This is the next-to-last “official” WWW post. My classes start next week, and I intend to keep working hard on writing in the first week of classes. Then I’ll do a couple of “late paper” posts on the last two Mondays in January, so we can see who is doing mop-up operations on winter-break projects even after classes get underway.

The beginning of last week went well, for me, and then an insomniac period set in: not the “good” insomnia in which it’s hard to get to sleep but then I can sleep a normal amount, or where I wake up in the middle of the night and get up to read for awhile. No, it’s the really nasty type, in which I sleep lightly, rousing frequently, and don’t get into deep, refreshing sleep. I may be sleeping, but I wake up almost as tired as when I went to bed.

So in the last few days, instead of writing (outlining) the MMP or working on a syllabus, I have been cleaning my study. Two floor-to-ceiling bookcases have been emptied, dusted, and re-filled; a small stack of books will be given away; 4 inches or so of photocopies are set to become scratch paper; four shoeboxes of odds and ends have been reduced to three. This isn’t a serious attempt to purge, just an effort to be tidier, but the experience of having every item on those shelves in my hands makes me realize I can definitely get rid of some stuff.

It also reacquaints me with materials for projects that, one way or another, haven’t come to fruition. The roads not taken, the genuine dead-ends, and the creative U-turns. The phrase is Julia Cameron‘s, referring to self-sabotage that keeps you from finishing a project: you get scared, or you get cocky and try to do too much and then get scared. “Creative U-turns are always born from fear—fear of success or fear of failure. It doesn’t really matter which,” she writes. But recognizing them is hard, and painful; not only that, it has the potential to undermine progress elsewhere.

The MMP has moved along in the last few weeks, but it’s not done. I’ll start teaching soon. I have to finish prepping for spring courses, do some committee work and other service tasks, and then there will be grading and the two conference papers I have to give this spring, and . . this . . . and . . . that . . . . The list starts to look very threatening, and between insomnia and the concrete evidence of past failures-to-complete, I begin to wonder if I will ever finish it.

But, Julia says, you have to keep moving forward and coax yourself along. I have not dropped this project. I’m feeling skittish about it, but a lot of that is the fatigue talking. Once I get back to sleeping properly, the writing will go better. Some parts of the outlining can be done fairly mechanically, as can another task associated with analysis of one part of the project. I can keep working on those things even if I’m a bit brain-dead.

Also, now that I’ve started, I really want to work my way through the other five bookcases.

I’m going to attempt to call roll, but if I’ve left you out, feel free to comment anyway, and blame the omission on my sad brain-state. I’m not sure who’s still hanging around for the Writing Workshop, and I’ve lost track of some people’s goals, but anyway, there is a list, and here are some questions to think about:

Where are you at with your goals? Are you back to teaching, or do you still have some class-free time to work? Do you need to triage your goals, or re-set for the spring semester/winter quarter? Are there fears that need to be faced? Are you tempted to sabotage yourself in some way? How can you protect yourself?

Another Damned Medievalist:

Contingent Cassandra: fully-fleshed-out outline.


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell:

Good Enough Woman: read another chapter from the philosophy text and 30 more pages of primary text, and fill three handwritten pages in my notebook.

Ink: binge-write.

Lost in Academe:

Luo Lin:

Matilda: two hours for my work every day; finish the first part of my encyclopaedia work

Naked Philologist: Check-in/brainstorm with supervisor; finish the section I’ve been slogging away at; make a reading list for filling in gaps in said section.

nicoleandmaggie: do actual work.


Rented Life: type 29 pages of notes.

Sapience: revisions.

Sisyphus: clean up the lit review footnotes; polish the thesis a bit more; deal with Dr. Does Everything’s comments.

Sitzfleisch: stick to the schedule, which includes 14.5 hours of writing.


Trapped in Canadia:

WTG Homesteader: one page per working day.

Writing Triathlete: look through edition materials and size up where I am with the project so I can figure out the next step; write two article abstracts.

Zcat abroad:


24 thoughts on “Creative U-Turns

  1. Hello,I am sorry to hear that you have not slept well recently, DEH. It must be hard. I think it is good to do some cleaning up when your brain does not work as well as you want. After that, you will have a tidy room, which helps you to work confortably.I have finished what I had planned, but the rest of the encyclopaedia work needs more research. I hope to finish it by the end of this month. Teaching starts the day after tommorrow. I am planning how I can continue to work on my own research regularly. Again, I want to re-build my writing habit. '15 minutes a day', I am saying to myself.Goal for next week: finishing the half of the rest of the encyclopaedia work; having at least two hours a day for my own research; writing at least 15 minutes a day.Have a good week, everyone!Matilda

  2. Oooh, Sadly I'm still tweaking my schedule here. My abstract is due Sunday, so tomorrow through Sunday I will work on it for 15-30 minutes a day (with the hopes that the paper begins to develop itself as well)–Also, I need to set aside about 30-60 minutes a week to work on the pedagogy piece I need to write. Ideally this come shortly after each class that deals with the work on which I'm writing. So, we'll say the goal is 15-60 minutes of writing 4-5 times a week.

