Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Interrupt This NaWriMo to Give Thanks

Okay, so I'll get back to NaWriMo reflections soon, but for now I wanted to recognize the fact that here in the Eastern time zone on US soil it just became (American) Thanksgiving day a few minutes ago, and in recognition of that fact, share a short list of writing-life-related things I'm thankful for. So here goes:
  • I'm thankful for these bizarre languages we have on this earth, with all their twists and turns, and for opportunities almost everyone on this earth has to learn new ways to articulate using them--and to play with them--every day.
  • However much I love words, I'm thankful that not everything can or should be said using them. In a related thought, I'm thankful words like paradox, ambiguity, and mystery exist, because they help to get at why that can be a good thing.
  • I'm thankful for all the different genres of writing, and the opportunities so many of us have to play with them at various times.
  • I'm thankful for stories, and the complex things they do for us.
  • I'm thankful for creativity, in all its varied forms, even (or perhaps especially) with all its bizarre processes and side effects.
I'm thankful for so much more, of course, seeing as how there's so much more to be thankful for, but that's a start. Right now I'm also thankful that I get to sleep now, so I'll go do that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 22: Taking Stock (Not Making It for Thanksgiving)

So this weekend I didn't get many actual words written on my papers, but I was able to get a few things off my plate:
  1. I wrote and submitted the short travel article one of my friends asked me to write for the new alternative newspaper they're putting out in Toronto soon. The newspaper is called Voice on the Street, and it's a good project. The Facebook group is called "A New Street News" if you want to learn more about it. (I love that I know people who come up with these fabulous things and follow through on them.)

  2. Revised and submitted the Thanksgiving meditation I was asked to write for the church service I won't be attending Thursday morning because I'll be attending one at home.

  3. Finished revising and submitted the creative non-fic essay that was solicited this summer for a new book on faith and food. Sounds like a good collection (even with some big names in it), so I'm hoping that project comes to fruition.

  4. Finally got through the rest of the Victorian mystery novel I needed to read.
Lots to do now, though--work at my research assistantship today, attend class for an hour, write a 3-5 page paper due by tomorrow, and finish up some more stuff for that service-learning archival project at the public library, since I have a meeting tomorrow afternoon with the librarians on that, and a bunch of other meetings and events tomorrow. Thankfully I'm in high "get 'er done" mode...

I probably won't have time to update my word counts on the sidebar until tomorrow, but they're slowly inching up (ah, the slowness when most of what you're writing is chunks of a page or less). The big chunks will come once all these 15-page term papers bouncing around in my head finally get churned out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 20: Further Up and Further In

Okay, so it's been a weird couple of days, mostly not in a good way, but I don't want to focus on the reasons for that right now. Instead, I'm going to look at the silver linings, even if they're so shiny that they blind me, and even if I stare so long that my eyelids get stuck open like that. So, without further ado,

Good thing #1: On Wednesday afternoon I got excited about my papers again. My archival theory and practice class, as I may have mentioned before, is a service learning class, so I've been working on a collection at a local library. Beyond the paper that's due at the end of the class and the preservation plan I have to hand off to the library, we're doing a day of workshops and making posters for the public promoting the collections we've been working on.

It's these final two things that I got excited about on Wednesday, because with a little help from the professors, I can now see how my fancy conference-paper length academic paper ties to both of these. Which means my research will help people get excited about researching (we hope) as well as help them to figure out what to do with their own collections of documents in their lives. Nice to have a reminder that what I do can directly affect others.

Good thing #2: Thursday, because of various reasons, I wasn't feeling well and stayed home all day. Thankfully, I had just enough energy to get through most of the Victorian mystery novel mentioned here and here, which means that I managed to actually, by having a lousy day, get further ahead on my papers. The panicky time tends to come when one hasn't read one's primary material properly, after all--have to get through that to get the ideas churning for the paper one must write. And churning properly they are--good to be at that stage with two papers now.

Good thing #3: I found out that the library was able to acquire for me the documents I needed from my archival trip to California a few weeks back, which will be helpful, if they arrive on time, for finishing that third major paper of mine. Don't know when they'll get here, but I'm assured they're coming, which is hopefully a good sign. Definitely looking forward to writing that paper, as it's the closest of all to my dissertation research, but waiting on the materials there...which is okay, as now I'm close to being ready to write the other two. Plenty to do.

Good thing #4:
Although I found out yesterday I didn't get into yet another class I wanted to get into for next semester (urgh--back to the drawing board there), I did find out that I'm able to TA in the spring, which I'm excited about, especially since I'll be working with one of my professors this semester who I like and is retiring, well, after the spring. Still a few things up in the air for next semester, but at least that one is figured out.

