Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Year of Reading

I wanted to pause in my lessons from my time away from the blogosphere to present to you some lessons a woman learned in her year of reading. My favorite from the post, both as a writer and a reader:
I believe that in my year of reading my brain has become more robust and energized, and life all around me is better. The writer of a great book gives us, the readers, a new tank of oxygen, allowing us to dive again and again into life. Great good comes from reading great books.
May we all be able to write and read good books.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing Lessons: Research Results Gymnastics

So this year I presented 4 papers and a poster at 4 academic conferences. This fall alone I presented two. The first one I presented at the Semiotics Society of America conference in Cincinnati in October, the second at the National Communication Association conference in Chicago in November.

Both of these papers started as course papers. The first started as a 30-page conference paper, and thence needed to be turned, Alice-in-Wonderland style, into a short abstract for submission. Then later, after acceptance, it needed to be cut down into 8-9 pages of coherent presentation. After the presentation, it needed to be cleaned up and the style converted to be submitted for the best student paper award.

However gymnastic these efforts sound, the other paper was even more convoluted in its parallel-bars-style revolutions. It started out as a 12-page course paper. Then it was converted into an abstract plus a description of how it contributed to the panel it was a part of (which was all people from our class). After that, it had to be extended to a 24-page paper to send to our eminent reviewer before it was cut to a 4-5 page paper short enough to be fit into the 10 minutes I had to present at the conference.

These gymnastic writing gyrations have at times made my writing muscles a little sore this fall--after all, it's not easy to sum up a 30-page paper in a few hundred words, and even harder to take a complicated French philosopher and express your ideas about his work in a 10-minute presentation.

But these exercises, like those for the physical body, have ultimately strengthened my writing skills. I even think they've helped my fiction-writing skills. For instance, previously writing from a plot outline, which previously felt unnatural, doesn't sound all that untenable after all these practices of research results gymnastics.

So I'm planning to work soon on some plot outlines for the short stories I've been wanting to write, since yes--forgot to mention it previously--I'm taking a short story-writing class in the spring. Since my course work is done, the course is for fun, and I'm definitely looking forward to it. I naturally think more in chapters of a bigger whole than in short stories, but after these gymnastics I've been doing this fall, it feels like my writing muscles might be just strong enough to pack a lot of oomph in those short pages. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Writing Lessons: The Big Nasty Exams

So I'm still not sure whether Blogosphere has fully accepted my apology, but as a show of good faith, I plan to do a series of posts on writing lessons learned during my bloggy absence.

The first--what I learned about writing in general from my Big Nasty PhD Exams (which I passed, by the way--woohoo! I'm ABD officially!).

Okay, so as I think I explained a few months ago, my exams consisted of 20 hours' worth of written exams in the period of a month on a variety of subjects related to courses I'd taken, followed by a 2-hour defense of what I'd written.

As it turned out, most of my exams were 2-hour in-house exams, which meant that on Mondays and Wednesdays, I studied for a particular question during the day, then from 3-5 p.m., came into the department and wrote on a laptop as fast as I could for 2 hours.

From this, I learned that I could create 7 nearly-coherent pages of prose in 2 hours. A valuable lesson, indeed. I'm pretty sure I can repeat this project in other academic and non-fiction writing circumstances, now that I have this skill. In fact, I'm thinking about using a "write a bunch in two hours several times per week" strategy for drafting the early stages of my dissertation.

The only downside? If you have to add citations, it can be a royal pain to go back in and add them afterward, as I learned when I tried the same strategy for my take-home prelim. So if I do this with my dissertation, I'm planning to have all my references pre-loaded into Zotero and clear in my head, ready to pull in clearly, BEFORE my 2-hour sessions begin.

I do like this idea, though--I think it would work better for me than the also-interesting "write a page a day" strategy mentioned by a colleague. See, with research and editing rhythms, it doesn't always work well to write something every single day. If I plan to do two or three 2-hour sessions per week (more if I'm feeling inspired), it will get a lot of pages out there, leaving me lots of research and editing and simmering time between. I think it just might work, both for the upcoming dissertation and in the future for other potential non-fiction drafting.

Woohoo! The Big Nasty Exams have both been successfully completed, AND have given me another writing skill. This is a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In Which Deborah Tries to Make Nice with Blogosphere

Deborah knocks loudly on Blogosphere's door, box of chocolates in hand.

Door cracks open. "What do YOU want?"

"Come on, Blogosphere, at least be willing to hear my case. I know it's been awhile, but there were prelims, and then those two conferences I had to give papers at, while teaching all the while and taking a class..."

"You didn't seem to have a problem keeping up with Facebook. Clearly you're better friends with her anyway."

"Well, that's true," Deborah replies, angling to insert her toe into the door to display the chocolates. "I did keep up with Facebook during that time, but that doesn't mean you're not important, Blogosphere. I just got so busy..."

"Clearly. Too busy to spend time with me. And now you want to come crying back to me, asking to be friends again."

"Yes. Yes, I do. I'm saying I'm sorry, dang it, and I brought virtual chocolates."

Door opens a bit wider.

[Was Deborah's attempt successful? Stay tuned or contribute your own continuation of the story in the comments...]

Monday, September 14, 2009

More than Halfway Up the Climbing Wall of Prelims...

Deborah pauses, moistens her hands with chalk from the bag tied around her waist, and tightens the muscles inside her climbing shoes so that they curl more firmly around the footholds.

She looks down toward her feet to find the next sturdy foothold, then looks up. Look! The top of the wall! It looks so close now that her oral defense date is set for October 5, and now that all the written exams must be completed by next Thursday.

Only a few more footholds, she thinks. You can do this. Twelve hours of written tests down this month, eight to go. Three more in-house exams of two hours each, and finishing up that take-home before preparing for the two hour oral defense.

Her mental muscles are getting tired and a bit trembly, but the adrenaline is high. Surely she can push through. Moistening her hands once more, she takes a deep breath and moves one of them up toward the next handhold.

Onward and upward. Onward and upward.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thriving in the Third Year

So I'm learning/remembering a lot about my preferred working style/kind of life (including the writing life) by my first month of this, the third year of my PhD. Mostly, I'm confirming that I was right about myself, in that I thrive better when I don't have to take 3 classes while also doing a million other things.

It's not that I'm not fantastically busy. In fact, if possible, I'm busier than I was last year. But I'm finding that I enjoy the academic life much much more when I have more of a say in what I do when.

It's not that I don't have deadlines now: quite firm ones at times. I must finish these preliminary exams by September 24, for instance, because I'm given a month to do that. And I have a month to defend the exams. But I negotiated the timing of that, and have been able to choose what kinds of questions I wanted to take/prepare for when.

I chose to do this now, at the beginning of the semester, before my students have their major assignments due. This small juggling act I'm allowed to do allows me to be a better teacher, because I won't have so much other craziness at the end of the semester.

It also allows me to really focus on writing these prelims well, because while I have lesson planning (and have been really enjoying planning lessons this semester without 3 classes at the same time--having a chance to use my creativity to make up good new interactive activities), I don't have a huge amount of grading to do until the prelims are done.

It helps all of this so much that I only have one (last required) class I'm taking. I really like taking classes, but am glad the crazy 3-per-semester requirement is done.

I can begin to see the end of the tunnel a bit, and that helps too. After all, if I pass these exams, I'll be officially qualified to teach at the university level. After that, (just?) the dissertation, which is a topic I'm incredibly motivated to dig further into and have already collected and written a lot of material towards. (And since writing is my thing, and I wended my way through writing a 100 page MA thesis only a couple of years ago, the length of it doesn't overwhelm me too much. At least not at the moment.)

So, while I'm fantastically busy, I'm not minding that. I'm really enjoying this academic life of mine.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sorry It's Been So Long...and Exam Progress

Sorry it's been so long since I posted last, but the beginning of the semester has overwhelmed my blogging impulse a bit. I'm teaching 2 sections, taking my last officially required grad class, and using the first month of classes to take my 20 written hours of the Big Nasty Tests (to be followed by an oral defense).

Plus I've been blessed this week with the usual 2nd-week-of-school seasonal allergies. Thanks, Indiana--I'll find a way to repay you for this someday. Maybe drop an anvil on one of your fallow fields while no one is there. (That would be not harmful for anyone, but incredibly cathartic, don't you think?)

Actually, despite the busyness and the stupid allergies, as I settle in to teaching this course I haven't taught before and write my exams in 2-hour chunks, I find myself enjoying myself quite a bit. I'm very much enjoying my students, the class I'm taking will definitely be helpful, and I'm getting intensely good at writing 2000 words (give or take 200 words) in 2 hours in response to each of my preliminary exam questions.

In fact, I'm appreciating the learning experience of these exams much more than I thought I would. Reviewing the materials I've been learning over the last couple of years is really helping me synthesize everything I've learned. And writing the answers to questions in the areas I've studied that I'm looking to dissertate on is also helping me to transition to that area in my head as well.

So, despite the Big Nastiness of these tests, I'm--dare I say--enjoying them. Weird, I know. But true. I think--hope--I'll even enjoy the oral defense of these written portions next month. (I actually did enjoy my MA thesis defense, so there's precedent.)

