the weekend, out of those 18 hours, with a piece that I really like. Hell, I actually miss working with it.

And not just because I can no longer transcribe con videos and call it “research.”



I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve learned again, reluctantly, that there’s something to be said for the slow burn, for taking my fucking time with a piece of writing. But it’s also not as simple as crafting each word carefully the first time around: if what I write in my academic life is going to be any good (at least in my book), I have to accept that it’ll likely go through several iterations–some that really, really suck–before it emerges seemingly out of nowhere fully formed.

Writing porn is so much easier, man.

get off the internet

Well–sometimes. Aside from that college AU I’ve been fighting with for nine months. And the western AU that’s still not done.

Um. Crap. If only there were conferences for slash fic that forced me to finish something so that I could present it. It’s a hell of a motivator, knowing you’re gonna have to get up and talk to people about what you’ve written.


4 thoughts on “All In On The Slow Burn

  1. wrightcron

    Thanks for an entertaining read, and for reflecting in this space and for surfacing some really interesting thoughts about a (hidden) long-term process. I really admire how you integrate and meld your “personal” and “professional” writing interests and projects so fluidly . . . at least from over here, it surely looks that way.

    I’m such an extrovert that a significant part of the “slow burn” for me needs to be talking about my work, hashing it out with other people. I think that a lot of the kind of work that goes on through time and through those crappy iterations, we don’t recognize as “writing” or as parts of the process of producing good work (even though we know, in a scholarly sense at least, that we should).

    Just some random thoughts raised by reading your post. Thanks.

    1. Cheers for your kind words : )

      And I wholly agree that much of what makes up the writing process isn’t acknowledged as such if it doesn’t fit neatly into the canonized Process we’ve all been taught.

      I think that because I’m such an introvert, I get into trouble when I talk too much (at the wrong time) to others about what I’m working on. This Misha paper was a case in point: I talked about it for months before sitting down to write it for Classical Rhetoric, and it sucked. I guess I use talking as a way of avoiding writing. However, I did discuss it with a co-worker just before the conference, before I had anything on paper; this co-worker knows nothing about Misha, fan studies, or rhetoric, and that outside perspective was, at that moment, exactly what I needed.

      That’s a way long way of saying ^THIS to your comment. : )

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