Well, papers to write, papers to write. Better get started on it...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 17: The Usual Panic Sets In

So, after all the lovely determination I had going on Monday, the usual panic for this time of the semester set in yesterday. That is, I slipped straight past sane, let's-take-this-one-step-at-a-time into ARGHH! How will it all get done in three weeks????

Yup, 'tis edging up on mid-December, folks. Welcome to the end-of-term mood swings leading to a slight insanity (pairs nicely with a glass of merlot). I'm mostly wishing right now that the publishing world of the day hadn't forced poor Wilkie Collins to make his mystery story three-volume-novel length--I'm only about 40% through the 513-page book. Love the story, but there are moments...

At this point, all I'm promising is that by December 19 (which happens to be when the last paper's due), I will have at least another 17,500 new words written and a bunch of revised pages, because that's what's going to have to happen to finish these papers I have due plus all the other assignments I have coming up.

I'm in fact thinking that to preserve the small nicely formed bits of my sanity still lying around (preserve it like pickled herring, but different), I should shift my goal to be 35,000 total words in the period stretching from Nov. 1 to that date, rather than trying to pressure myself to reach the 25,000 by Dec. 1.

The thing is, it's better for me to panic now than to leave the stuff any later. The problem is, a resistant part of me KNOWS that I'm trying to move my panic earlier to get better results, and is seeking to subvert that move by decreasing the urgency... That side must be beaten down.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 15: The Deadlines are Coming, the Deadlines are Coming!

I remembered a few things on Saturday:
  1. I have 3 major research papers due in a bit over a month. That's only 4 weekends.
  2. I'm planning to make a 513-page 19th-century novel the centerpiece of one of those papers. In order to do that, I'm going to have to re-read it at least twice, if not three times before I write the paper.
  3. I have some fascinating papers I'm writing this semester, and one of them is nearly ready to write. But I've got a lot of other reading, researching, and writing to do too, both for the others and for other smaller assignments.
  4. Thankfully, I have fewer classes this week and next, but I need to get serious about these upcoming deadlines along with the other writing projects I have due outside of school. Not only so that I can meet my deadlines and produce good work, but also so that I can squeeze some of these paper word counts into my November NaWriMo word count, and make sure I can reach my November goal.
  5. If I can just plow through my word count this November and include a lot of final term paper words in that count, my December is bound to be a lot less scrambly and much more filled with creative writing and revising.
Whew, glad it will be a quiet week and weekend, what with much of the department going to the National Communication Association conference in California. Now if I can just avoid a repeat of last year's performance, in which my neck seized up the morning before NCA and took weeks to recover properly, I should be able to buckle down and get myself on the right track to a proper word count.

Note to self: Don't forget to do those neck stretches.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 13: The Leaves Might Be Dead, But I'm not Quite Yet

Depressing time of year, November. Here in Indiana, the leaves are mostly off the trees now, and any that aren't are being stripped off by the seemingly incessant cold rains. The sky is that lovely oppressive iron grey color, and once again, predictably, I've fallen into a funk, wishing with the king in Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew and the Oobleck that I could invent a new kind of precipitation.

Or at least have some snow, since it's prettier than rain. Or perhaps hibernate, like the bears.

Of course, there are several other factors adding to this mood. There are several people I'm waiting to hear back from regarding whether I can get a hold of items for my end-of-semester research papers this term, as well as for possibilities for exactly what I'll be doing next semester. And then there are questions with who I'll get to see and when during the Christmas break.

So basically, if I were given the task of marketing The Month of November, I might not be able to come up today with a better slogan than:


Then again, unlike the leaves, and despite this miserable waiting (how come Advent, the liturgical season of waiting, always seems to come early to me, I ask?) on several fronts, I'm not dead yet. The glass is half-full as well--granted, at the moment it's half-filled with rain, perhaps, but it's definitely not all bad.

  • I'm halfway through my writing experiment, and I'm on track.
  • I'm quite a bit more than halfway through my semester, and the next couple of weeks are lighter ones for school assignments, which means I can get ahead on my school assignments and still have space to work on some creative projects too.
  • I live a pretty privileged life, really--food, clothes, shelter, grad student life that's intellectually stimulating, etc.
Okay, self-pep talk over. The glass still feels a bit half-empty, but at least I have the oomph to go to school and work on some transcripts before attending my last class for the week. Ooh, there's another one: it's Friday, and I made it this far.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day almost-12 (And All Seems Well)

So I gave up on trying to fulfill the word requirement entirely with new words--too much revising to be done just now for that to work. I am pleased to report, however, that in combining both new words and revised pages as my scoring system had originally envisioned, I am more than half-way toward my goal when I'm not quite halfway through my allotted time.

