Leap Day

I thought about holding off on this till Friday and making it part of the week’s writing group theme post.  But I wanted to put something up just because it’s the 29th of February, which doesn’t happen very often.  And so, because I would like to think that this is also a rare event*, I will just tell you: I got turned down for the fellowship I applied for last fall.

I’m not taking it personally.  It’s a good project, on which I’ve had enthusiastic support from people who know the field.  I’ll keep working on it.  I’ve asked for feedback and I will apply again for this and other fellowships next year (the trick is that I need to be at home or close to home; can’t do year-long residential things far away).

The main disappointment is knowing that, because of teaching this summer, I’m going to have very little teaching-free time in which to write until summer 2013.  So, I’m back to juggling commitments, thinking about how to balance the needs of students against my need for writing time, trying to work out teaching schedules that make it possible for me to meet classes, attend committee meetings, commute only 3 days a week, and manage writing and the rest of my life, and all the usual jazz.  I already hate my schedule for next fall.

Never mind the hugs and sympathy.  It’s not that big a deal, and the only thing that will help the particular brand of hurt feelings I have is getting more publications (or another fellowship).  “Showing them” has always been a good motivator for me.  So I’m off to write some more.

*I know rejection is not that rare.  Nonetheless, part of my strategy for dealing with this one is to say it’s a 29-Feb kind of event.

Wednesday’s inspiration

“Lida de Malkiel’s work methodology involved years of careful reading of primary and secondary sources, which she annotated in the margins.  She took careful notes, which she used for the drafts that she wrote in her notebooks, and which she supplemented with additional citations in the form of slips of paper or file cards affixed to the relevant notebook.  A particular piece would be subject to rewriting until the author considered it worthy of publication.  This process was so painstakingly thorough and the material untilized by Lida de Malkiel so extensive that it often took several years for a piece to see the light in print form as a long article or book.”

Ana M. Gómez-Bravo, “María Rosa Lida de Malkiel (1910-1962),” Women Medievalists and the Academy, ed. Jane Chance (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2005), 725-6.

Tuesday’s inspiration

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart.  You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names.  You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world.  Come to it any way but lightly.  Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Stephen King, On Writing (New York: Scribner, 2000), 106.

Monday’s inspiration

“[Jean] Lafond never held a teaching position, since he wrote but was never allowed to defend his Sorbonne dissertation.  His family controlled the newspapers in Rouen, which had editorialized for the Vichy government.  As I heard the story, which may be apocryphal, when Lafond handed in his doctoral thesis, his mentor put it on his desk where it was to remain—unread. . . . What I loved in him was his old-world graciousness and his indomitable spirit.  When I discovered that, in the face of his difficulties, he had published something every single year but one, I made that my goal.  (Well, some years it has been just a book review.)  I felt, and feel, that I somehow owed it to him for his great skill, for his unfailing kindness, and for his example.”

Meredith Parsons Lillich, “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (1932–),” Women Medievalists and the Academy, ed. Jane Chance (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2005), 938.

Writing group, week 3: taking care of yourself

It’s all very well to say writing must come first, or that it is the most important thing and so must be scheduled in your best and brightest working times and you must reschedule other obligations to fit around it.  Sure.  Go ahead and say it.

Now that that’s out of your system, let’s think about the lives of people who do not live a ten-minute walk from their offices at schools with low teaching loads (or at least small class sizes), few committees, and the same preps to teach over and over, people who have some combination of partners, children, aged parents, companion animals, health problems of their own or of others to attend to, and other non-academic commitments.  Their “best times” may also be the best time to exercise, the best (indeed, only) time to get children fed, dressed, and out the door, the best time to drive to work, the best time to get some sleep, the best time to talk to an aged parent in another time zone, and the best time to schedule classes or committees so as to keep time on campus to two days, or three days, rather than four or five days with the concomitant increase in commute time and expense.

I’m going to channel dear Comrade PhysioProf for a minute here: some of us are FUCKING TIRED.  It’s hard to write at night when you want to go to bed.  It’s hard to write at dawn when you haven’t had enough sleep.  It’s hard to write on Friday when you’ve had four straight days of teaching, meetings, grading, advising, blah, blah, blah.  It’s also hard to write when there are five, no, six, no, here comes another, batches of assignments to grade.

Plenty of people will give advice for writing in less-than-optimal times: always keep a document open on your computer, carry paper (notebook, whatever) around with you, scribble on post-it notes about something you’re reading so you can write up the notes later and call it writing.

But I’m going to go heretical again.  Maybe there are more important things to do than write.  Consider whether you can help yourself more by getting some sleep, or some exercise, or a proper meal.  If Friday is your only open day, do you sabotage yourself by staying up late on Thursday “to relax”?  Listen, I’m in no position to criticize if you do.  When I’ve put in a long day of meetings, or a long day of grading, I totally want to stay up late reading trash in the bathtub, or watching two hours of Downton Abbey, and because I have no self-discipline whatsoever, I usually do that thing.  And then I regret it.  But may I, tentatively and politely, suggest that you try doing as I say and not as I do?  You’re welcome to think of it as being smarter than I am.