Anyway, I have a take-home to work on this weekend (Labor Day DOES mean labor, doesn't it?), a few final revisions to that creative writing project I got hired for this summer, and, more immediately, two classes to teach this afternoon, so I'll sign off for now. More later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Well, I had a lovely vacation and now I'm back in the thick of it. Lots of assistantship hours in this last 2 weeks of summer, including revising that creative writing project.

Studying for my prelims, which I actually did quite a bit of while I was gone, but now, with less than 2 weeks left has become much more urgent. Making sure they're scheduled, etc.

Finishing up preps for school and teaching this fall. Getting ready to welcome and meet new classmates.

Yup, there will be little sleep in the next 2 weeks or so.

Nothing like 0-60 in 1.2 seconds. Or minutes. Or something. At any rate, it was pretty quick acceleration. Must...drink tea. Grab something to eat. Quickly, to move on to the next task.

Go team!

Oh, and I'll leave you with a great blog post reflecting on the question of whether writers need to be visible in the public eye. I find it particularly interesting since part of what they teach you at grad school is how to be visible within an academic community.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Yorker Review of the Kindle

I'm away from email and Internet for a week and a half starting the day after tomorrow. But I leave you with a fascinating, extensive, and largely negative review of the Kindle at the New Yorker. I haven't tried the Kindle yet, but am not surprised, having come from working for a book publisher in the web usability field. As the review points out, these devices have a ways to go before they've really got it yet.

I first heard about the MIT E-Ink project in 1998 or 1999, and not to be show-off-y, predicted when I first heard about it that it would take quite some time for these things to be remotely usable (witness the 10 years before even early adopters started actually using the things). Along with an excellent reflexive/auto-ethnographic in situ review of one user's experience with the device, this article includes a good history of the ebook movement as well.

Personally, I'm waiting for the invention of a book with a series of flexible Bible-page-thin pagescreens that can be loaded up with electronic ink and at least a series of which could actually be turned back over/easily referred back to like normal pages (after all, what good is a mystery, for instance, if you can't look back and try to figure out the clues?), but then loaded up with a different ebook from memory at any time as well as having a search function, etc. It could be something like 100 pages long and reload itself as necessary. Careful work would have to be done, as the author above mentions, toward making sure illustrations worked properly and the typefaces and contrasts, indices, etc. were well-designed.

And if they want to do anything with the academic--or any kind of "books-for-studying"--markets, they MUST MUST MUST work with the others (creators of Zotero, Endnote, etc.) who are creating academic reading/citation/note-taking tools and with services like Google Scholar and Google Books, which academics and students are already using a ton. And with the libraries who are working with zillions of academic databases.

Hm, well, back to my studying.

By the way, my paid creative project is now past its first writing stages and has moved on to rewriting and revising, completely on schedule. It's nice to be getting past that awful first draft stage and to feel on track to finish it before my Big Nasty Exams start. Woohoo!

Friday, July 24, 2009


I'm on vacation as of later today. Granted, it will be a vacation in which I haul a large chunk of my books and binders for studying for my Big Nasty Tests with me, but still a vacation. I may post sometime early next week, but then I'll be offline for a week and a half.

It will probably be quite productive for my studying, though I would still prefer to have a laptop to take with me to type things in. Ah well, I'll survive, and likely thrive outside of those times when I have the deep urge to retrieve or create a new studying document.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Plot, a Plot!

I'm ridiculously excited. I love the creative process when it goes this well.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been doing extensive research for this creative writing project for my assistantship. I've been thinking through all the pieces of information I know, and seeing if they fit with the very rough story framework I came up with last week.

Talking with various people to confirm. Floating my ideas past people as the story evolved.

Last night, after I lit my candles in the living room, I was trawling through the web doing some more research and came up with a potential ending for my story.

I slept on it. I woke up. I called around to a few people to confirm that my story was feasible and sounded like it would work for the client. It is, and it does.

I've got a plot! Now just to write the story! Currently I'm waiting a bit on some final key research from some of my contacts, but that should arrive later today. And before then, I can at least start jotting down some parts of the story that don't relate so closely to it.

I love it when a plan comes together (visualize evil tenty fingers).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My New Writing Practice

I used to have this wonderful routine down, back before I went back to grad school. I was working more than full-time, so I'd work my 10 or 12 hours in a day. Then I'd come home, maybe play some piano, maybe take a walk (with or without my friend across the street) to clear my head from the stresses of the day.

And then, around 9 or 10 p.m., I'd sit down in the living room with the TV off, I'd journal out whatever thoughts were running around in my head, and I'd think and write at least 100 words of my creative project (often several pages). The writing would sometimes take me up till 2 or 3 a.m. And then I'd get up at 7 and start over again.

Retrospectively, I'm not sure how I had the stamina. But it worked well.

The problem with grad school is in part that I often work at home. It then becomes harder to find practices that clear my head and help me to move from one thing--and one kind of thing--to another. Especially when so much of my work of all kinds is done on the computer.

But I've begun exercising again (sans iPod because it died) and that is helping. And last night I discovered that lighting a few candles in my living room and staring at them for a few minutes also helps.

Which is good because I have to switch back and forth between heavily academic tasks, errands, and this creative project for my assistantship for the rest of the week. And the creative project has passed most of the research phase and moved into the writing stage. And there's a pretty strong deadline, so I need to get into the creative writing mode pretty frequently. And quickly. And well.

You go, candles. You go.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


For the last few weeks of the summer, I have a grad assistantship where I get paid to write a creative narrative--for a digital application, even. I'm going to be extremely busy in the next few weeks, especially since my Big Nasty Exams are now only 6 weeks away, but the fact that I get to work creatively in my capacity as an academic is extremely motivating.

I love it when the two parts of my life come together like that.

Okay, back to work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On the Joy of Research

So last night sometime around 1 or 2 a.m. I got inspired to do some research.

This research had nothing, really, to do with my studying for the Big Nasty Tests I've been studying for.

It was only rather tangentially related, or so I thought, to my dissertation.

Primarily, it was (primarily academic) background research for one of my creative projects.

In searching through Google Scholar and WorldCat for sources to interlibrary loan (reminding me of the beauty of having full access to the academic library system) I found a source that will help my understanding of my dissertation topic, as well as inspiration and good material for that and other potential creative projects.

I also remembered why I like researching these kinds of things. The thrill of the unexpected discovery is fabulous. It's these moments that remind me why I started doing this grad school thing in the first place, and why it's worth sticking it out through the annoying and difficult times.

Now just to plow that delight back into all the other projects I'm supposed to be working on.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trying Not to Be Slightly Offended by This...

From a book on conducting qualitative research, talking about writing up field notes from participant observation of people in a setting:

"It happens that observers differ enormously in the detail and length of the field notes they keep. Some seem to be frustrated novelists and have been known to write 40 or more single-spaced pages on a three-hour period of observation." --Lofland and Lofland, Analyzing Social Settings (1984), p. 67
And people (well, maybe it's just me, but today it's an editorial pluralism) wonder why, although novelists and qualitative field researchers both learn from observing people in settings, these two groups are somewhat estranged from each other?

Stereotypes, stereotypes...My primary question is, since when did any frustrated novelist write that much? It seems most frustrated novelists' problem is more of the writing too little than writing too much...

But maybe that's just my perception of the way the writing world works.

The larger question is, why can't we all just get along, since fiction writers and qualitative researchers are doing remarkably similar things (I should know, since I'm part of both groups)?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dear Semi Driver on I-57 N,

This is an open letter to the semi driver that brushed (not quite the right word, evoking gentleness instead of crunched steel and a shattered window) against my car Monday night at 7:50 p.m. in Urbana Champaign, then, after slowing a bit, continued to drive.

My writer's brain immediately thought through all the possibilities of your motives. Chances are, you just didn't look before coming over into the right lane. Not that that excuses you at all. But it's a fairly easy and logical explanation--likely the right one.

What is less simple is why you didn't stop. A witness stopped and called the police. I saw you slow down, so I know you had felt the weight of my little car against your large bulk. Why, I ask?

The most simple explanation was that you thought you'd get in trouble, which you probably would have, to be frank. But that doesn't mean that you are excused for not doing the right thing. Sometimes the right thing involves sacrifice.

Then again, maybe you are a Decepticon (ala Transformers). That's not really an excuse either, though, you know...you could always join the good guys if you wanted to. All you had to do was stop.

Whatever the reason, I just wanted to let you know that by not stopping, I'm afraid you removed the possibility that you would be on my Christmas card list. I hate to say it. But that's how it is. Without contact info, I simply can't put you on it.

So yeah, if you see this, please leave your info so I can add you back in. If you don't want to contact me directly, I'm sure the Illinois State Police would get in touch with me if you passed the info on to them.

In the meantime, I do hope life goes well for you. I hear that the Decepticons lose in the end, so I'm sorry about that ahead of time. I do wish you well--or at least I'm trying to. Sooner or later, forgiveness is likely to come, but frankly, it might take a few days.

Oh, and I hate to tell you this, but as I'm a writer, a version of this incident will likely appear in some of my work sooner or later. I'd contact you to make sure that's okay, but then, I don't have your contact info. Please consider this my attempt.

