I spent half an hour this morning struggling to articulate my reaction to an important book in the historiography of social work. I kept coming back to one critique over and over, but could not really put my finger on how this critique related to my proposed dissertation project. After writing and deleting, writing and deleting, thinking, getting a cup of tea, and thinking some more, I felt stuck. I wanted to stay in front of my computer because my writing timer was on--I needed to keep going in order to reach my goal of two hours for the day.
Finally, I realized that I would not be able to clarify this point on my own, and I asked a colleague if I could attempt to articulate my critique to her. After two minutes of explaining the premise and arguments of the book, I began to levy my objections. Her dissertation, while on a different topic entirely, also had to deal with class relations between social workers and their clients. She was able to offer insight from her own experience grappling with this question, and helped me identify what parts of the book's argument I should carry into my own research, and what parts to discard.
The conversation was a nice reminder that writing is an inherently collaborative project, and that no project can be done alone. I have a tendency to hold up these amazing works of history and admire how these scholars could succeed at crafting something so brilliant. I have to remember that, yes, they did spend many many hours alone in front of their word processors hammering out their thoughts--but just as many hours were spent in conversation, stimulating and clarifying their proto-arguments.