  3. I'm sorry about the not-sleeping…I know exactly what you mean. (My typical insom goes something like this: mind races but I'm too tired to get up and actually do anything about it, yet deep sleep is elusive.) Hugs.And cleaning one's office (one's room of one's own!) is another aspect of keeping momentum, I think. As you consoled me last week. 🙂 So kudos on that.Most of the actual writing progress this break came last week, just as I'd imagined it would. I did all revisions (multiple chapters), finished the current chapter and started another. If I can make it through this new chapter before Monday, I will have met my goals for break. However, like you, I am feeling anxious about the new semester's responsibilities–not about them, exactly, but about how they will affect the writing.What I have planned for this term, to keep one scheduled block a week for this project. My schedule is different for the first time in that I have a "free" day that I don't normally have (in that I'm not teaching that day). I will have to fight very hard not to allow that to become all prep or all grade time. If I could just keep 4-5 hours of it for this project, weekly, I would be happy. Sure, it's not x days a week, but it's something. It's not walking away completely, which I did last term.

  4. This last week has been such a blur. I did manage to start the overhaul on the article before heading to MLA. There's still a lot of work to be done, and I don't expect to be done by next week, but I might be close. My plan is to aim to be done by the end of the month; if I can do that, I think I will be in good shape.

  5. I'm sorry to hear about the not-sleeping, but have to admit that I'm a bit jealous of the office-cleaning, which is definitely a productive activity in the long run. I live in a studio apartment, and the living/sleeping/writing/pretty much everything else room (I do have a separate kitchen, bath, and several closets) gets pretty chaotic. I'd hoped to reduce the chaos over the break, and have had some success, but not much. On the other hand, I *did* complete a fleshed-outline of the next section of the article-in-progress, and found that the next section will probably fall nicely into 2 subsections that I estimate can be completed in 1-2 writing sessions each. On Saturday, I completed a conference presentation proposal for a panel related to the article-in-revision. And today, I got a good start on revising the article-in-revision. Based on the work I did today (which included both planning and actual rewriting/condensing — negative word counts are actually what I'm aiming for), the goal for the week is to complete a full, condensed draft of the article-in-revision, and also to complete some related correspondence (e.g. permissions letters). I think I'll also have time for one session with the article-in-progress this week, just to stay acquainted. I also need to do some teaching prep. I'm lucky enough to have two more weeks before classes actually start, but a few tasks need some lead time, and so must be completed this week. I'm trying to keep that to the afternoons (and, going back to an earlier topic, trying to practice a morning transition, perhaps by moving from revising/condensing to correspondence. I might save that 'til later this week, since a single 4-hour session, with a couple of short breaks, was very productive this morning, and I think another might give me a good start on the most difficult part of the revision — rewriting one section completely). And I'm also trying to get back to exercise, so I'm going for a walk right now. Thank you again for doing this, Dame Eleanor, despite your own workload and insomnia and looming class prep. As I was saying to some friends yesterday, having somewhere to check in and report progress (and/or muse on why progress is not occurring) has really helped.

  6. Three comments: (1) Good post! (2) I hate that kind of insomnia, which usually leaves me looking as ragged as I feel; (3) just reading about what you cleaned and decluttered makes me feel as though I'd done it, too.

  7. Sorry that I fell off the radar there. First, let me say that I despise insomnia, especially since I tend to have the same kind as Ink–the rolodex flipping madly, while I lay there and wish I could summon the energy to get up and do something.I have been tidying, in preparation for moving. It's the part I like about moving–getting clear in some ways.As for goals, my change of job has me a bit off-balance. I was writing a third article this academic year for the now-former institution. I don't need it for the new job, but I want to finish it anyway. I want to make sure I maintain writing time, because I also would love to resurrect the dissertation. I have some fears to overcome, since I will have to establish relationships with new readers. So, I think my goal this spring semester is to triage the dissertation: contact my readers, send them some chapters. Oh, and move mid-semester.

  8. Creative U-turns are always born from fear—fear of success or fear of failure.Maybe I'm misunderstanding what this means, because it sounds completely wrong. Sometimes creative U-turns are necessary and productive and born of a deeper undestanding of what you are doing, because sometimes you really are going in the wrong direction, and you need to turn around and go back before you waste even more time and resources.