Deborah Leiter

P.S. I should admit that I'm pretty bad about actually getting Christmas cards out. But if you were on the list, I'd make an extra effort.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Article about Facebook; and, on Lack of Laptops

So I'm back from my road trip (just barely, but that's a story for another time). What I've been wanting to tell you since Friday is that I have a new catapult article up. This one's about Facebook...

The other big thing I noticed on my trip is that I don't do well trying to write on trips without my laptop--at least when I want to work on something that's already in an on-computer form. During some of the more techie conference sessions, I got some great writing outlines and brainstorming done. But a few stubborn writing projects that had already migrated into Word got very little further.

I've noticed this before--I can start in handwritten notes. And, once started, I can brainstorm further in handwritten notebooks. But once I've gone digital with a project I simply find it impossible to write new material fully in a handwritten form. Not sure if I can "fix" this process, but it's worth remembering in the future, especially if I continue laptop-less.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Down to It (Once Again)...

Remember that paper that was originally due May 20 and is now due on June 15? After a week of doing practically nothing, I wrote 12 pages of it yesterday. I also started on the article I'm writing for next week's catapult.

Since I'm leaving town early Sunday morning, it was sort of important that I get going on these things, so I'm glad it's finally starting to flow properly.

So I've got to do another 10 or 12 pages on the paper today (which will leave me with a hopefully fairly good rough draft), plus finishing the rough draft on the catapult article before packing for my week away.

Saturday is for revision.

The most encouraging thought is that I still took a lot of breaks and spent a lot of time procrastinating yesterday. So if I cut back on that today, I might be able to plow through this in better time and get done with one or two other things I need to get done, while also sleeping both nights I have left.

After all, it's a long solo road trip next week, so being rested is important. Sleep is good.

Oh, and word counts: 3438 on the paper so far and 125 on the catapult article. Not bad for one day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Forgot about THEM--and they got stronger

Okay, so going along more-or-less merrily during my school year, in which I HAD to write because things were due (the joy of extrinsic motivation), I'd completely forgotten about THE CRITICS. Now that it's summer, I realized that, despite my pretty lists, they're back with me in spades.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, Anne Lamott's fabulous writing-neuroses book Bird by Bird puts it best:
What I've learned to do when I sit down to work on a s***ty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there's the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, "Well, that's not very interesting, is it?" And there's the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there's William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on.
She suggests visualizing each voice as a mouse, picking up each by the tail, and dropping them in a jar.

I'm going to try it. My critics are different from hers. In fact, most of them aren't criticizing my writing at the moment, but at the moment are taking on other things in my life. No matter the object, they're completely blocking off most of my ability to do stuff (ironically, academic work as much as anything else). Something must be done, especially since I'm pretty sure they've strengthened their muscles, what with the critic growth that's encouraged in grad school.

Now that I've recognized I have a critic problem, it's all about triage. I think a bout of Julia Cameron's morning pages are in order.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dreams into Fiction

I've had a series of unpleasant dreams this week. No need to get into what they were--I'd just like to state for the record that they were all pretty unpleasant. (Not nightmares, just unpleasant.)

The point is this: I've spent the last half-hour trying to figure out whether it would be useful for one of my characters could have a different series of unpleasant dreams, in one of the stories that's been on the backburner.

It's a beautiful thing when the creaky wheels of that part of my brain start to move. Love it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Meeting People by Meeting Books

Great post over at Good Letters on the merits of reading books themselves before reading them through theoretical lenses, as well as the serendipity of finding a book seminal when you had not expected to like it.

I'm not sure what such seminal books would be for me, but my reading has certainly taken me down some alleys that I would not have expected to go down ahead of time...and I've delighted in the unexpectedness of those paths.

I'm delighting this summer in the opportunity to read a bit more unexpectedly again, without all of it being assigned to me. The PhD path of reading brings plenty of serendipity and new ways of seeing the world on its own, but less-directed reading (supplemented by re-familiarizing oneself with previous readings for the fall's Big Nasty Tests) is a nice change of pace.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Off on Retreat

I'm off for a monastic weekend. And boy do I need it. It's been much too long since I last went. My creative and spiritual lives both need a bit of deep cleaning maintenance work to get them back to tip-top shape after a super-long school year with many challenges.

Time to be still for awhile, so I can keep moving forward.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Fake Commute and Other Writer's Block Tips

I just found this great assortment of writer's block tips. My favorite, actually, is offered in the comments--the idea of a "fake commute to work." That is, whenever you've decided it's time to start writing, purposely walking a few blocks and back home, not to exercise, but as though you're walking to work. I imagine this might just work for me--may have to try it sometime this summer.

Writing Practices: On the Beauty of Lists

So yesterday I made a list.

It's a beautiful list.

It contains all of the things I want/need to get done this summer, complete with estimates of how long I want/need to devote to each item.

It includes studying for the Big Nasty Tests and work for my assistantship at the top. But fun stuff is on the list too, as are my creative projects.

It's remarkably lovely to have a list. Before, it felt like the pressure of the unwritten things to do was clogging the artery my motivation was supposed to be spouting up from (sorry, gross metaphor, there).

Anyway, I even pencilled in time for sleep.

It's a lot like a time budget, really. You know how they say that having a budget means you get to spend a certain amount each month for those things on your list? That's how I feel.

Now we'll see if I can do it. That's another story.

But it feels more manageable now that I have a list.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Which She Returns, Victorious?

Okay, so I'm back from the wars--er, conference. I presented my papers, got my certificate for my award and such, and want now to be all bashful about it.

The thing is, I always seem to have this battle within me. On one side, there's this part that says yes, it's fabulous when people like my stuff. That's awesome. It means in part that I've managed to communicate successfully for once. And therefore revels in what I see as the utter gift of an award. After all, I know how subjective these things are, and have no idea why they chose my work (not that I'm turning it down or anything).

But there's this other side of me, which wishes to fade as far into the wallpaper as possible with this sort of thing. After all, I'm just doing what I do, and would likely still be plugging away whether or not these particular people at this particular moment in time chose to give me this piece of paper (or to respond favorably to this piece of work). I don't want to be seen as one of those grasping people who's out to get awards. Nor do I want to be one of those people.

I'm pretty sure that a chunk of this has to do with my deep beliefs that whatever I have is a gift: that I earn none of it. And that, as Eliot puts it, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

What do you think? Does this make me a normal writer? An abnormal one? A normal academic? An abnormal academic?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Fresh Take on the Inspired/Hard Work Dichotomy

There's a great posting over at Good Letters on the classic question of whether writing is inspired or whether it's something you do, whether or not the muse shows up. I've never been the person who can entirely drudge along whether or not the muse shows up. There are limits, and at least some writings definitely need their simmering time. On the other hand, I find deadlines to be a remarkably effective tool, at times, for summoning inspiration.

In my view, the mix is there, and quite mysterious. Sometimes I wonder whether I try to control the process too much or too little--I'm usually wondering about one or the other of these variations, in some form. Writing practices are often a good way to balance the two sides, I've found, though there are days I totally forget about them in the heat of deadline-stress.

I'd talk more about this, but I have a bus to Chicago to catch in a few hours to go to a conference, and I'm still finishing up my presentations based on the papers I wrote. Since I won a Top 3 Student paper award for one of them (woohoo!), I'm feeling the pressure to be impressive... Ah well, as Eliot said, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

Since my laptop died a few months ago, I won't have it with me, so likely I won't be posting again until at least Saturday, when I'll be back. Have a good few days!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And She's Ba-ack!

So yesterday mid-afternoon I was the grumpest of the grumps. Woe was I and all that.

I decided I was facing post-semester stress disorder, the result of trying to downshift from 80 hours per week into 40 without losing steam entirely. The summer's prospective projects were overwhelming me, and I felt incredibly guilty about allowing myself to do something other than academic work.

By the evening, I was pretty whiny.

But then, over the course of the evening, things worked. Having decided I would do no academic work for the evening--definitively--worked like magic. There was nothing on TV, so I turned it off and didn't try to replace it with movies for several hours.

I pulled out the Swahili books I had put away (read: taken back to the library) last fall and looked over the first lesson again, rehearsing the now-unfamiliar, yet familiar, sounds. I looked up how to say "post-semester stress disorder" in Swahili in an online dictionary and felt ridiculously happy about it, even though I had no idea how to put the individual words together in the way that made sense. I exercised a bit to my newly discovered and fabulous Exercise TV on-demand channel, getting my muscles moving again bit by bit.

And, as a result of these writing practices, my brain too started to loosen itself up and use muscles that had lain dormant during the school year. And about 1:30 a.m., inspiration hit. I started a creative project I'd been thinking about for awhile. It flowed, and it was beautiful.

Considering last year this barely happened at the end of summer, this is a beautiful, beautiful day in the neighborhood. Woohoo! I'm back in the land of creative writing!

Sure, I still have many academic tasks for the summer, but I'm beginning to envision how a certain amount of, dare I say "balance"? might be possible in the next few months. Ah, frabjous day...

Monday, May 18, 2009

As She Heaves a Sigh of Relief...

