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...]