On the one hand, I’m encouraging you to relax.  On the other, I’m saying think about what is most truly relaxing.  If you’re making things worse for yourself tomorrow, maybe you should do something different tonight.

At least try a compromise: take the bath without the novel, and go to bed.  Don’t watch the two-hour program on the DVR; watch a half-hour one, and go to bed.  Don’t drink the whole bottle of wine; have a glass, and go to bed.

Try a different compromise: if you find an hour that you could use to write, take half of it to go for a walk or do some yoga, and the other half for writing.  Or again, buy some time by getting take-out for dinner, and get something healthy that will make you feel better tomorrow (and maybe sneak in some writing time in the car or the waiting area, by heading out to collect the food before you need to).

The writing needs to get done, and it will get done.  You also need to get some sleep, eat decent meals, breathe some fresh air, and look after your family, whether it’s young, old, furry, or scaled.  Take an hour.  Take a day.  Take a weekend.  Breathe, relax, sleep.  Your writing will still be there.  Seriously.  It’s not a jealous lover that’s going to have a tantrum and leave if you’re up to the eyeballs for a few days.  It’s a longterm part of your life.  It’ll love you anyway.  It’ll save up some funny things to share with you when you come back to it.  It may even come and sit on your feet if you give your attention to something else.

Roll call:

No goal posted.
Contingent Cassandra
Work on establishing routines; finish up some leftover ancillary tasks connected to the P a-i-r. Re-familiarize myself with what I have on the P conference paper/article-in-progress.
Plan ~15 hours work of research/analysis that the MMP needs; that is, figure out when I can do that (some of it needs the library), schedule it, do at least 3 hours of it this week.
Compile the electronic copies, save to a hard drive, cloud storage, and thumb drive.
500 more words!
Get something, anything, done on the article.
Finish methods chapter. Write two pages.
Write two pages on Tuesday, dang it.
One goal only. Turn the cut-and-paste job on the paper I reverse-outlined (it needs a name…) into an actual rough draft.
Complete grant application.  Begin work on conference paper/article.
Use what’s left of this Saturday morning to write some more, and also work on planning the article more. Then try and write for 30 mins a day.
Luo Lin
Four solid hours of work. I want to finish chopping up the paper so that I can put it back together.
Finish the rest of the project; 15 minutes writing at least 3 days.
Nancy Warren
Finish draft of paper.
1. Finish chapter I’m working on now.
2. Significant progress on next chapter (it’s more than 1/2 done).
3. Get chapter descriptions out to the editor.
Rented Life
Begin reading chapter 1 of book needed to research project 1. Set aside at least 30 min every day where I do something I want to do that isn’t work or house work.
Finish chapter 1, finish seminar application, finish course proposals. Go to campus less.

Inspiration, Day Five

If you’ve put off writing till Friday, and now you’re tired, here are some suggestions:

Take a pad of paper and your favorite pen and go out to breakfast.  Write while (or after) you eat tasty, nutricious food that someone else has cooked and served.

Close this browser, now, and write for 30-60 minutes before you do anything else.  After that you can do anything you want: errands, coffee, the gym, a nap, read a novel, eat chocolate donuts.  Hey, it’s Friday and you’ve done your writing.  You’ll have earned a reward.

Really tired?  Give in.  Go back to bed.  Get some rest.  When you wake up, write for 30-60 minutes before you do anything else.  No excuses on this second start to the day.

Arrange to meet a friend or a colleague for a writing date.  Take 15 minutes at the start to catch up, but then write for 30-60 minutes.  You’re not allowed to talk during that time.  This is the adult version of parallel play.  If you have a kid of the right age, it might work to take the kid to the coffee shop with a book, coloring book, or similar activity.  That is, you write, the kid colors (or whatever).  Not the other way around.

On the other hand, if you love coloring books, that can be your reward for writing on Friday.

Check-in will be up around noon.

Inspiration, Day Four

“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them.  At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (Random House, 2002), 18.

Inspiration, Day Three

“I think, in the long run, that to find people who support your work, it’s best not even to think in literary terms but to look for easygoing and open-hearted human beings with a low threshold of embarrassment, who, generally speaking, aren’t beset by terror, fear, or what we, out here in California, call a ‘scarcity consciousness.’  These are people who think there might be enough of everything for everyone, who can consider popcorn for dinner if you’re busy working.  You’re looking for someone who loves you—or likes you well enough—to let you alone.  To say, ‘congratulations!’ if you get something published.”

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life (New York: Random House, 2002), 68-9.

Inspiration, Day Two

“I would say to the worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could not find a minute for it: ‘If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say: “Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!” you would be surprised how they would respect you.  They would probably all become playwrights.'”

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write (1938; rpt. Graywolf Press, 1987), 100.


“In an expansive mood, whatever I wrote was great.  In a constricted mood, nothing was good.  This made writing a roller coaster of judgment and indictment: guilty or innocent, good or bad, off with its head or allowed to go scot-free.  I wanted a saner, less extreme way to write than this.  I wanted emotional sobriety in my writing. . . . I had never realized that all my drama around writing was exactly that, drama.”

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write (Putnam, 1999), 18-19.