So the last week has been busier than a first week of "vacation" (i.e., a few month period of slightly less academic work per week) ought to be, perhaps. The day after my semester was completed, I went north for a short 2-day visit. After that, I worked my 11 hours at my assistantship and finished my revise and resubmit for the book chapter due May 15 (that's 1600 new words for 16 pages of revisions).

And then I abstracted (150 new words) one of the papers I'd written for the end of the semester and sent it off as a conference proposal for a fall academic conference. Finishing this up as my parents (who had arrived that evening) slept.

The next day, I went with them to Chicago for a short 2-day visit. We spent one day at a professional sporting event, where I enjoyed being outside and cheering instead of staring at a computer screen, and then seeing relatives, where I was overwhelmed by seeing a large clump of people after my hermit-like grad school existence.

The next day, I got to go to the Newberry Library and do archival research toward my dissertation. I'll just say I could live there. I love that place.

Anyway, I got home and tried to wrap my brain around the paper that I was sure was due this Wednesday while trying to logistically prepare for the conference I have to go to on Wednesday through Friday. After two days, I had a place to stay and a way to get there, but I'd only gotten as far on the paper as a written outline. And so, this morning, I was immeasurably glad when I got an email changing the deadline for the paper to June 15.

Collective sigh of relief, please.

Thanks. Now there's time to actually get academically ready for this week's conference. (I've written the long versions of the conference papers, but must figure out what of that I can say in only a few minutes and read other people's papers on my panel.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Over and (Nearly) Out

Okay, so I was up till 6 a.m. again, but the final paper of the semester is handed in. The final word total for the 18 pages, without counting the 3 pages of references: 5666. Plus I revised the other 14 pages pretty heavily during the course of last night, which adds 1400 "new" words to my overall total.

At any rate, it's handed in. Very close to the end of the semester now--just have to grade the finals my students wrote this morning.

Of course, that doesn't mean the end of writing, by any means, academic or otherwise. I have an academic paper abstract due next weekend along with a "revise and resubmit" for an academic article, and by the following week I have to write another entirely new 20ish page academic paper for a book chapter submission deadline.

So I have two more weeks of NaWriMo 2, and lots of other specifically academic things to keep me relatively busy over the summer. BUT...after these grades are submitted, the semester pressure's off and I should be able to almost work a normal sort of schedule again, with time to spend seeing other humans and sleeping and such. Maybe even some time for creative writing now and then. It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Further Up and Further In

Okay, the paper (including Monday's efforts) is now at 4159 words (14 pages). A few more pages to write today along with the revision, plus that never-started final-except-for-the-final stack of grading to do. Both to do today.

Stupid sinus infection. (Diagnosed Tuesday, which turned out to be a sick day, along with most of yesterday.)

Yesterday I had a case of severe writer's block, or, rather, a case of my brain going on strike until I shifted the latest 2 pages I'd written to somewhere near the end of the paper. I hate it when that happens, though I'm now thinking those 2 pages may have very little place in the paper altogether once it's done (except in a severely modified form), so I guess I'm thankful for the heads up. Inconvenient, though, since I was already further behind than I wanted to be, what with the sickness and all.

Oh well, last night I was able to catch up by writing 6ish pages between 10:30 and 1. Woohoo!

Okay, off to grading before finishing and revising the paper.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Good Enough

So if it were an ideal day, I had wanted to write 10 pages of rough draft of that last paper, so I could write 5 pages tomorrow and 5 on Wednesday and then revise the whole thing on Thursday before the Friday due date.

So 10 pages today didn't quite happen, but as of midnight, I'm halfway down page 6 (1715 words), which is good enough for me. It's enough that I can still only slightly up my daily page output in the next 2 days and still have a rough draft by Wednesday night, which is delightful.

Especially since I, having hit the exhausted-and-somewhat-sick stage, need more sleep this week and am determined to work no later than midnight each night.

This should be manageable. 1715 words down, roughly 3500-4000 to go, plus some revising. And then, provided I also get through the stack of grading I've promised to do by Friday's final, I'll only have the final to grade before I'm free of the semester's work! ! !

(This is all, of course, assuming that this exhausted-and-somewhat-sick doesn't turn into something full-blown by the week's end, which I'm trying not to think about, considering I don't remotely have time to be that sick. Then again, even if I do get sicker, the amounts are reasonable enough to plow through, I hope.)

Okay, to bed so that doesn't happen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One More Down, Down to One to Go

Okay, so last night I was up late again, but I was able to finish revising Monday's paper and get it off to my research partner to finish it up. I revised 17 pages and expanded it to 22. That's 1700 new words for the revision plus the--what, 1500 new words?--for the 5 new pages. I'll figure out the exact amount of new words later, when I create the final tally for this NaWriMo 2 project, which is now going to May 20.

One more paper to write this week by Friday, plus one more round of grading before Friday and then one on Friday after I give my final. Plus 10 hours of assistantship. I'd say this sounds pretty manageable, but I don't want to get cocky. Plus I'm pretty tired, even with the day of rest I'm getting today.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to...Well, Sleep, Hopefully

Okay, 5:30 a.m. and all is well. Conference paper done and sent off. Total new words for the paper (including last night's 1800-something): 4252. I ended up deleting 5 pages of the original 10 entirely and replacing them with new words, so on top of that I get to add 1000 new words to the total for the revision of the other 10 pages I'd written. Total page length for the paper: 19 pages plus 2 pages of references.

Sleep now--hopefully I'll be able to, since the caffeine kicked in quite well from the 11 p.m. pot of tea. I don't have to be anywhere until a social outing in 9ish hours, and my Monday paper revisions (knock on wood) shouldn't be quite as extensive, so I can work on those starting at 6 p.m. when I get home, finishing, one hopes, by midnight or earlier.

Then: Sunday: rest! And, next week, only one 20-page paper to write all week. I'm actually looking forward to writing that one--I've already got a page or two of abstract and lots of thoughts and research to go off (another dissertation-related paper--woohoo!).

Friday, May 1, 2009

For Those of You Keeping Count...

1810 new words last night on the paper due by the end of the day today. The paper's now at 15 pages and still quite discombobulated, so I'm assuming there will be some severe revisions, plus at least 3-5 total new pages added before midnight-ish tonight. But first I get to go to my assistantship for five hours, then fact-check some stuff at the library before heading to write new words on the paper.

Oh, and if you've been wondering where the word count has been in the last few days, it had been absent only because I hadn't figured out whether to add in words for grading or not (apparently not). I graded a whole stack of papers (only one stack more now to go--and it's a less complicated one--plus the final to give and grade at the end of next week). I wrote and edited two PowerPoints and an abstract by which I informed my classmates in all 3 of my classes of the excellent projects I'll be writing and editing next week, and prepared to teach my review class yesterday.

Then, after attending the last seminar of the last semester of full coursework (only one left in the fall) last night, I sat down and wrote those 1810 new words (after resting and caffeinating a bit). I've lowered my expectations for this paper I'm turning in by midnight, by the way--hoping for relative coherency at this point rather than brilliance. I think it's starting to hang together better in my head and in the first five pages, but once I get home about 5 I'll have a lot left to do.

Woohoo! Tomorrow should be a bit more laid-back, thank goodness--the paper due Monday is just revisions, really, so tomorrow a bit of revision, at least half of that other stack of grading, perhaps start myself on actually writing that 20-page paper due a week from today, and--get this--I may actually leave the house to go to a social event for a few hours in the afternoon. Woohoo! A quieter day... But for now, I must make myself a strong pot of black tea.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Confession is Good for the Soul (2)

Doing substantially better since my morning's confession of Saturday's unproductivity. I've written out my part of paper #2 (which is a co-written paper) in rough draft form in the last few hours. That's 8 pages of new words, or, to be precise, 2448 words. Perfect timing, as I have a meeting with my research partner in half an hour.

I'm pleased to have this properly rough-drafted. Not only is it something off my stack o' things to do, but, while the paper isn't due till a week from today, we have to present it together in class in only a few days. It will be much, much easier to do that with my part of the paper properly written out first.

Woohoo! Now, after I get back from the meeting, I can focus on starting that stack of grading that's glaring at me from across the room. Then, tomorrow, time to finish up writing up that conference paper due on Friday, perhaps, so then I'll have time to finish up my grading, polishing up my lesson plans for Thursday, and the other two final-paper presentations I have to give this week? (My life busy right now? Why do you ask?)

Confession is Good for the Soul

Okay, so on Saturday, after my big breakthrough on my papers, I seemed to be barred from proceeding much of anywhere on them by, well, disinclination. Or something. So until 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night, I was rather less productive than I wanted to be.

I hate that--sheesh, if I had known that ahead of time, I could have driven somewhere with a forest and taken a 6-hour hike or something. Which would have been supremely productive on such a beautiful day in the lower 80s F.

Oh well. I did pull myself together well enough at 11 p.m. to write up a close-to-1000 word outline of my ideas for paper #2 before writing up a review sheet for my students and crashing at 2 a.m.

What all this means is that I have a lot to do this week, and must not have more of such lapses. I hope and pray that I don't have them, and that everything gets done.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Woohoo! Breakthrough on Paper #2 (and #6)!