Furthermore, as I explained over at TextFIGHT, my academic work has successfully cleared the way for back-burner creative projects to fester and emerge from my subconscious, a process that delights me tremendously. During the semester, any use of spare mental real estate for anything not paper-related or rest from paper-related thoughts is a strong victory. I'm mostly enjoying the academic papers I've been writing, but it's incredibly refreshing to have creative projects shake that head space up from time to time.

9 a.m.
Just noticed I keep forgetting to put the totals somewhere other than the sidebar. Here 'tis:

NaWriMo total thus far: 13,208 words (as of 8:19 p.m. Nov. 12, 2008)
NaWriMo new word count: 7608
NaWriMo page revision count: 56 (equivalent of 5600 new wds w/in Deborah's scoring system)
NaWriMo submission count: 4 (1 conference paper abstract, 2 conference papers, 1 creative non-fic essay)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry, Epochal Moments, and the New Writer-in-Chief

The last time I remember it happening was a much much much much much less pleasant epochal event--9/11. The inhabitants of the US were so stunned by what they were experiencing, so in need of verbalization by those who had experience with articulation, that they of the poet laureates, if I remember correctly.

So last week, as I read the poem printed on election day in the New York Times, watched the interview with poet Maya Angelou, and watched opinion columnists, pundits, and political bloggers waxing increasingly poetic in their prose, I was quite pleased that it was a happier event this time that called for out for articulation in poetic language and in words from poets.

The thing is, this event, though it also comes in difficult times for the country, comes out of a significantly different situation. Despite difficult economic times, this need for poetics comes out of an abundance of hopeful symbols and emotions to interpret, rather than a raging loss. Sure, many people who I respect voted for the other guy, and I myself don't agree with our new president-elect on several issues, but, politics aside, the choice is one rich in symbolism calling to be interpreted.

And the symbolism gets richer when you realize that the new president-elect himself is a gifted writer of poetic language who himself has been able to articulate poetic, memorable language that has inspired both America and the world in difficult times.

In a week when a glance at international news reminds us that poets and writers are often jailed in other countries for articulating their thoughts and that our election transitions move smoothly compared with those in other parts of the world, I feel particularly blessed to live in a country where we have this time chosen to elect a word-crafter, especially one who is able to perform the incredibly difficult task of articulating a politics of hope that may pull us away from the cynicism of the last decades.

Whether we'll all agree with all the content he articulates, I doubt. But I, for one, am hoping that at least the strategy of hope and of reconciliation will be strong enough to overcome the cynicism about rhetoric that's dogged our country since at least WWII. As WWII reminded us so terribly, of course well-chosen words can be used to persuade people to do terrible things. And, as Eliot reminded us, human words aren't perfect.

But that's no reason for us to denigrate the fact that a message of hope, well put and couched in a full awareness of the darkness that surrounds, is a beautiful thing, and I'm choosing to pause for a moment and be thankful we've chosen someone who, like other excellent poets and writers, can articulate when we the people needed an injection, certainly not of fear, but not only of articulacy--also of hope and a call to selflessness. Not to mention a reminder that poetry, and the type that we choose for ourselves to listen to, matters.

That said, I'm already tired of journalists' and pundits' overuse of the words "history in the making" and "an historic day" and "an historic presidency"--sheesh, we get it, already. Go interview some more poets and writers, would you?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Day 7: First Fruits of My NaWriMo Labor (Publication Variety)

When I heard that this week's catapult magazine article was called "Color Positive," about figuring out how to break through racism and prejudice, I knew I had to write something for it, seeing as how my recent history has taught me a lot about this topic.

And so, even though the deadline for the article was Monday night (the same night the ICA conference paper deadline fell, which consumed so much writing energy for me), I figured it was just as important to stay up and write that as it was for me to stay up on Saturday night working on my ICA submissions and on Wednesday night to finish my rhetoric of conspiracy paper. So I did.

And here's what I came up with. If you go on over, take a read of other parts of the issue while you're there--it's a more timely topic than ever, what with the milestone of this week's election, and it's an interesting mix of thoughtful people's thoughts on this subject that's taken so many newspaper and blog inches this week particularly. There are means to comment on the articles and more generally on the issue's topic if you want to contribute to the discussion.

On the NaWriMo significance of this article, it makes me more excited than ever on my focus not only of creating words, but of creating words that are designed to be pushed out into the world. And the fact that I'm allowing my project to be composed of smaller pieces as well as long ones means that I can see bits of the fruits of my 3 a.m. labors as I'm going. I love that.

