5000 words

Some bits are still long quotations that can be cut/massaged/edited. Some bits are notes to myself (what was the status of the duchy of Lorraine at this time?). But it’s 5000 words. And I’m still not done with the first section, though I am getting close.

All week I’ve been feeling a queasy mixture of dismay and excitement. Is it . . . ? Could I be . . .? I didn’t think . . . . Was it when . . . ? It might be fun to . . . . After all, lots of people manage it. . . . I just didn’t imagine it this way, right now . . . but, really, it is exciting!

There’s no official confirmation yet (it may still be too early for that), but I strongly suspect that I am With Book.

So far, so good

Posting about work progress makes me a little nervous, because I fear I will jinx myself. But I’m now writing that essay I wanted to finish this summer, and in 4 days I’ve reached 2550 words. If I can keep producing at least 500 words a day, every day, I will have a full rough draft before classes start, and then I can edit and polish in daily sessions after teaching begins.

In fact, at the moment, I’m a little worried that the essay will keep growing at an excessive rate and turn into a monograph. That would not be the worst thing that could happen, obviously, though it would take longer to finish.

I’m telling myself to just keep doing the 500-600 words a day and we’ll see what that produces by mid-August. If I hit 10,000 words and there’s no end in sight, then that’s one thing; but if at 10,000 words there’s only one section left to write, then I’ll just have to do some slashing and burning when I reach the editing stage.

I love getting the writing done. And I’m glad I took all the time to outline and take notes, because that’s what makes it possible to pour out all these words.

Oxfam coincidences

I’m sure no one remembers this post, or cares. But what I’m pretty sure was this book came into my hands in an Oxfam book shop in York. Of course I’d mis-remembered some details, and totally forgot the drunken writer. I probably imported some bits from other fluff I’d either looked at the night I didn’t buy the book when it was new, or found elsewhere, or just thought would make a better story. After all, I decided not to buy the book when I first ran across it, and when the York copy came into my hands, I soon knew why: I can’t read anything with basic punctuation errors of the sort I regularly and repetitiously explain to undergrads.

But it was in Oxfam, which is a good cause; I acquired it, read it in the tub to decompress from a very intense (and wonderful) conference, and left it behind. So it’ll probably turn up back in the Oxfam shop soon enough.

Hmm. Maybe I should write the version I came up with.

Not-quite-random: books and writing update

My missing book revealed itself. It was not, after all, at school. Once I got back from campus, I found it hiding among the books about medieval reading, on a shelf below one of its more plausible homes. I don’t think there’s any book-list application that will reveal where I’ve absent-mindedly put a book when it isn’t where it ought to be. This is why I want space for a proper LC-ordered library (and time enough to get all the books labeled and organized), so I’ll put books back where they belong in the system, rather than stuffing them where there’s room on a subject-related shelf. Or, in this case, near a subject-related shelf.

I really would put them back. I’m a little obsessive about proper shelving, once books are visibly coded.

My RL writing group thinks well of my outlines for mini-essays in my summer project. This is encouraging.

They also think one of the mini-essays should be a full-size essay of its own. This is, at the moment, discouraging. I’m hoping to feel better about it soon. After all, I’ve already done a lot of research and some organizing for such an essay. It’s not as if I’d be writing from scratch.

But I already have another spin-off from this summer’s project. It’s not so closely related, but it’s more exciting. And I’m trying to clear the decks so I can write the Putative Book that has been haunting me for years now.

While I’m wishing for a bigger study, view of trees, etc., I wish the Writing Elves would stop by now and then. I know it’s no good hoping. They’re undoubtedly terrified of Basement Cat.

Dame Eleanor Hull to the Lordly Elves of Scrivening sends greeting! I would let you know that Basement Cat is shut in his own room at night, and my study is available to you. It is true that the Grammarian sometimes sleeps there, but he’s much more gentle than BC, and really I’d be willing to shut all the cats out of my study if you’d come and help with all my projects. Or even one of them. Please let me know what I should leave for you in exchange: milk as for brownies’ household help? Whisky? Coffee and cookies? Quill pens made from doves’ feathers? Genuine linen paper? Silken cushions upon which to rest between sessions? Your wishes are my commands. I remain your most humble and well-wishing servant.

