I once knew someone who didn’t like English classes because she had no interest in made-up stories; she wanted to know about the real world.

You might imagine that we were not close friends, and you’d be right.

I have spent my life steeped in narrative.  As a child, I told myself the story of my life as it happened to me, to the point where I sometimes had to stop myself murmuring “he said” or “she said” after someone spoke in my presence.  That wore off as I got older, but to some degree I have continued to see myself living in a story about what I’m doing.  In graduate school, for instance, I was the heroine of a novel about a graduate student who proved to everyone that there really was a dissertation in the topic I wanted to write on, even though the faculty spent four years dismissing it.  Not only that, I was the plucky heroine who could buckle down and write it in two years, in defiance of the person who told me I couldn’t possibly write a dissertation in two years.

Now I find it’s helpful to have a story, or maybe I mean to inhabit a role, when it comes to both teaching and writing.  It helps me power through a pile of grading if I am being the Stern Yet Helpful Teacher who hands back papers with insightful, useful comments.  It helps me put in the effort to write a few sentences at the end of a long day if I see myself as the Dedicated Scholar Who Always Makes Time To Write.  Implicit in these views is the promised happy ending: the students whose lives are changed for the better, the publication in the prominent journal.

I have a new story this week.  This one is about the slow-to-publish scholar who discovers that she is about to be scooped, and manages to organize and focus her life so as to finish off the opus in suitably short order and send it off to a worthwhile journal in time to make it the other person who gets scooped.

Wish me luck.

Starting this week, please use the 4-paragraph format for your comments:

1. Last week’s goal.

2. What was achieved toward that goal.

3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong.

4. Goal for the next week.
Here’s the roll call:

Contingent Cassandra
David Whitehead
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
Luo Lin
Nancy Warren
Rented Life


31 thoughts on “What’s your story?

  1. 1. Last week’s goal: finish the huge document. Spend at least 15 minutes on each of 5 days doing something with conference paper #1.

    2. Achieved: Finished the huge document. I lost track a bit of the second goal, but I do have about 600 words on the conference paper, and I’m sure I looked at it at least 3 times.

    3. Comments/analysis: I really was close on the document: I finished it Friday night. Though it was an over-booked week, I did manage to do at least a little most days, and I had one really good day. Next week looks similarly overbooked; in fact, it’s actually even worse. And yet I somehow have to find something like an hour a day to write, as well as working through a couple of piles of grading.

    4. Next goal: 2 hours research/writing on Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday; at least 15 minutes staying in touch with projects on Tuesday and Thursday. Finish conference paper. Make some sort of progress on the MMP.

  2. Hey, I know I’m not participating in the writing group, but I just wanted to say I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of myself as living in a novel of my own life. Sometimes, though, I feared I was in the wrong novel — like Absalon thinking he’s in a romance when he’s in a fabliau.

    1. I’m glad I didn’t think of that when I was a kid. As a grad student, of course I feared I was in the tragic-realist novel rather than the comic chick lit one I hoped for. I’d so much rather be fun and not a tragic object lesson.

  3. umm how about total rejuggle sabbatical remainder and take different tack.

    1. Last week’s goal. turn a conference paper into an article in my spare time while still making progress on sabbatical book … by Friday I will pick where I’m submitting and the “frame” I’m using.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal.
    well I changed everything on Weds. as outline in more depth on my blog, but I decided to take on an exciting side project as my writing group project. So far I’ve submitted abstract to conference and to journal based on idea, identified documents and source and turned 500 word abstract into to 682 words

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong.

    hmm let’s see, other than swapping my project completely, and reconfiguring rest of sabbatical, it all went rather well. Writing in my spare time is hard if kids are around

    4. Goal for the next week
    write 500 more words of “abst to article”

  4. 1. Last week’s goal: get at least half way through revisions on Chapter 1.

    2. Achieved: got about 3/4 of the way through revisions on Chapter 1!

    3. Analysis: I’m finding that just saying in public that I need to do something is just the kick in the pants to get myself to finally do it. I’d been putting off starting the revisions on this chapter for several weeks, but when I sat down and started doing them, I found it was a lot easier than I expected, mostly because I had forgotten about a conference paper I did last year that turned out to have a lot of the necessary materials for the revision. It also helped to give the chapter to a friend and figure out a better structure for the argument. (Subheadings are my friend!)