Okay, I'm really going to continue the Speed-Writing at the Olympics series soon, but I wanted to take a moment to note that it's been a beautiful day.

First, my semi-procrastination last night turned out to be fruitful on many levels:
  1. I was able to successfully arrange a much-needed weekend retreat for the end of next month;
  2. I read a bit of a book related to the paper I handed in 3 days ago, which might indirectly help me with the presentation I have to give on the project next week for that project. At any rate, it will help me with moving toward my dissertation discussion of said topic;
  3. I spent a bit more time with the materials which are likely contributing to another layer of my dissertation and are also helping me to write the book chapter-ish article that I have due May 20 (the one I'm writing from scratch by then).
  4. I'm pretty sure I dreamed together the last two of these items, because shortly after I woke up this morning I had an idea for the book chapter-ish article that fused ideas I'd been studying for the paper related to #2 with the ideas I'd been tossing about for #3.
I love it when things start to work together like this--particularly when semi-procrastination can turn out to be so fruitful on many different levels. :)

Second, this morning I started my analysis of our scads of pages of qualitative research notes to prepare for (co-written) Semester Paper #2 (due on May 4 with a class presentation on Apr. 30) and after analyzing about half the materials in 2 hours, the light-bulb came on about how the themes could tie together in a pretty darned cool paper and presentation.

I of course now have to jot these things down, finish my analysis, and start writing the paper, but after a phone conversation with my project partner, we have a clear direction now based on my breakthrough, which really is more than half the battle.

Woohoo! That makes that less of a psychic slog, which means the actual write-up should go pretty fast. That speed and confidence in our approach in turn frees up a bit of my day and a portion of my brain to work on some preps for the final activities connected with the class I'm teaching--something I really knew I needed to get to today. And then hopefully I should be free for a bit of time on Monday or Tuesday at the latest to start on those menacing stacks of grading...

Life, even at the end of the semester, can be beautiful.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Speaking of Olympic Feats (2): NaWriMo 2 Word Count Update

ANNOUNCER (FROM OLYMPIC SPEED-WRITING CONTEST): And now for an interview with our sponsor, PhD student Deborah Leiter, who is caught in an end-of-semester graduate student speed-writing event that's sure to prepare her for the types of Olympic contests you see on our coverage here at Scribe Stadium. How's your contest--er, semester--going, Deborah?

DEBORAH: Yes. Mostly well, thank you. At least I turned in the first of three final semester papers just a few minutes ago. As it turns out, today in about 6 hours I not only revised 22 pages, which as you'll remember in the NaWriMo 2 scoring system counts for the equivalent of 2200 new words, but in the editing process the paper swelled to 29 pages for a total of 8816 new words, which is an addition of another 2000 or so entirely new words to the paper that will be exactly calculated at a later date.

ANNOUNCER: Wow, that's quite the new word count for a relatively short revise-and-polish period. So does this excess of new words bring you any closer to your word count total?

DEBORAH: Sadly, since it was all used up in one paper, the excess gets me no closer to my academic goals of finishing the semester. However, I am quite excited that I've gotten to the point in my academic career where I'm no longer grasping for words to say--seems I've got plenty of them to pour out. Now I'm just hoping I can only keep this up for 1 conference paper, 2 more course papers, and--these two are new tasks added just in the last couple of days--the revision of one book chapter by May 15 and the writing and revision of another one by May 20.

ANNOUNCER: Were there any deleterious effects from the quick outpour of words you've seen lately?

DEBORAH: Not, so far, from today's outpour. After Saturday's contest in which I poured out 20 new pages, though, my back was a mess of knots--and I was exhausted--from Sunday morning straight up until last night. Other speedwriting academic athletes, take heed when attempting such huge feats at home. I'll say one thing, though--all of this is certainly preparing me for the large amounts of quickly-written texts I'll have to pour out during my Big Nasty Tests in late August/early September. If all goes well there, maybe I'll actually be trained up enough to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge for real this coming November. We'll see how it goes.

ANNOUNCER: That's wonderful. And now, back to the Olympic event we've been covering...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If Speed-Writing Were An Olympic Sport (1)...

ANNOUNCER: And welcome back to Scribe Stadium. And we have two events going on here right now, actually.

We'll get to the fiction-writing battle in a moment, but for the moment, we're heading off to the most dramatic action in the other corner, where we have a...what is that? Over to our floor reporter.

FLOOR REPORTER: Thank you. Yes, over here we have a second year grad student in one of those social sciences/humanities disciplines squaring off against a seasoned professor in the academic paper-writing category. The grad student, of whom huge responsibilities are asked daily, is going against a prolific but tenured professor, whose output has fallen just a trifle in recent years but has the experience of years of efficient prose-production behind him.

It looks to be an epic battle here this evening, as the grad student's "therefores," "nonethelesses" and frequent quoting from the text go up against the professor's facility in citing several dozen theorists and carefully explicating their positions before an eyelash is batted...

I'm excited to see how it all plays out. For now, though, we have to take a break, but don't leave your seat. You'll want to stick around for this one...

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Difficulty with Having Been a Slave...

I've been listening to The Chronicles of Narnia in the car on CD lately, and recently, in The Horse and His Boy, I heard a quote that struck with me. The gist of it was something along the lines of "The problem is, of course, that once you've been a slave, and then you're free, it's difficult to make yourself do quite as much as you can do. Because of course, what you can do and what you think you can do aren't the same thing."

This stuck in my head because I've been thinking lately about self-management a lot lately, what with the switch a few years ago from being a full-time employee when my tasks were in part demanded by others, shifting down to a graduate program where somewhat less was required of me, then back up into a more demanding program.

The annoying part is that, immediately after I started my first program where less was demanded externally, I was able to self-manage quite well to produce a lot outside of what was externally demanded of me. Then, frustratingly, came a period of lesser production as I shifted disciplinary perspectives within a program where more was required of me.

The thing is, now that I'm used to both the more demanding program and the new disciplinary perspective (I'm an accumulative learner), I finally feel as though I'm back up to--and in fact, have surpassed, thanks to the extra external expectations--my initial grad student productivity, a fact that bodes well for the less-structured time ahead.

I just hope that, now that I've made it into the zone (in a more balanced way, no less), I'm able to port this motivation and productivity into keeping up the creative output as well as into playing hard in the breaks I can get from keeping up the self-management. I think it might be possible, but I'm certainly not expecting it to go perfectly...

Ah, the efforts we make to temper hope with realism and vice-versa, hoping that the realism won't keep you from doing your best and that the hope won't raise your expectations to the point where you can't adjust if and when it becomes necessary.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Successful Tsunami Surfing Operation

So I now have a total of 6716 words in my paper (which works out to 22 pages). 917 of those words existed before I started (3 pages), but I cut at least half of those out and heavily revised the rest, so I'm counting this as 6516 new words.

I didn't actually start writing the paper until 1:30 p.m. (after writing 507 more words as an outline and thinking it through before I started). And I took a couple hours' of breaks after that for dinner and such as rewards for my productivity.

Ultimately, that means that I wrote an average of 2 1/2-3 pages, or 746 new words, per hour. That's darn good paper-writing speed to be sustained over that amount of time. I'm thankful I was able to get through it without losing steam.

I finished everything but polishing, the addition of a few quotations and a bunch of citations, and the addition of a 1-3 page conclusion. But I can easily do that on Monday, since it's my at-home day and the paper's not due till Wednesday.

[evil tent-y fingers] I love it when a plan comes together. [face becomes more serious] Especially when one discovers oneself able to break through the brick wall formed by the 12 rough-draft-academic-pages-a-day limitation experienced in one's previous graduate career.

It's fun to get better at surfing that tsunami. Apparently one DOES get better at this with lots of practice, it seems. And now I get to have a whole day off schoolwork before revision strikes on Monday, along with those other stacks of grading...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

About to (Finally) Write

Okay, so I finally finished my analysis and I'm ready to plunge into the first of three 20-page papers. (This one's due first.) Actually, I already have 3 pages of it done, from an earlier proposal that was due. I'm going to see if I can just plow through and write most of the rest of it today, leaving Monday open for grading and such.

At any rate, here's my tally on the note-taking for this paper: 18,513 words, which, in my new scheme for word-counting, is the equivalent of 4628 new words.

I'm looking forward to really challenging myself to plow through quickly now. Writing all those notes and doing a thorough analysis really did help me come up with some good examples and bits of analysis I can then translate into actual new words. So here's hoping the energy and focus holds for the day.

Okay, and with that, I'm off to the races.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Moment of Realization

I realized a little while ago that, with this academic fellowship the last two years, I've been getting paid to do research that's likely to form the background to one or more books, both academic/non-fiction and creative. Not only to learn the methods I need to do the research well, but also to sit and generate ideas and let them simmer until they're ready to come out.

Granted, I haven't just been sitting, by any means. I've been, most of the time, working on an academic research project and such on top of the studying.

But all the same, I've had many moments of simmering, including that oh-so-crucial first semester. And, in the meantime, I'm learning how to write quickly when need be (I've always been an incredibly slow writer), so that when they're ready to shape themselves and I have the time to devote to writing said manuscripts, I'll be ready for them.