Who needs Prozac?

Because of my carelessness, this morning Basement Cat got to eat all the kibble he wanted. This was quite a lot of kibble.

He has been remarkably sweet and placid all day.

Lest you think we have been starving him, he has been at a stable, healthy, vet-approved weight all his adult life. But his normal diet is canned food, and what he really loves is crunchies. We use kibble to reward him for good behavior and to lure him to his room at bedtime.

That may not work today.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered if it might be better to have a fat and happy cat than a healthy aggressive cat. The thing is, we had a diabetic cat once, and we don’t want to go there again (especially because Basement Cat would likely be much less good about insulin shots than our former cat). Diabetes is commoner among cats, especially neutered males, than you might think.

Still . . . a placid Basement Cat is a different critter.

Writing groups redux

A couple of years ago, I wrote about real-life writing groups. This summer, I’m involved in three different writing groups. The RL one is still going, though at least for the summer we’ve ditched the facilitator and are managing just fine on our own (and again, I wonder if getting us to that stage was one of the secret goals). There is one other person in that group who works on literature not so very far away from mine, and she and I can be very useful to each other as “real” readers, people who might run across each other’s work as we do our own research. The others have no real clue about our topics, but the effort of answering their very basic questions often produces insights that are worth writing down.

Then there are two online groups, the Stupid Motivational Writing Group organized by Jonathan Mayhew, and the one organized by Notorious Ph.D. and ADM. Jonathan’s just has members posting their weekly goals, and then reporting on how they did in the past week. The medievalists’ group also does that, but in addition the hosts ask thought-provoking questions about writing-related topics: what you did when you got scooped, how to get back on track with a laid-aside project, how you like to organize your time.

All my groups are useful, in their different ways. Weekly check-ins are good. Though the RL group meets weekly, we rarely talk about goals; rather, we discuss whatever piece of writing was submitted for that week, and then whoever is up next briefly introduces what is to come. In that respect, it’s product-oriented. So the Mayhew group is useful in clarifying what I want to do and making me face what happened if I haven’t done it.

But the medievalists’ group also has that aspect, plus it’s more helpful to me because it is so social. This may be a gendered preference; when I talked about this with Sir John, he said men are more likely to be motivated by the threat of public humiliation if goals are not met, while he thinks women are more motivated by positive social interactions. What matters to me is that I “know” a lot of the people in the medievalists’ group, some IRL, some through their blogs, and I made the acquaintance (whether virtually or RL) before the group started. So I care about their opinions; and I like hearing their responses to the questions (and those questions are a great way to get to know people I didn’t know of before the group started); and I enjoy the feeling of having a lot of company as we work toward our summer goals. And ADM and Notorious are good about giving feedback, too. Even a brief acknowledgement of one’s weekly comment is encouraging. Participants also interact with one another, offering advice on various topics, and I like that a lot.

The Mayhew group just doesn’t have this sort of interaction. I “knew” a couple of people in it before it started, but not so well as I “knew” some of the participants in the other group. I’ve checked out the blogs of some Mayhew-groupers, when they have blogs; and I’ve tried to comment on other people’s posts, to encourage some of the interaction that I like in the other group. But interaction isn’t really happening. The group seems very impersonal. Now, this may be deliberate. It throws people back on their own resources, and I can see the ways that this is a good thing (as I wrote about all the meta-purposes I could see in my RL group, in the post cited above). Writers need to be resilient in various ways, and just as being able to dismiss some comments from my RL group makes me better able not to get bent out of shape about comments received from reviewers, being left alone with my writing (after check-in) may be good for me.

Still, I find it so encouraging to check back to people’s comments in the group run by the medievalists. On a bad writing day, hearing what other people are achieving (or not) makes me want to emulate the currently happy writers, while it comforts me to know that they, too, had their bad weeks. I can easily believe that this is a gendered difference. The odd thing is that so often, I am a guy (don’t ask for directions, more likely to offer advice than just to let someone vent, etc). So I find it strange that when it comes to writing, I’m a girl. If that’s what it is.