    4. Goal for next week: finish revisions on chapter 1, which involves expanding one section from about 1 page to 3-4. Also, I need to write an application essay for an NEH Summer Seminar I want to do. I’ve started drafting, but it’s a giant mess. (BTW, if anyone has ever done one of these Summer Seminars and would be willing to talk about the application process, I would be eternally grateful. I’m feeling a bit lost.)

  5. what the heck? I posted once but disappeared? Umm my story? week one and I’ve already switched my plan.

    1. Last week’s goal.

    I’m looking to turn a conference paper into an article in my spare time while still making progress on sabbatical book … by Friday I will pick where I’m submitting and the “frame” I’m using.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal.

    Wednesday shifted my plan, and decided to make “extra project” into my writing group project, began tracking down documents and turned 500 word abstract into 682 word doc

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong.

    hmm let’s see, other than swapping my project completely, and reconfiguring rest of sabbatical, it all went rather well.

    4. Goal for the next week
    write 500 more words of “abst to article”

  6. 1. Last week’s goal: complete chapter draft for sudden obligation.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal: just over half the chapter draft completed (the rest in outline form)

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong. I had to wait until almost midweek to start writing (to confirm that the original author wasn’t going to come through). I should have filled up more of that time with getting my other obligations out of the way instead of doing research for the piece because, while I’m more than set on research material, I had to stop writing on Thursday and mark. I’ll need to do another day’s marking before Tuesday, too. Lesson? When you’re having to delay writing, fill in that time with other stuff you’re not going to do while you write!

    4. Goal for the next week. Complete the chapter draft, then start working on grant application for article research and writing. (The grant application will serve as an organizing tool and semi-outline for what I need to tackle next and as it’ll be due around the end of March, having it done early should help jump-start the work.)

  7. 1. Last week’s goal: pack the paper copies of the dissertation and the books safely.

    2. Only about halfway through–I did pull together all the photocopies of dissertation research articles into a box, marked it “Open First,” and put fluorescent yellow tape on it, then packed the books the same way.

    3. I agree with Sapience, there is something about announcing a goal in public that takes the accountability up a peg. Also interesting was that even organizing the articles reminded me of the salient points, and got the planning going again.

    4. Goal for next week: compile the various copies of the dissertation; get rid of duplicates, keep and clearly mark the newest editions of each chapter.

  8. Well on Wednesday I shifted my plan, and decided to make my “extra project” into my writing group project,

    1. Last week’s goal.

    turn a conference paper into an article in my spare time by Friday I will pick where I’m submitting and the “frame” I’m using. I’ve a decent idea already.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal.

    Sunday – submitted abstract to conference and to journal based on idea
    Monday immediately started tweaking abstract day after submitted
    Wednesday – began tracking down documents and other relevant sources, wrote a bit as I did all that (500 word abstract is now a 682 word doc called abst to article)
    Thursday NOTHING,

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong.

    hmm let’s see, other than swapping my project completely, and reconfiguring rest of sabbatical, it all went rather well.

    4. Goal for the next week
    write 500 more words of “abst to article”

  9. (1) Writing a fucken grant application.

    (2) Minimal progress, lots of procrastination.

    (3) Had a lot more fun talking to the people who work in my lab about their cool science than sitting in front of a computer.

    (4) Write the fucken grant application.

  10. 1 Last week’s goal: finish at least one item of the encyclopaedia work, writing at least 15 minutes a day

    2 Achieved: nothing. sigh.

    3 Comment: I have been cought a bad flu this whole week. In the bed for all 3 days, then got up and did some domestic chores, taking care of my children. What I only achieved after a disastrous week is the energy to finish my old encyclopaedia work in two weeks, no matter how I will be busy. Rolling in the bed, I realized I had no spare time. I just must work.

    4 Goal for the next week: therefore, my goal for the next week is: finishing the half of the rest of this work. No more procrastination, please. Daily 15 minute writing about anything – about my paper, or documents read recently, some future project and so on.

    I like imagining myself being in a story. For me, this is a kind of a tool to think my situation some time objectively to find a solution, other time super-subjectively and then confort myself.

  11. 1. Decide if I’m going to stay in blogosphere/writing group.

    2. Decided: yes.

    3. Believe it or not, this was a big deal for me…because I was gearing up to wander off into non-acccountability land instead. Where I meander instead of produce.

