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.