I finished the not-so-small task and sent it off to another team member today. My thoughtful estimate of the time it would take (as opposed to my initial off-the-cuff and off-the-mark guesstimate) was exactly right. I thought I would finish and send tomorrow, and if I had stuck to my plan of how much to do each day, I would have . . . but when I finished this morning’s stint, knowing I was so close to being done, I went back to it this afternoon. It feels good to get it done.

Since the reward for a job well done is another job, I’ll have something else to work on in tomorrow’s writing time. I am trying to clear out several tasks not related to the article-turning-book project, so I can focus properly on that. Soon, soon.

A question: when you ask someone to write a recommendation letter for you, how long is it polite to wait for an answer? I know this is a busy time of year. That’s why, if people are going to say no, I’d like them to say it so I can give other people a decent amount of lead time. Is a week enough time to think?

I can’t leave it alone . . .

I’m always grumbling about things in the Wall Street Journal, usually (to be fair) items on the op-ed page. This time, it’s a letter in Saturday’s issue. And yes, I do feel like I belong in this XKCD cartoon.

The letter (in response to something about higher education that I don’t remember) recounts the recent interaction of a college junior majoring in English with the old fart who wrote the letter. He said he was an English major 50 years ago, and his favorite author was Faulkner. “What did he write?” asked the college junior. The old fart was shocked, and did not ask who her favorite author might be.

The encounter was related, apparently, as an illustration of the Dire State of Kids These Days Higher Education.

Dude. She’s a college junior. She’s twenty, or thereabouts. How much of the whole of English and American literature had you read at 20?* Maybe she’s heard of Faulkner but isn’t quite sure she’s not mixing him up with someone else and would rather ask than start talking about the possible mix-up. Some 20-year-olds don’t like embarrassing themselves by getting something wrong. Maybe she’s been studying British literature so far, and will get to American authors next year. Maybe if you actually talked to her about her favorites, and your favorites, you might discover a new-to-you author you might enjoy reading, and maybe you could even tell her what you like about Faulkner and get her interested enough to either take a class or read him on her own. But no, you have to get all huffy and write to the WSJ instead of thinking about the value of reading different things, and, you know, using your education to expand your mind and the minds of others.

*And if you try telling me you knew it all at 20, I am getting in my time machine and going back to quiz you about Piers Plowman.

Like it? or lump it?

This week (so far) I’m doing better by research and writing than last week, and I’m not so tired. I’ve used tricks like setting up my desk the night before with the materials I will need in the morning, and leaving myself a note with precise goals to meet, and reading a little bit in some “inspirational” writing book in the evening, to psych myself up.

But, really, though I enjoy such books and have a fairly extensive collection, some of them must be taken with a grain of salt. Or maybe not taken at all. Paul Silva, for example, says at the end of his book, “Writing a lot will not make you enjoy writing or want to write. Writing is hard and it will always be hard; writing is unpleasant and it will always be unpleasant” (130).

Jeez, Paul, speak for yourself. Or even, if you must, for psychologists, though I have trouble believing everyone in the field feels that way. I enjoy writing. I want to write regularly, I get grumpy and anxious when I can’t write steadily, and (within reason) the more I write, the more I want to write. I don’t mean going on binges, I just mean that if I put in fifteen minutes, I want to go for an hour, and if I write an hour a day, I’m happier if I can get to two hours. I don’t think I need more than that on a regular basis. Sometimes writing is hard, for me, but really the hard part is organizing and working out an argument, which I don’t think of as writing, but as thinking. Producing words, once I know where I’m going, is easy and pleasant. Editing is enjoyable.

So the mild pleasure and interest that Boice advocates is my natural state. For me, then, if I “don’t feel like” writing, or am procrastinating or anxious, it’s a sign that something is wrong. And I think it is worth figuring out what the problem is, rather than ignoring it.

Often, though not invariably, my problem is time management gone wrong. Today, for instance, I had a lot of trouble getting started on what I thought was a smallish task I had been putting off for no good reason. Well, okay, it seemed that the reason might be anxiety that a co-writer would think I was stupid. But once I got started, I quickly realized that this is not such a small task. It’s not huge, but it does need about 6 hours and is really three separate-but-related tasks, not a single one-hour piece of work.

As soon as I figured that out and had a plan to tackle the work in an appropriate way, all the anxiety vanished, and I happily got on with things. The problem wasn’t really feeling stupid, or fearing my co-writer’s opinion; that’s just a sort of reflex to “explain” anxiety in a plausible way. At some level, I think I knew that my one-hour estimate was wrong, but I hadn’t considered the matter closely enough to be consciously aware of how far off I was. The anxiety is a symptom, not the disease.

I know Z is with me on pacing, planning, and work as a pleasurable part of a life. Writing is not the problem. Other things cause problems with writing. Sometimes, as when my mother was very ill, there is nothing much to be done about the problem except push it aside during writing time. But with tractable problems, it seems to me much better to work out what they are and then address them, so I can get back to working contentedly.

Are Z and I the only heretics who think writing is easy and publishing is fun?