By the way, I've been working on another post for this blog (it's coming soon, Ril), but since last night I've been working hard on this "regaining my sanity through more sleep" project that started after I handed in my last projects of this crazy week. The new post will probably show up tomorrow, since I'll likely be less sleep-deprived by then.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Day 5: Exhilaration and Exhaustion

Many many big sweeping moments in the last 30 or so hours here in the US, and I've been so exhilarated that I've found it really really hard to get back to focusing on this here 1000 words I have to write.

The thing is, as far as my NaWriMo thing, I'm ahead, especially after that written assignment I handed in this afternoon, but this other one, this 3-5 page paper, he already gave us an extension because everyone had been up late with the election coverage (one of the advantages of being in a department that studies a lot of speeches and such). The extension was until 2 p.m. tomorrow, but I have to work tomorrow morning, so I'll be up tonight until it's done.

So despite my exhaustion from a weekend of insane paper-writing to hit my Monday deadlines followed by a day of epochal election excitement and two amazing candidate speeches followed by some unfocused academic reading until 4 a.m., I'm off to write 3 to 5 pages. Hoping to keep it to 3, as I really really can't keep this pace and level of energy going much longer. I'm already on the verge of descending into the deepest pit of crankitude I can imagine...

I'm definitely planning to sleep most of the weekend. And I should be able to, as I'll be far enough ahead between the new words, not to mention the revision pages that also add to my word count, that I can relax a bit, catch up on a few things I've been ignoring dreadfully. Maybe even leave the house to see people in non-coursework and assistantship-related capacities, and to exercise...hoping the beautiful weather holds out a few more days.

Then, next week, I can plunge back into the writing game, and maybe even get some of that creative essay revised that I've been meaning to do for that editor, get some of that novel manuscript of mine edited and properly queried, get the MA thesis finally into the mail as a monograph submission... All those things that have been on my checklist since the summer or longer. Most of them aren't that hard but have consistently fallen in the priority list. Thanks to my NaWriMo project, I hope to have the oomph to actually plow through them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An "Open Source" Online Limerick Dictionary--Need I Say More?

Okay, I'm totally writing a few of these for part of my NaWriMo word count--what an absolutely wacko-but-in-a-brilliant-way idea! For those of you doing NaNoWriMo (such as you TextFIGHT folks), you might try playing with one or two word-defining limericks to prime the pump when you need, well, pumping up...

Hm, what word between Aa- and Dd- could I play with to disperse the stress of Election Day? I'll have to play with a few while glued to the election news tonight...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 3: Just Imagine Little Schem-y Tent-y Fingers...

Okay, so I have to admit it feels a bit like cheating, this being able to ride the wave of the NaNoWriMo energy AND also have deadlines to add fuel to the fire. But the thing is, I think I needed both to finish the Herculean task of the weekend. And the thing is, the sort of speed-writing they do at NaNoWriMo is the sort I'm going to have to do academically next fall during my preliminary exams, so it's a really good thing for me that I'm combining the two right now in my NaWriMo experiment.

At any rate, my weekend was rather sleep-shorted and my Sunday wasn't QUITE as restful as my Sundays usually are, but I did get at least a bit of rest on Sunday, and the ICA conference paper submission deadlines somehow got met--the first abstract sent out on Saturday, which was the deadline for that one, and then the other two papers tonight by 11 p.m. Eastern time (the last one literally slipped in under the wire with seconds to spare).

It's good for me, this re-development of a willingness to do the best I can in the space I have to allot to a project before its deadline, then to fling it into (virtual) space to see what the response is. I was thinking about this the other day, that I used to do this all the time with writing in the business world and was mostly fine with the process, though I wished I had more time to polish.

Although it's good to have more time to polish things and take more time for revision, there's also a merit in the kinds of speed-writing and speed-submitting exercises such an environment provides you with, and so I'm thankful that my academic life is teaching me to take on that challenge, and that my NaWriMo challenge is helping me to also mix in other more creative genres into that goal. Hopefully, once I've gotten in the habit of speed-writing and speedishly-revising and speedishly-submitting in a variety of genres, I'll learn to be more skillful at varying my speeds in a variety of forms whenever needed.

Oh, and what I'm REALLY hoping is that my NaWriMo exercise is reasonable enough that, unlike so many people's experiences of NaNoWriMo, it's sustainable--if this works as well as I hope it does, I'm hoping to make every month a NaWriMo month.

Anyway, I do have this week's catapult magazine article yet to revise one more time and send out for good measure before I sleep, so I'd better get back to it.