  9. Thank you for the sympathy about insomnia! I always imagine the rest of the world happily dropping off the minute their heads hit the pillow and waking up happy and energetic, so I am comforted to know that I have company in this problem. And yes, it is quite satisfying and calming to have a tidier set of bookcases.But enough about me! Matilda, congratulations on finishing what you had planned. That's great. Lost in Academe, it often takes awhile to get schedules tweaked properly, but your goal sounds quite reachable.Ink, it sounds like you had a great week. Congratulations, and I hope the momentum will sustain you into the semester. Sapience, getting work done in the same week as attending MLA deserves a gold star. Contingent Cassandra, it sounds like you, too, had a very productive week. If you'll work on the MMP, I'll tidy your bookshelves. Or we could just inspire each other. EAM, it's exciting that you can now think about a bigger project.CPP, I think both that Julia Cameron meant something a bit different, and that I prefer your version. It's true, sometimes you have to go somewhere else. Maybe I will yet find the "somewhere else" on the project I'm calling a creative U-Turn, something I didn't follow through on when I should have, and then someone else did the work I had hoped to. I've had some of your kind, as when I pulled the plug on a particular angle for a book project a few years ago (, but when someone else produces an edition of a short and obscure text, there's not much need for another one. I would like to think, though, that someday I will figure out how to use the work that went into the non-edition.

  10. Heyhey – sorry to hear you're having a tough run, DEH.Still not finished the endless section, but I had a productive discussion with my supervisor, made the reading list, and am taking the time to polish it properly to show to an academic who's not my supervisor.So, uh, this week, still FINISH THE SECTION. I'm also going to try my hardest to do readings in the mornings and write in the afternoon. I hope that'll be the start of a more rigid schedule.- Highly

  11. *complaint about damp summer, too much work, excised*Well, I've actually managed to get some writing done! This counts as a form of success, not least because I have to fight my cat for the right to type over the top of her head.1000 words added to the article. They're not great words, and many of them are highlighted for me to re-think later, when I have better language skills than a melted brain after ESL teaching. Still working on forming an argument.So, goal for this week: write at least 500 words a day. This should get the article to a working length within a week or so, and then I need to do a lot of research.

  12. Dame, I'm so sorry about the insomnia. I have the same problem and feel your pain!I've managed to write 400 words this week – not great, but not bad. I'm hoping this signals the end of my writers' block, particularly because my supervisor and I have now set up weekly meetings to keep me accountable for some sort of forward progress.This week's goal – 500 words and writing for one hour a day. Classes have started again, so I'm trying to keep the schedule reasonable. There's no point in freaking myself out when I fail to meet unattainable goals.

  13. Also sorry for dropping off the radar. I've been in hiding. Mostly, after getting the article done and turned in, I had Christmas, then got sick. Bronchitis. I may have mentioned. And I thought I had one more week till classes started than I do. So I am madly trying to get my classes together. AAAAARGH. And I have to write that book review. I did get through the book I meant to, or at least enough to realize I needed to buy it, if only for the bibliography. And I am reading the textbook for my gender class, because it's the first time I've ever taught a course on which I have NO formal background. I'm finding that I do know everything I've read so far, in that I haven't learned anything from the book in terms of fact or theory. But it's helpful to have it organized by someone else. This week is devoted to getting better and course prep.

  14. I did about half of my reading this week, and I did my notebook writing. I also *might* have had a breakthrough yesterday when it comes to my argument. The nice thing about what I'm coming to–argument wise–is that it's clear and simple. But what scares me is that because of that clarity–an almost absolutist clarity–it might be hard to adjust or nuance if I change my mind as I continue to write. I also worry that the argument's clarity comes from my lack of understanding about the philosophical concerns involved.That said, I'm grateful for the clarity and will probably just press forward through the fear. I start classes next week, and I still have a syllabus to write (I'm using new texts, so I've got a lot to do). but this afternoon, I'm going to work on the dissertation but it's my last chance before meetings start tomorrow and the madness begins.But I have decided to pursue mindful flexibility this term, which is exciting. In the past, I've often spent days planning to read/write in the afternoon, only to get usurped by meetings. But this term, I'm auditing a philosophy class (to help with my dissertation) TR at noon, and I've decided to go straight from that class to the library for an hour to read or write (without stopping at my office!). My meetings don't usually start stacking up until 2:30, so this might be a great way to pay myself first, so to speak.Thanks to this group (and Sitzfleisch, in particular) for the idea!By next Monday, I hope to have the 12 pages I promised. Not sure I can do it, but I might get there!