Even with my awareness of how insanely busy I've been during this time, that's pretty darned cool. After all, very few people get paid to stay alive and collect research material and to think things through during the early stages of a book-writing process. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Plowing Through

Haven't officially started writing the (academic) paper due soon, but I've taken, to date, more than 17,424 words' worth of notes on it. The analysis is almost done--only a few more hours' worth of it. Of course, I have to do that today, along with a bunch of reading and grading and so on and so on and so on.

I'm pretty sure this is NaWriMo 2, but that I don't have the time to keep too much of a running tally on the sidebar. When I can, I'll include my results here and tally them up at the end.

I'm pretty sure notes will count in the final word tally as 1 "new word" for every 4 note words. So, in this case, I've garnered the equivalent of 4,500 new words already. That's reassuring, since that's the equivalent of approximately 15 pages of a paper and the paper has to be 20-25 pages.

Then again, I was never worried about having enough material for this paper. It was having enough time to do a thorough enough analysis before starting, and being able to fit in the most important things I wanted to say. Especially since this is one of the two papers this semester which should form the basis not only for conference papers, but also, hopefully, dissertation chapter-ish material (which may, in turn, provide me material for a book).

Thankfully, the analysis/note-taking part is almost done, and some manner of outline has begun to form in my head in the process. I should be able to plow out the paper this weekend, provided all goes well.

See, this is why I'm rewarding myself for the note-taking part--not only does it take a ton of time, it really helps move toward the paper-writing and make that process so much more smoother. (Or so I need to believe. ;)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

*Sigh*: Too Much Inspiration

Okay, so Thursday night I found a great (of course time-intensive at least one day per week for the next few months) site of study for my dissertation research. This is energizing, amazing, and lovely. Unfortunately, it's not the best timing, what with all of the other aforementioned tasks that need to be taking up my time now. It's definitely worth piling on, though.

Ah well...somehow it will all get done. If I go start to hack off at least one of the monster's heads, then he'll be down to a couple dozen, but one of the heads will be gone.

(Sorry about the morbid metaphors, but that's the nature of epic battles, isn't it?)

Monday, April 6, 2009

On the Brink of the Plunge...

Okay, so it's coming down to it. Starting this Thursday, I'm embarking on the Last Month of the Semester. That means I'll be writing roughly 60-80 pages of academic papers (not including a wealth of preparatory notes for said final papers) in the month starting on Thursday and stretching until May 9, when I'll (hopefully) finish off my semester by very quickly grading the exams I'm giving that day.

For the record, that's about 20,000 new words plus notes, revisions, etc. Not to mention the stacks of grading to go with it.

The thing is, I know I can do this--the count on my sidebar from NaWriMo last November and December tells me I've lived through something such as this (29,000 new words in just over a month and a half) just a few months ago. The thing is, though, I wasn't entirely happy with the quality of all of those final papers, so I'd like to do a bit better this time.

Completing these papers in a quality fashion will take focus, dedication, and likely quite a bit of household-work avoidance.

To that end, I'm catching up my life errands (paying bills, etc.) as much as I can today so that once I plunge in, I have to deal with that as little as possible.

Go team make-it-through-the-semester. Hm, maybe I should make this into a NaWriMo 2 in order to push myself through. Keep track of word count again and so on. If I'm going to go for it, I've got to think through the rules, though. I like counting for revisions, but I'm wondering whether analysis pages/notes written to prepare for the papers ought not to count too. Since there are bound to be a lot of these this semester, and the more there are, the better the paper will be, I need some way to include those in the count.

Perhaps, like revisions, they can be given a lower word count--perhaps 25-50 words added to the word count per page of notes? Last time it was 100 words per page of revisions... Any thoughts here?

Friday, April 3, 2009

And What She Found There...

So I finally was given access to the reviews of my first three chapters of my book from the Amazon Vine Reviewers last night, and discovered why it didn't advance in the Amazon Novel Breakthrough contest.

Simply put, my book's purpose was communicated successfully to one of the reviewers, who thought the character was bumbling, but in the right way, and seemed in general to enjoy the story, but not to the other, who found the whole thing well-written but boring.

Likely it was that second review that meant the story didn't make it from the top 2000 into the top 500 round.

The difficulty here, is that without names, to make the analogy to American Idol judging, that I don't know the tastes and reading personalities of the reviewers here. While I can likely take something constructive from the second person's critique--after all, it's quite a long one--I suspect that person is simply a bigger fan of action-based fiction. While my story has action in it, it's more of a character-based story than action-based.

This is why I'm glad I've had multiple people I trust read the story and give me feedback--it's given me a better idea of how different types of readers react to elements in my book in different ways. I'm sure I can learn from the one reviewer's critique, as I said, but the fact that the reviews weren't unanimous actually frees me to take what they say with a grain of salt. If you get mixed reviews, after all, it can be a matter of taste behind them. (Plus it helps that I've been on the other side of this process, and know that it's partially about taste anyway.)

Anyway, I wish I had more time to think over my next steps with this manuscript (I've been having some revision ideas for awhile now), but I don't really have a chance to do anything more with it until a few more weeks have passed anyway. So, for now, I must sit back for a moment, respect the reviewers' opinions but not take them too seriously, then get back to thinking about the tasks I need to do and the papers I need to write to finish up this, my last full semester of PhD coursework. (Woohoo!)

One last encouraging thought, though--both thought the thing was well-written, and one of them got what I was going for. Not so bad, really. The manuscript must be worth pursuing in some form for awhile longer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Staying Upright While Surfing a Tsunami

Very...difficult... Must concentrate....Back to piles of reading lest I fall over from lack of concentration. Got to...stay...upright.

Surfing a semester tsunami can be a mite challenging, after all.

Okay, back to it. The sooner I can plow through this week's readings, the sooner I can get to getting ahead on my writing and research for my final papers for the semester, two of which are in my dissertation domain and the other which is helping me do background research for a novel I have in mind.

Ah, the joys of feeling the intrinsic desire to stay upright through the last few weeks of this semester, understanding why I really want to do this well rather than slough off... I'm quite blessed to have figured out how to multi-purpose my academic projects, and pick ones not only that really genuinely interest me, but also flow into other academic and creative goals I have. Which in turn gives me super-strong motivation to do them, and do them well.

Woohoo! Surfing can indeed be fun at times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Knocking Down Them There Walls

I'm pleased that the mojo came back (i.e., that I was able to pull through my spring break and balance the academic tasks I needed to get done with having time also to spend adequate time with people, get a bit caught up on my sleep, and get caught up on some of that impinging life stuff).

As to why it feels like the mojo's back to stay for awhile, I think part of that has to do with some success in the purpose of this blog--being able to knock down the walls in my mind between academic writing and creative writing in my head and heart. This blog has helped me not to privilege one over the other (as I had been doing) and to interrogate the reasons I might be doing so.

By knocking down that wall, I'm looking forward to clearing head space for both of these facets of my writerly self to continue to develop, as well as leaving room for more life events to take place around them. As a result, I'm ready to plunge back into the last six weeks of the semester, viewing them and their likely-accompanying tsunami wave-ishness as a necessary part of the writing life right now.

Not necessarily that they are the writing-life-as-usual, or that the craziness is the way life ought to be all the time, but it feels like if I can surf this wave, I'll be delivered safely to the next stage of my writing life, which will start in the summer with balancing my preparation for the Big Nasty Exams I hope to take in the fall with other writing tasks, and is likely to be a bit more like paddling in a canoe than riding a tsunami.

Since tsunami waves can come when you think it's just a puddle, though, it feels good to know how to do both phases of the writing life when the situation arises.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mission Accomplished

It's been lovely, having a quieter week on the academic front.

Of course, a quieter week still included a couple of stacks of grading along with some reading, planning discussion questions based on that reading, doing my taxes, and writing 10 pages of that conference paper that's due at the same time (early May) as my other final papers for my courses.

But still, I managed to take some time off--even had Thursday and Friday completely off, and today I managed to create ten pages of rough draft for the conference paper in less than 5 hours, which is a lovely thing.

I like this, as it feels like I'm getting good habits that might be somewhat reliable and maintainable in later times. I've pushed through a time of difficult something-or-other with my writing life (both academic and otherwise), and it's lovely here on the other side, where I can predict fairly well what is accomplishable in a week (even if some of it might take a trifle bit longer, some things will take less than I feared) and go on to do it in a relatively efficient time period, but without sacrificing on quality.

This bodes well for the summer, in which I will have to balance my writing, research, and studying tasks in my "spare" time, and even later on, when I will be working on my dissertation in my "spare" time. This reminds me that I've been looking forward to the end of my coursework for a reason--once I find something I want to write about, whether it's academic or creative, I greatly enjoy doing it, and when the mojo is there, I can keep the flow going even while I pause to enjoy the tasks I'm doing and fully appreciate the times in-between when I can balance those writing tasks with other life things, including just enjoying the world and the people in it.

This is a good thing. I'm quite thankful that it's been granted to me, just now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"We Regret" Blah Blah Blah

Well, I'm glad I didn't stay up until 1:30 to get my email. Furthermore, I'm glad I wasn't holding my breath about advancing--that would have hurt.

