Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Um...a (technical) question

According to Blogger, as of sometime last month, my blog has been receiving over 1000 hits a day. This is up from, you know, 50-75 when I actually post something. (Note that, before Friday, I had last posted about 6 weeks ago.)

I can't imagine that this is accurate. Anyone have any insights into this? Or has Blogger's viewing counter gone haywire?

Friday, June 10, 2016

On my writing goal for the year

In updating (after a long break, as you can see) my Writing Goal 2016! box in the margin over there, I noticed a month-old comment from Flavia asking where I came up with my goal. (I'm trying not to apologize anymore for being such a terrible blogger, but wow, I'm a terrible blogger.)

Flavia asked how I decided on 80 days at 500 words/day or 40,000 words for the year. Those words are all on my book manuscript, by the way, so the gaps don't mean that I haven't been writing--just that I've been writing and working on other things (such the Article That Will Not Go Away And Stay Away, By Which I Mean Get Published).

The answer is not particularly scientific. As of January 1, I had written, I think, about 50,000 words of this manuscript. Many of them are the wrong words, but they are, at least, words.

In my wildest dreams (yes, I'm that crazy!!), I will finish this MS in 2016.

A good length for a monograph is 90,000 words. Hence: 40,000 to go.

As for the 80 days/500 a day? Well, 500 a day seems like a reasonable clip (on average), and not too intimidating. At that rate, it'll be 80 days of writing. Out of 366 (it's a leap year!), 80 is not very many at all--hardly 1 in 5 days. So when you put it that way, I have no excuse for not finishing the book this year--except for all that pesky, you know, reading and research and thinking and stuff that also has to go into it. Also revising. I have had days when I've worked and written a lot and only added 12 words to the word count (or even had it go down)--don't we all?

So that's that. I'm afraid that the answer isn't terribly exciting.

But maybe this is more interesting?: Breaking the book down into words and days is part of an overall project of re-framing how I see academic writing, and just making it into part of my daily work. This past semester, I think that I managed to write--not just read, but write, even if it was only to revise a sentence or two--on all but two work days, from January through early May. I've never even come close to doing that before. And I did it by making the writing work much more concrete: creating endless lists of very specific tasks, keeping track of the time that I spend working, using an accountability check-in website (as well as my own chart and even, to a much lesser extent, this blog), talking to other people about my work. I think that I'm succeeding in making it a thing that I do, rather than a big scary amorphous hovering threat.

Of course, this is the first day that I've managed to do any writing since before Kalamazoo. I was on a week-long research trip, then two weeks of vacation (of sorts) with my husband and son, and we got back late on Wednesday night. So today is my 40th birthday, and one of the things that I asked for was a couple of hours to work...and I got it, and I did! (See sidebox.) Now I think that I'll read something academic and wait for the guys to come home bearing lunch.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


So here it is, the annual writing of the conference paper that I proposed the previous summer and no longer have a great deal of interest in/feel is particularly relevant to my current research/find especially plausible. And then the annual attempting to wedge whatever I really want to write into something that roughly matches my accepted paper title.

When will I get smart about this, and start proposing abstracts for already-written (unpublished) work? Like chapter drafts? I have chapter drafts; I have them in plenty. (Well, I have about three.) What's wrong with me?

That said, I am looking forward to Kalamazoo, which I love, at least when the weather's good.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why hello there! How are you? I'm fine.

Well, this has been a pretty pathetic semester, blogging-wise.

But let's cut to the chase. I'm supposed to have been blogging about the transition from a resource-poor 4/4 SLAC to a public flagship 2/2 R1, yes? So what on earth do I have to say about that, now that the year is (yesssss!) almost done?

Point no. 1, which I think I've made before:
I'm not less busy than I was in my last job, but (for the most part) I'm happier about that with which I am busy.

I go up for tenure (again) in Fall 2017, so these are the years of saying Yes. I'm now on...5? 6? graduate thesis/exam committees, I participated in a very labor-intensive year-long seminar, I gave an hour-long public talk in March, I was a respondent for a graduate student symposium, I'm co-chairing a committee--yes, yes, yes. The good news is that I'm actually interested in most of what I'm saying Yes to. The bad news is that I'm busy, but I'd be busy anyway, so whatever.

Point no. 2:
I feel like I have a professional trajectory again. Truly, changing jobs IS the cure for the post-tenure/mid-life crisis. Except that changing jobs is impossibly hard, but you all know that already.

I'm not sure that I have any more points at the moment. It's Friday. The weather has (finally) been pleasant. I just drank an extra glass of wine (define "extra" as you like) on the deck watching the sun go down through the pines, listening as the evening bird noises gave way to the frogs racketing away in the marsh at the bottom of the hill. There is street noise here--a not-very-busy road in the near distance--but the traffic starts to settle once the sun sets. For the first time in a very long time, it feels like a Friday.

