I’m still living in the past and vicariously enjoying Cambridge via Maria Nikolejeva, who writes:
“We all write in different ways. I remember a writer friend was furious when I mentioned that I had finished a novel in three weeks. Obviously the reason for his rage was that no decent writing could go that fast. However, the three weeks of actual writing had been preceded by months of thinking and researching. The process of transferring words from my mind onto the computer screen was a matter of my typing skills. However, I know, or know of, writers who proudly say that they are happy if they can write a hundred words a day. Or twenty. Or ten.
“Similarly, I can write a 6,000-word scholarly article in a day, but it means that I have been thinking about it for a long time and just need to write it down. I think best when I weed the garden or, as I have started doing recently, walking at fast pace in the park. After that, I rush to my desk to record all the clever things that came to my mind during the walk. I could never sit down to write a hundred words from scratch. I just don’t function this way. But some people do. Some fellow scholars set goals for themselves: a thousand words per week? That adds up to six weeks for a 6,000-word essay. Sounds reasonable, but it includes thinking and researching. If you intend to publish two articles a year, what are you doing the rest of the time?”
This sounds wonderful if you can do it. I don’t write in my head, or anywhere but on paper or on-screen. I know many people who “write in their heads,” and once had a professor, in grad school, who advised me to go for a walk and think through a writing problem I had come to see him about. Then as now, I could/can set out on a walk with the firm intention of thinking through a problem, and within a few paces become absorbed in looking at flowers, birds, the veining on leaves, clouds in the sky, unusual numbers of cars in a neighbor’s driveway, in waving at the kid playing in his yard, listening to birds or the wind, smelling burning leaves or dinners cooking, and otherwise being engaged in my immediate physical surroundings. Anything so abstract as writing or problem-solving takes not just a back seat but another bus entirely.
This is (part of) what I mean when I say I am one of Nature’s contemplatives. I contemplate what is near me, not anything abstract. If you put me in a blank-walled room, I could go into my imagination and amuse myself for quite some time. I might even be able to “write in my head,” in such conditions. I’m not sure that I’d be able to recall that “writing” when I was back with paper or screen, however.
What am I doing the rest of the time? Reading and thinking; transcribing wills and IPMs written in Latin, in secretary hand; struggling to turn “hey, that’s cool!” moments into actual coherent arguments (I suspect this is something that head-writers are doing in their heads, but again, I lose the thread pretty fast if I’m not making physical notes).
And, of course, prepping classes and grading. I am very behind on grading just now. Hence the procrastiblogging.