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.