I'm going to enjoy it.

Have a good weekend, and I hope to be back soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Words, but no words


The newborn baby of a dear friend died on Friday.

She was born three weeks ago. But her birth was extremely traumatic, resulting in brain damage so severe that her body more or less shut down.

I'm not going to write a lot about this here, at least not right now, but this weekend I was with my friends, her parents, and with the baby's body. I sat with her for much of last night, and she was buried--a green burial, so no casket or embalming--this morning.

It was the first time I'd seen a dead body.

Seeing a dead body is not scary.

At three o'clock this morning I felt it as an honor, to be allowed to sit with her in the stillness of the night. She was very cold. I sat for a while in the early dawn with my hand on her brow, just to make her a little bit warmer.

Her skin darkened and settled visibly in the night.

My friends are not okay, not right now, but they're strong, and they will be.

And I can't stop thinking about my own little boy, and how impossibly hard it would be to say goodbye to him.

Rest in peace and love, little one. Peace, peace to your parents, who are so good. Love to all.

I'm canceling class tomorrow. I need sleep and some time to be still.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Your Writing Brain is a Three-Year-Old Child

As I mentioned recently, I'm part of a mutual mentoring team with a grant, and the main thing that we're spending money on is a writing coach. We all have second books that we'd like to see through to completion, but, like everyone, we're afraid of getting sucked into the vortex of service, teaching, family obligations, and simple procrastination.

We've met with our coach twice, and she's already changed my thinking about writing in profound ways.

What I've found so stunningly helpful, despite (or because of) its simplicity, is the need to break things down into manageable, visible tasks.

Obviously, a lot of writing work is unmanageable and invisible--at least, as tasks. Coming up with an interesting argument. Providing sophisticated analysis. Thinking original thoughts. Etc.

But, when planning your writing time, you can't have on your to-do list, "Come up with an interesting argument about X." (I know; I've tried.) Instead, you need to think about what you do to get there.

Painfully obvious, maybe. Yet to me, spelling this out was somehow revolutionary.

Now, a part of me (a small part, because I do love me some lists) rebels against this way of thinking. "Writing isn't just performing a series of discrete tasks!" I complain. "I need freedom! I need to think!"

Sure, of course. But here's an example.

I just got an R&R on an Article That Will Not Go Away. One of the things that I need to do is think through some tricky conceptual stuff in the introduction. So, as my writing task for Monday, I had, "Think about conceptual problems."

"Hm..." said the writing coach. "How will you do that?"

"I don't know."--the honest answer. "Maybe I should read some things first? Or make the easy corrections?"

"Could you do some generative freewriting on one of the problems for 15 minutes?" she asked.

Just like that: it became a task that I was likely to do, instead of one that would wind up on the semester-long to-do list and gradually get kicked over to next year's day planner! And freewriting works well for me. Doing it is likely to help me think more clearly about the essay as a whole.

Last night, it occurred to me that this is exactly like what we do when we're doing our best at dealing with Bonaventure: we provide clear, recognizable parameters.

At dinner, for example, if we say, "Eat some more of your green beans," he needs to know exactly how many bites or else it turns into an endless back-and-forth ("I did eat more!" "No, more than that." "But I did!"). If he's watching a show, we're able to get him to stop watching if we tell him in advance how much longer he can watch. If we don't, there's chaos. If we do, compliance.

I really think that my own brain is exactly like this. I need to know what the limits are, what the next activity is, and when I'll know that I've done enough in order to stay happy and compliant. When I don't, I get anxious, unsettled, stalled--in short, writing becomes impossible.

So, in sum, when you're planning your next writing project, remember that you're actually three years old. It really helps.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I have a new addiction:


Do you see the sidebar over there? The one called "Writing Goal 2016!"? And do you see the two days in which I clocked more than 2000 words apiece? Those were WRITING RETREAT days.

The first--a three-hour deal with three friends, up on the special faculty floor of the library. I had just come up with a whole new framework for my book (one that I'm still excited about, by the way--and at 10 days later, that's probably a record), and in those three hours I drafted a brand new introduction to the beast.

The second--today--an all-day retreat at a Remote Location with about 8-10 folks, two of whom I already knew. Nothing very formal (we brought our lunches and other necessary gear). Somehow, sitting around a table with a bunch of other people--in silence--bending to our tasks--well, it helped me move forward. A lot.

There's no way that I could keep up this pace, even if the semester weren't about to start. For one (very important) thing, I need to do some reading and research in order to have more to write. But I feel great about the start of the year, writing-wise, and I've finally worked through some sticky places in my current chapter.

A tiny, secret part of me thinks that I might, just maybe, be able to finish a complete draft of the book MS in 2016. But don't tell anybody. Resolutions always start to wane in February....