Anyway, I want to thank all the organizers of writing groups. Clearly I find them useful or I wouldn’t be signed up for three different ones! Thanks as well to all the participants who make the groups possible. If you don’t have a writing group, allow me to encourage you to organize one; and if you do, I hope you’ll find this post useful. Think about what kind of group you want, and how to achieve that.

Odi et volo: quare id faciam fortasse requiris*

I hate it when my books go missing. I know I own a copy of On Arthurian Women—my book list attests to it (thanks, Laura), but it’s not with the English Arthuriana, and not with the French Arthuriana, and not with the recent acquisitions that haven’t been properly integrated into the larger collection. It’s not in the piles around my desk, which I reduced considerably before going traveling. Possibly it’s at school, because I did teach Arthurian lit this spring, but then why didn’t I bring it home? And why can’t I teleport my books back and forth? Why don’t I at least have a web cam set up in my office so that I can scan it from here, instead of wondering for the next week whether I’ll be able to find the blasted book in my office when I next go in? GRUMBLE grumble grumble. I had an idea, and I wanted to look into whether it was viable.

Oh, well, hey, if I used it to teach, maybe I made a PDF of the essay I wanted . . . yes, indeed I did. Ha. More ways than one to skin a cat. But I still need to remember to look for the book when I next go to campus.

Which brings me to what I want: a bigger study. Now, this is definitely a complaint from privilege. Since I finished grad school, I have always had a study, and I know this is not a luxury every scholar enjoys. In my condo, where my study was smaller than the present one, a male friend once visited and lamented that he would love to have so much space for his own work in his house. But he had children (and in the Bay Area, at that), so if he wasn’t in the office, he worked at the kitchen table or on the couch.

Nevertheless, I still want. I want to have space to organize all of my books by LC number, in order, without banishing any to “oversize” or “undersize” shelves. I want space for shelves next to my desk where I can put the in-current-use books and have them immediately to hand when I’m writing an article. I want to have a separate table (or even a separate little room or nook) for the sewing machine and other hand-work supplies. I want to have less cat paraphernalia in my study. I want space for two desks (or one much bigger one) so that I can have a grading/teaching prep station and a research station set up simultaneously. If my study continues to do double duty as my dressing room, I want more space near the closet to keep accessories, so they aren’t distributed between different rooms and perched on top of books. I want a space to stash the wastebasket where Basement Cat can’t knock it over, instead of having to put it up on a shelf where he can’t get at it! I want space for a comfy chair or futon couch, or maybe one of those zero-gravity chairs, so I can read more comfortably. And, as I have said before, I want one or more big windows that look out onto trees, and get a lot of natural light.

What do you long for in your work space (whether or not this is a realistic wish)?

*Paraphrase of Catullus’s “odi et amo”: “I hate and I love: perhaps you ask why I do this.” He continues, “nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior,” “I don’t know, but I feel it happen, and I suffer.” I memorized these lines long before I really learned Latin, because I ran across them as the epigram to something and found them so striking. Apologies to Catullus if I have mis-remembered.

Tour de Chat

Since the big guys are taking the day off, I bring you this pre-recorded commentary on the highlights of last night’s stage in the on-going Tour de Chat:

Basement Cat hit a fast pace right out of the starting zone, going straight up the Col de l’Escalier, followed by two laps around the bedrooms, including the Cat Four climbs of the Col du Lit Matrimoniale and Col du Futon. A daring descent of the Col de l’Escalier almost ended in disaster when he took the last corner a little too fast and came frighteningly close to the wall at the foot of the stairs, but he recovered and turned the corner into the last short descent before making up time in a rapid dash across the living room, completely ignoring the feed zone. He kept his cadence high in his ascent of the Hors CatĂ©gorie Col de l’Arbre du Chat and detoured onto the Boite de Carton before negotiating the highly technical descent of the Col de l’Arbre du Chat. He kept up the pace through the second climb of the Col de l’Escalier, descending rapidly and gracefully, and collapsed at the finish line in front of the rocking chair.

Unfortunately, the time-keepers were laughing too hard to record what was undoubtedly a personal best for the individual time trial on this course.

The Shakespearean Heroine abandoned after the first climb of the Col de l’Escalier.