Before I go, though, here are the numbers for future reference, after what's been officially day 3 of NaWriMo:
NaWriMo new word count: 4759 (as of 11:00 p.m. EST Nov. 3)
NaWriMo page revision count: 49 (equivalent of 4900 new wds w/in Deborah's scoring system)
NaWriMo submission count: 3 (1 conference paper abstract, 2 conference papers)

Once this catapult article gets out, those counts will go up even a bit more...ah, this NaWriMo thing is going beautifully so far. I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Days 1& 2: Treading that Boundary between Good and Wimpy Self-Excuse

Huge...task...set for myself...this weekend, involving these Monday night deadlines. Which means yes, I'm significantly ahead as far as personal word count goes, but I have the great desire to manufacture several more days' worth of time between now and tomorrow night.

Anyway, let's focus on the positive here. As of the twittering-birds'-time when I went to bed this morning, I had written 3646 new words on 3 different projects, revised 3 pages and submitted one conference paper abstract. That means that as far as these personal goals for this contest I'm ahead by about 2000 words, which puts me on par with NaNoWriMo word counts after 2 days. But...lots to do yet for those pesky external Monday deadlines.

This having a word count and a goal is a fabulous way of pulling out and evaluating the success of my writing practices, as well as becoming intensely aware of all the things inside me that try to resist getting stuff out there on the page.

On Friday night I tried the "reading my notes right before I went to sleep thing" and that seemed to work well, as did the "keeping my notes in mind before jumping in the shower" thing. Caffeine also seemed to work well, and finally later in the evening, pulling out my classic paper-writing movie--Lord of the Rings--as a backdrop really kicked me back into gear.

But listening to music? Not so helpful yesterday. Neither was the 50% off Halloween candy (sugar high only followed by crash and guilt--not so pleasant). Playing piano helped quite a bit, but wasn't the thing yesterday that had me running back to the screen and back to plowing out more pages again. However much I hate it, I think I just needed a break in the middle of the day yesterday for my mind to think things over.

Sometimes I wish I could overcome such simmering times. I'd get so much more done more quickly. Sadly, sometimes they're needed, both for academic and creative projects. One can jump among the projects when one gets stuck, and therefore pick up some productivity that way, but at some point I tend to hit a wall on all projects so my mind can get one figured out. Thus it always has been.

Hm, I think it's good that I'm trying to push myself. It's helping me differentiate between what's a real barrier to getting work done and what's the kind of wimpy excuse I tend to buy from myself because that other part of myself's such an excellent rhetor. :) There's still a lot of gushy ground, though, maddeningly, between the two...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Declaration: 25,000 (New) Words by November 30

So for those of you that don't know, it's National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) beginning today. In past posts I've been feeling left out of these creative speedwriting events, but yesterday I made a command decision--I'm going to ride the wave of enthusiasm and slight insanity of NaNoWriMo, but in my own way.

No, I'm not going to plow out 50,000 words of novel draft by the end of the month, as NaNoWriMo participants will. My goal is more in keeping with the spirit of this blog, whose purpose is to knock down the partitions between the parts of my writing selves.

And so (drum roll please) I'm going to write 25,000 new words of significant writing (for the most part, blog entries don't count) by November 30. This averages out to, excluding Sundays and starting last night, an average of 1000 new words per day. This writing may be academic or creative in nature. It can be in any combination of projects. In fact, the work can involve revision--10 pages of revised text will substitute per 1000 words of my total.

The rule is only that it must not primarily be for my own use, but something that's intended to be sent out into the world for evaluation--either to be graded by my professors or for publication of some kind.

See, I'm a grad student, and I have lots of other writing responsibilities I would feel terrible about abdicating if I tried to spend a month doing NaNoWriMo with only creative work. This way I should make tons of progress on my academic writing (and yes, journals that I have to hand in for my archives class count) and, because of that, get some work done in the creative realm as well.

Oh, and query letters and cover letters count as well--I'll be counting up the number of items I actually submit places as well. I'm excited about using this month not only to produce, but also to focus on revising as many items as possible and getting 'em out there...

So hey, those of you out there doing NaNoWriMo, I'm with you guys. And those of you who don't feel you have a novel in you but want to ride the writing excitement with me, please feel free to join me in NaWriMo, using whatever rules you feel you can adhere to reasonably.

Of course, this said, my first night was unproductive. Today, however, I'm planning to write a good portion of a conference paper due on Monday, and revise another for the same deadline, and write a creative non-fic essay also due on Monday, so that will get me significantly ahead in word count.

So off into the intrepid adventure of plowing out the pages of text...I'm quite excited about it, actually...check out this blog's side bar for my word count and submission stats.