  15. OK, so my goal of sticking to my schedule did not entirely work out, but I did get about 8 of those planned 14.5 hours of writing in. So, that's good. And, I've learned that I love my teaching schedule this quarter, so that helps. It looks awful on paper–two very, very early mornings and one very late night–but it just works. But: I am 100%, completely, totally, absolutely terrified about this book proposal. I am sabotaging myself at every turn, primarily by simply not working on it. I'm also resentful of the project, which isn't helping. I'm mad at myself for taking this on when I could have just skated by this year, and, to be perfectly honest, I'm looking for ways to get out of it *all the time*.But, the thing is, I know I really don't want to get out of it. I just need to woman up and face the music, which should be easier than it feels, considering that I wrote the damn song. My goal: again, to meet my 14.5 hours. With the long holiday weekend, I will have even more time, and I plan to have a complete draft of my proposal letter and my introduction done by next Tuesday evening. Best of luck to everyone this week! DEH, I hope you get some zzzzs.

  16. Naked Philologist, this is progress, and it's great that your meeting with your supervisor was productive.Zcat abroad, complaints about damp summers are completely justified, in my book. And 1000 words is a good week. Trapped in Canadia, 400 words is 400 more words than you had last week, and you are absofrigginlutely correct about it being better to set and meet small goals than to get discouraged about not meeting bigger ones. Better baby steps in the right direction than running like hell in the wrong one.ADM: ARRRGHHH! Yes. We are medievalists, hear us roar. Kill that course prep, kill it dead. (And then come back and write some more.)GEW: you are making good and mindful progress. May your clarity continue and extend itself to all areas that would benefit from clarity.Sitzfleisch: 8 hours sounds excellent, just on its own, and it's more than half of what you had hoped to do, so let's call it a WIN. I'm going to quote some more of St. Julia's advice about fear in case you can use it: "Think of your talent as a young and nervous horse you are bringing along. This horse is very talented but it is also young, nervous, and inexperienced. . . . take a look at what jumps make your horse so skittish. . . . A review jump may be okay while a rewrite jump scares your talent to death. . . . One trick a seasoned jockey uses is to place a green horse in the slipstream of an older, steadier, and more seasoned horse." (The Artist's Way, p. 157) The slipstream idea might help you: who do you know who has successfully completed a book proposal (if completion is the problem) or shopped one around (if that's the problem)? Ask them for advice. Dr Crazy just posted about her MLA experiences, and commenters kicked in: Also, Flavia had a series about her book progress: search "getting it published" at feruleandfescue.blogspot.comHappy writing, everyone. I have just spent the whole damned day on conference planning and I am damned well going out for a walk NOW while it is still warm and sunny. I promise I will come back and do some writing later or in the evening.

  17. @Dame Eleanor: how do you feel about *building* bookcases, or at least adapting well-worn Ikea ones as quasi built-ins? I've been meaning to do that ever since I moved in (several years ago), with the result that I have pile of both bookshelf parts *and* books. Sadly, I suspect that I'm even less qualified to wrestle with the MMP (I'm seriously lacking in languages, and from the perspective of many around these parts, the stuff I study is nearly contemporary). I hope the walk is pleasant, and helps with the sleeping. I read somewhere recently that getting out in what sunshine there is helps with sleeping in the winter (which is apparently harder for many people than one would think, given all the darkness).

  18. OK, so I failed the writing group due to dealing with the family. Yes, you are supposed to cordon that off, deal with life + writing, but I failed to do this.So now: I'm working every day during semester, I claim. I am allowing myself late paper on *what I was supposed to do during winter break* and hoping to do much more.

  19. Profacero, I wanted to refer you to posts in which I wrote about the way my family made it impossible to write at various points. But I can't believe how little mention I made of that impossibility. Basically, for all of 2008, when there are long gaps in posting, it's because I was dealing with aged parents, and there was assuredly no work-writing in those gaps, either. These things happen. You have not failed anything. I don't think you even need absolution on this one, but if you want it, I will grant it, and wish you peace and comfortable writing during the semester now that the family is dealt with.

  20. DEH, thank you a million times over for your gracious and productive reply. I really do feel as if I've been touched by the hand of wisdom. I think I shall go give my horse a carrot.

  21. How is it Wednesday already? I got in 27 pages, though I also added several more pages of notes to my journal so I'm in a bit of a loop. Type notes, cross of to-do list, write more notes, need to type said notes, it's back on list. My biggest challenge is going to be making sure I don't drop my creative project during the semester because of work obligations. I really let it get away from me during break because of personal drama and it was frustrating. Sympathy on not sleeping well DEH, that's often my problem. One day I went in and the secretary asked me if I had a black eye. Nope. Just tired. Thanks for hosting this. I needed a place to take my project seriously and really think about what I was doing.

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