I won't say that I wouldn't have liked to move on, but that would just have been a gift. This way, nothing is "stolen" from me, I just get to go on working on the manuscript when I get a chance (I've had some delightful ideas about it lately, about adding another point of view) and send it elsewhere when I get the chance.

I'm getting better at this whole submission thing, I think. I think my PhD work has toughened me up to this a bit. When one gets used to giving papers and presentations and such for other people's evaluations on a regular basis, one doesn't take the fact that one of those submissions didn't advance in a competition as seriously. Especially when it was submitted on a whim at the last minute and one didn't have a chance to edit it, just flung it into the wind to see if it would come back.

Welcome back, little manuscriptlet. We'll try again when you seem ready to fly again.

10:32 a.m. update

Hm, I looked at my letter again, and compared it with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award procedures. It looks like my little entry, while it didn't make it to the quarterfinals, survived the second round winnowing from 10,000 entries down to 2,000, as the email says there will be two reviews of my first three chapters waiting for me, which wouldn't have happened had it not made it through the first cut.

So, while it didn't make it into the top 500, it was judged to be in the top 20% of entries for the contest. Good job, little manuscriptlet!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Impatience Rears Its Ugly Head...

Okay, so I was doing quite well about waiting for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest until about 9:30 tonight, when I got home from a lovely dinner with friends. Since the quarterfinalists were supposed to be announced sometime today, I've been doing well--before that I actually only checked my email 3 or 4 times today, which is actually significantly lower than my usual email-checking volume.

Since 9:30 or so, though, my "refresh"ing of my email and the ABNA homepage has been rather insistent. I, like the other entrants hanging out over at the discussion boards, am feeling impatient for the results to be announced, already.

But it's a bit of a working vacation, so I have another stack of grading to plow through tomorrow so later in the week, between other social engagements, I can work on my taxes and write that conference paper I'm presenting in May. I should stop being so impatient and just go to sleep now. Okay, off to do that.

Amazing what semester-lag (like jet-lag, but different) will do for providing sanity to the weary. :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Survival (i.e., Hercules pt. 3), and Good Books

Well, it seems I made it through the week and was given the grace to do some things I wasn't sure I could do: writing a 7-page midterm in-class open-book exam question in just over 2 hours, for instance (good practice for prelims). Or making it through an 11-hours-at-school day (yesterday) on 3 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure it makes me Hercules or anything, but I'm pleased that I managed to get it all done, including writing my article for catapult's new issue, which, being called "Good Books" was too tempting for me to pass up. Check it out, and enjoy!

Woohoo! Now after some packing and such, I get to enjoy a Spring Break in which I'll be...well, still doing a lot of schoolwork, quite frankly. My stacks of grading shrunk a bit, but they didn't get entirely done, and in fact have grown. And I have homework for the week after Spring Break to do. And I have that conference paper to churn out that's due right when all my other course papers are due, so I better start at least pushing out a rough draft.

Oh, and I'm going to stop and do some archival work at a big archival library in Chicago on the way to and from break, which I'm going to enjoy tremendously (my inner nerd is quite happy).

Ah well, at least I'll be in another state and able to hang out with family and friends between my laptop seclusion periods. And I'll be able to sleep more and take more time for meal-type things. I'm pretty excited about it, really, despite the pile of books and papers and study materials I'll have to haul with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hercules Takes on the Writing Life (2)

Update on my Herculean week: Wednesday and I'm not dead yet. This might be a good sign. But who knows. Some things are done, but more to come.

Okay, back to studying for this afternoon's mid-term.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hercules Takes on the Writing Life

Here's how it works. I get to sleep properly and go to a neighboring state for Spring Break in another week, after I have successfully completed the Herculean academic/writing tasks in front of me in all my classes. These include (on top of my week-as-usual of stacks of reading and assistantship work, etc.):
  • doing a field observation and attending a meeting for my anthropology field project
  • writing a 4-5 page paper for my "Culture and Society" class drawing on things we've been reading about how to study globalization
  • preparing a 20-minute presentation on the last section of Kenneth Burke's The Rhetoric of Motives (big text about the study of rhetoric and persuasion) for another class
  • taking a mid-term about narrative theory, etc.
  • plowing through piles and piles of grading
Oh yeah, and I'm also writing an article for catapult for this Monday because the issue's topic is so good.

It's no finals week list, I grant you, but still...sheesh. I've often thought that we writers and academics should have our own superheroes whose examples we could follow.

Our Hercules figures would be a little crazy but not so unreasonable that we couldn't hope to be like them. Writing Man and Writing Woman would be able to, for instance, plow out a 30 page papers in a single sitting, grade 20 papers with lots of feedback in a single hour, write a really polished novel in a day or two, and so on. (Oh, and I'm taking suggestions on better names for said superheroes.)

I sometimes wonder if things like grad school, the 3-day novel contest, and NaNoWriMo are attempts to set us Herculean tasks to get us to rise to the challenge of following in the footsteps of these imaginary superheroes.

Will I manage this particular Herculean week? Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Microfilm Is Mocking Me

Okay, so only five months after my archival trip last fall, my university library was able to check out to me a microfilm of the manuscript I'd delightedly schlepped out to California to look at last fall (see posts here, here, and here for a history).

Tantalizingly, the little ball of celluloid-ish stuff also promises me one of the author's other manuscripts for comparison's sake that I wasn't able to look at last fall. My inner nerd was salivating prolifically as I took the small box in my hands--I nearly trembled as I carried it out of the library and brought it home.

Sadly, although I can't wait to dig into a good sound analysis of its contents, other duties press this week. The little box is sitting on my table just mocking me with its nearness yet inaccessibility without the machine necessary for its viewing.

I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I don't have a microfilm reader handy at home (I can't say I know anyone that does, actually). Oh well, I really shouldn't be working on it in the next few days when I have other things to do anyway.

Soon, though, my little microfilm, once I've finished a few more tasks, I will bring you to the library's machines and we will have a good chat, you and I...

Monday, March 2, 2009

On the Advantages of Having Other Things...

Okay, so if someone asked a crowd of people, "who would like some time to write full-time for at least awhile?" I may well have one of the first hands up. I look forward forward forward to my dissertation year--I mean, sure, I'll likely be teaching a class or two along with the dissertation, but I will be pretty close to writing full-time at that point, which I know from my MA thesis year will be exactly my cup of tea.

So don't think that I'm not looking forward to that, at all. Or super-excited about how crazy my life has been lately.

BUT when one has several pieces submitted to various venues (including the Amazon Novel Breakthrough Contest) and one's waiting to hear back, it doesn't hurt to have a few other things on your mind to keep you from neuroticizing about it. Perspective is a beautiful thing, and having a lot to do does keep those submissions in focus.

Now if I can only remember this feeling if and when I'm able to be writing full-time... Of course, if the dissertation year is anything like the MA thesis year, the forced look ahead at what's next in life will serve that counterpoint quite nicely. I actually found the writing of the thesis the delightful part of the year. Deciding what to do next with my life was the hard part. I hope, however, that if I'm ever a full-time writer for a longer stretch that I'm given the grace to keep things in perspective.

That's all for now. Back to that mile-high stack of things to do...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cell Phone Novels and Other Publishing Curiosities

So, off to school, but two things I wanted to link:
  1. A fascinating article on CNN.com about how novels written on cell phones have taken off in Japan (Thanks to Brenda B. for the link).
  2. The new catapult magazine issue, which explores the connections between Ash Wednesday, Lent, and spiritual and physical health. If you look closely at yesterday's post here and one of the articles, you might find a few small similarities.
That's it. Enjoy and have a great day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ashes to...Top 3 Student?

So yesterday I got this delightful email declaring one of the conference papers I'm giving at the International Communication Association (ICA) conference in May has been awarded the status of one of the Top 3 Student Papers for the Mass Communication division. (One that I'd revised and sent off during that NaWriMo experiment last November.)

It was a surreal moment--here I was, sitting in a classroom a few minutes before the beginning of a grad class in which we were to discuss a cognitive view of how metaphors work. I was tired from the cold or allergies I've been fighting and mildly aware of the cross-shaped smudge of ashes on my forehead from the noon service I'd been to. I was feeling a bit ashes-like, particularly since I was trying to resist the delicious-looking chocolate cookies a lovely friend (who hadn't been aware I'd decided to give up chocolate for Lent) had just handed me.

And then I checked my email on my laptop, and there was this email telling me that I'd won this award, and I won't lie to you: I felt a bit less ashes-like for the moment. After all, beyond the fact that this would be seen to be a bit of a big deal in my discipline, it was encouraging that I was on the right track with my dissertation, since this was the first paper I'd sent anywhere outlining some preliminary thoughts in that direction.

So I was happy. And don't get me wrong--I still am. But on reflection I realize (the cold/allergies have been helping with this) that I am no less ashes than I was before. Sure, it's a cool thing and all, and I'm pleased that people like the paper, but I'm considering the award in the nature of a really cool gift rather than as something I somehow earned. (As Eliot says in Four Quartets, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.")