The Grammarian says he’ll attempt the time trial when he gets good and ready, although he prefers multiple laps of the Col de l’Arbre du Chat: “The Col de l’Escalier just isn’t my style. I need a steeper course to make an impact.”

Basement Cat said, “I was feeling really strong, really good, my legs were strong and I was on good form, so I just went for it.”


Anyone who has been following the summer writing group hosted by ADM and Notorious, and some who haven’t, know that I’m working on an article this summer, in between writing a conference paper, traveling, gardening, watching the Tour de France, working on a translation, and what seems like a zillion other things but probably is under 50 even if I listed every single thing, which I’m not going to do (fellowship application, shit, forgot about that one; maybe I should list every little thing).

And since there has in the past been some interest in outlining and developing an article, I thought I’d write about my process again. This time, I was lucky: the basic thesis is pretty simple, and the component sections of the article pretty obvious (well, obvious after a lot of free-writing on the topic), so I was spared a lot of the “re-arrange the pieces” stage. Instead, I free-wrote about each of the sub-topics, and then set up six or so pages (first on paper, then on the computer), each with these headings:

Main points
Topic sentences
Textual support
Critical support/arguments
Historical support
Other notes (this was a late addition, after I started wanting to remind myself of particularly brilliant bits of writing from the original conference paper or free-writing)

I started by filling in either “main points” or “textual support” (the bottom-up approach, still). Critical and historical quotes or sources mostly got moved in from another document containing notes on things I’d read for the conference paper or while I was thinking about how to expand the paper. Sometimes this showed that on a given topic, I needed more of one or the other. When I was clear on the main points and how they grew from the text and how they interact with the current state of critical thought, then I constructed a thesis statement and topic sentences.

Most of the outlines now run about 1 1/2 pages. They are not conventional IA1a(1)(a) sorts of outlines, but I think they will do the job of keeping me on track with the argument and the necessary critical and historical references as I write the full essay. I expect there will be moments, nonetheless, where the writing takes the bit between its teeth and runs off in an unexpected direction, and moments where I realize that This Big Point, though big, can be very simply stated and does not need a lot of development, whereas some quite ancillary point may have to be argued in detail. Both of those things always happen to me. But I can now see a map of the whole essay, and when I print these mini-outlines, I’m going to spend awhile thinking about how the thesis statements and topic sentences work together in the larger context before I start the stage of further expansion of outline/rough draft.

“Further expansion” and “rough draft” are more or less the same stage. Ideally, the outline expands to the point where it is a draft, with prose stringing together the points, the quotes, and so on. But sometimes it’s easier to “expand” than to “write,” and sometimes it’s easier to allow the writing to run than to hold it back and keep thinking about the shape of the outline.

For this week, I’m happy with my progress. (On this project: I have a collaborator waiting on a chunk of translation, and there’s that fellowship application I forgot about, and I need to communicate with some graduate students about their work, and I’m way behind with Project D, and I should do more planning of fall classes [I made a start on the flight home, at least], and I have to write up a reader’s report on an essay I was asked to review for possible publication, and . . . ack. Ack!) I’m happy with this one thing! All you other nagging tasks can piss off for five minutes!


I’ve always worried that my English professor licence would be yanked if I admitted that I do not listen to NPR. On my long drives to and from work, I like to crank up the local alternative station and rock out. (I’m positive my students would never believe this, and many of my colleagues no doubt expect that I’m either a classical-music type or an NPRer, like them. I know a fair amount about classical, and I used to listen to it more, but no, it’s not my driving-drug of choice.)

But that station is changing formats. I’m going to have to figure out something else to do about music. I don’t want to listen to books on tape. Tried that. For me, it’s tiring to be read to; besides, there’s not a lot available that I actually want to hear, and sometimes I take against a reader. I listened to a lot of Teaching Co’s lectures, but there’s a limit to how much of that I can take, as well. Basically, I’d rather have my time in the car be down time, not an effort to learn or keep up with something serious.

Because, you know, I’m lazy. I like radio because it’s right there, no need to download anything, and because it’s a good way to find out about music I wouldn’t necessarily pick for myself. So I’m bummed.

Even if it means there’s one less way in which I might be revealed as a fraud.