Which in turn creates the delightfully convoluted metaphor of me being a bundle of really excited ashes sitting under the Christmas tree (in February, no less) unwrapping this gift of this certificate I'll be handed in a few months.

It may be convoluted, but it feels just right.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Love-Hate Relationships: The Creative Process

As I think I mentioned earlier, a couple weeks ago I had a breakthrough on how my dissertation ideas might be introduced and how they may well fit together in a coherent whole, and ever since then I've been quite happily devouring my readings for this semester and writing in my journal about new dissertation-thought nuances when they emerge from said readings, often just before I go to bed.

So this morning after the alarm went off at 7:30 I spent an incredibly productive hour and a half lying in bed in that state between sleeping and waking letting my dissertation ideas churn in my head for awhile before I got up to get back to the reading.

All this is a strong counterpoint to my life with my readings before said breakthrough.

The point of all of this is that I've been realizing lately how much I both love and hate the creative process. I sometimes think if it and I were ever thrown on the Jerry Springer show together, it would make for some dramatic television.

I hate:
  • How much my emotions are affected during that time before breakthroughs when I believe it will never come together again
  • How little control I have about when those breakthroughs come, even if one subscribes to the "keep working at it until the inspiration shows up" philosophy
I love:
  • The part after the breakthroughs come and everything starts to come together
  • How mysterious the process is and that feeling that the creative breakthroughs are a gift, even if I'm involved in them
I'd like to:
  • Be more confident during the pre-breakthrough times of chaos and self-doubt
  • Learn to balance the "keep working at it until the inspiration shows up" philosophy with appreciating the mystery and learning when to let a project rest for a time
Anyone have any good stories or comments about their experiences with the creative process?

Friday, February 20, 2009

100 Books

Ah, the first Facebook meme I came across (thanks, Cindy!) that I thought would be applicable to this blog...if tangentially. :)

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
How do your reading habits stack up?

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
3) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee x
6 The Bible x
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte x
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens x
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy x
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller *
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare * (made it about 2/3 or more through in high school and college)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier x
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger x
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot x
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell x
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens *
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy *
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams x
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh x
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky * (started it once)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame x
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy x
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x
34 Emma - Jane Austen x
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen x
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini x (not that I liked it)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell x
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown x
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez x
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving x
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins *
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood x
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan *
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel x (I liked the first third)
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen x
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens x
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley x
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon x (loved it)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas x
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy x
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding x
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (used to use chapter 11 as a cure for insomnia)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens x
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett x
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson x
75 Ulysses - James Joyce * (I'm a glutton for punishment)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath *
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray x
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens x
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert *
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry *
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery x
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (tried to read it once)
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas x
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare x
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo x

Have read: 57
Want to read: 12
Unread: 31

Take that, BBC! Hm, I suppose that's what two English degrees will do for you, although I read a surprising amount of them in high school.

Snarky comments on the ones I haven't read welcomed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reading, Reading, Reading...and Speed-Writing, Academic-Style

After all the non-schoolwork-related submissions last week, plus a big breakthrough on my dissertation idea, I've been getting back to the schoolwork portion of the semester with verve.

One breakthrough of the week: I wrote 7 pages of (I believe reasonably coherent) academic papers for one of my classes in 3 hours the other night. This is a good sign, as I will have to write quickly when I get around to taking my Big Nasty Exams (otherwise known as prelim exams, comps, or The Thing that Keeps You from Starting Your Dissertation Thoughts in Earnest, depending on your discipline, department, and/or institution).

Speed-writing practice with theoretical concepts fully in hand=good. One could even say that preliminary exams are a sort of speed-writing contest, not that different from NaNoWriMo (with ours, you even have exactly a month to complete them once you've started). Hm....

Okay, back to more reading of theoretical works in preparation to discussing them in class before more writing of papers and presentations about them, leading to final course papers before those ideas get reconstituted into Big Nasty Exams and then the dissertation, with perhaps some conference papers and academic papers somewhere in there (all of which will have inevitable creative by-products). And so the PhD goes on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

22 Immutable Laws of Publishing

Okay, these are amusing, but don't take them seriously--after all, since I've seen publishing from both sides, I know they're only a quarter true, since they're half-true from each side. :)

Submitting (Oneself?) (to Editors?)

So I've ended up submitting a lot of stuff this week, oddly:
  1. My novel manuscript to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, as mentioned a few days ago.

  2. The National Communication Association conference deadline was Wednesday, and I submitted an academic paper idea as part of a panel proposal.

  3. The Purdue Literary Awards deadline was this Wednesday, and, figuring "why not?" I spent a couple of hours formatting, printing out, and submitting a bunch of different pieces, a couple analytical, the rest creative.

  4. I'm polishing up and about to send out our co-written academic book chapter which was accepted back in late fall in proposal form (now the whole chapter's due by tomorrow--mostly done except for that "final" polish).
In all this writerly submission activity, I've been thinking a lot about what it means that this process is called "submitting" and "submissions," words that are given very different (often negative) valences in other contexts.

The truth is, that submission of writing pieces involves submitting in some of those senses, though not in a completely negative way. That is, it involves submitting to at least one other person's evaluation of your work--a person that has some amount of power over whether it gets published and/or whether you get some sort of lauds and/or monetary compensation for it.

And that can cause anxiety, that vulnerability that this submission entails. Or we can remind ourselves that that person or persons, while their opinion is valuable, are only one example of an audience for the work. A good audience, and one to learn from if they give you feedback, but not the only one.

Keeping a broader perspective is everything, in some cases. Very helpful for sanity and such.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Definitions for "Writer" and "Author" (1)

Hm, not surprisingly, since we're writers (or are we?), authoring things (or do we?), people of my ilk tend to get in heated discussions about what defines a "writer" vs. an "author."

Here's the link to the wide-ranging (if somewhat repetitive) and long-running discussion--more commentary on my take on it later, after this insane day of longness on little sleep is over (I'm actually having a remarkably good day, but it seems a good occasion for whining).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pushing the Manuscriptlet Back Out of the Nest

So this morning I woke up, checked my email, and found an email from Amazon that was actually useful for a change. For once, they weren't trying to hock me titles like Microbiology Made Easy from the one time I ordered a few textbooks for my med student boyfriend. On the contrary, they told me about the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, which is a very legitimate contest (sort of like an American Idol for manuscripts) involving a grand prize of a lovely large advance and publication from Penguin Books.

The judges? Very respectable authors Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton. The genres? The novel manuscript could be from any genre. Better still, there was no entry fee.

The only drawback? It seemed it was the last day of 6 that one could submit (deadline was midnight tonight or until 10,000 entries had been submitted), and one needed to submit not only the first 3000-5000 words of the manuscript, but also the full manuscript, and a 300-word pitch statement. Optionally, in case one got to the part where people voted on one's manuscript, you could also submit an author photo, synopsis, bio, and story about the experience of writing the book.

And Sunday is ALWAYS my day off.

But it was exciting--I figured, why not? I'd been a bad mama bird, not having pushed my 81,000-word manuscriptlet out of the nest for the last 6 months, but I had most of the elements sitting ready to be dusted off and relatively quickly readied for online submission. No time to re-revise the manuscript or the excerpt for the sixteenth time, of course, but when I re-read the opening excerpt, I was much happier about it than I'd expected from my recent negativity regarding it. So I spent my day quite delightedly revising the pitch and polishing up the other optional elements, just in the extremely off chance that my little pages stayed aloft long enough for the voting round.

And it's now submitted. I feel good about having sent it off again. I'll be extremely happy if the little thing makes it past the first round, in which all but 2,000 entries are pruned away on the basis of the pitches, to the second round, in which they actually read the opening excerpts to get it down to 500 quarter-finalists. No matter what happens, though, it's just nice to have it out there in the world again. It's so good to be creatively active.

Oh, and you'll definitely be hearing if it gets to the point where people need to vote for it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ah, the Facebook 25 Thing Bleeds to Writing Blogs...

It was inevitable (the leap from Facebook to writing blog articles with lists of 25 thoughts about writing for the week).

Quite nice, though. I don't mind the 25 lists at all, for similar reasons to the ones mentioned here (though I noticed the positive points sooner than the author of the latter article, particularly because of the similarity of the phenomenon to a typical writing priming exercise). Thanks to John for the latter link.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Creative Genre Hybrids, Web 2.0 Variety

I love it when people figure out how to hybridize the creative with what's usually considered to be perfunctory genres. To take something that could be ho-hum and create something zippy out of it that I actually have fun reading.

The product descriptions at Woot.com (where they sell mostly one product per day and give you a good deal on it) are worth keeping an eye on.

Check them out. Beyond helping us as writers think more creatively about genre hybridization, they're often amusing and rarely take themselves seriously, something which is incredibly refreshing anywhere, but especially in the world of retail.

Oh, and check out the discussions over there on the products as well--the site has an incredibly dedicated community that's highly prolific in their commenting on the products, and so it can be quite entertaining to read the discussions.

(Plus there are good deals over there--I got an amazing deal on an expensive vacuum awhile back.)