    4. Write at least two pages of brand-new chapter.

    ps: go, DEH, go! Scoop that scooper!

  12. THANK you, Ink. I’ve been feeling rotten about the possible scooping, mostly because I can’t cope by throwing myself into finishing the MMP (what I long to do) until the grading and conference paper are dealt with. I’m so glad you decided to stick around. Two pages sounds like a good, do-able goal.

    Matilda, when you’re sick enough to go to bed despite having two small children, I wouldn’t expect you to write. Good luck with being more productive this week now that you’re feeling better!

    CPP, how long is your grant application; how much has to be new writing; how much might you move in from somewhere else? My apologies, but I don’t know much about the world of scientific grants, as opposed to humanities ones. Nonetheless, I’m muttering “write the fucken thing” to myself now. Good mantra.

    FeMOMhist, great progress, and again, a good reachable goal. Can you tell that lately I’m all about the modest goals so I can secretly hope to exceed them but not feel like a failure if all I hit is the modest one?

    EAM, it’s true, just handling documents can get the neurons firing. Who knows what ideas this week’s goal may spawn?

    JLiedl, half a chapter sounds like a lot of progress; and I am taking your lesson to heart, as well.

    Sapience, you are so awesome. Do you mean applying to participate in an NEH seminar run by someone else, or applying to run one yourself? I can help with the first but not the second.

    DEH—oh, that’s me. OK, well, make sure you keep taking care of yourself by going to the gym and eating properly so you have the energy to cope with it all. And listen to Janice and get the other stuff out of the way so that you can concentrate later.

  13. 1. Last week’s goal: Come up with a plan for dealing with projects.
    2. Achieved: a plan that maps out what I think is a reasonable schedule for getting things done.

    3. Making a plan for the semester brings up all kinds of self-doubt about what I can actually do.

    I got some work done at the end of the week on my main project, which made me happy.

    My mantra for the week was “remember what makes you feel good”–mainly to get myself out the door for a run and to yoga class, but it applies to getting down to work on my research as well.

    I wish it wasn’t so much work to get past inertia and procrastination.

    4. Goals for next week:
    Four solid hours of work. Reorganize my paper according to my new outline.

  14. I live a lot of life in my head, and I love telling stories, but your post made me realise I don’t tell positive stories about myself much – I’m rarely the heroine, more likely to be the observer. Or I’m the heroine but the story isn’t about my life.

    1. Last week’s goal.
    a) write a few hundred words of free writing on each of the grant topics (to help me decide which one I actually want to commit to)
    b) reverse-outline the several files of random stuff I have that should form part of methods paper, so that it becomes more wieldy
    c) Figure 1 for MSc student paper.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal.
    a) nothing. b) printed it all out, put it in a new folder, wrote the name of the project in curly writing on the front of the new folder. Basically, nothing. c) did the analyses, the figure looks dire.

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong.
    I just didn’t write this week, I looked at the screen and felt inadequate. I did find the time to do some analyses – they’re easier to do when feeling inadequate than writing, because you just work through things systemtatically, and they’re a necessary precursor to writing – and even though the results are not what I hoped it counts as progress. What went wrong – I don’t really know. It was a hard week and I didn’t do stuff.

    4. Goal for the next week.
    a) freewriting on those three ideas. If I can remember what they are which, right now, I can’t.
    b) reverse-outline all the materials in the nice new folder
    c) finish figure 1, run analyses for figure 3 of the paper with the MSc student.
    d) Make up a story in which I am the heroine and I actually achieve my writing goals, but which also feels believable, and tell it to myself every day!

  15. Luo Lin, the good news is that good habits can also develop inertia. Once you’re used to them, they feel right and even if you skip a day or two, you miss doing the writing, exercise or whatever, and are happier when you get back to it.

    Facing the self-doubt is hard, though.

    JaneB, the point to free-writing is that there’s no pressure, no way to do it wrong. It sounds like you made it into a bigger thing than it should be. Try to do it deliberately badly, no caps, bad punctuation, wrong grammar, just to note the ideas so they’re recorded and not only in your head.

    JaneB really does write fiction for fun, so writing a story with herself as heroine sounds like a fun plan. In fact, I’m going to suggest that this could be a helpful exercise for others of us. But if that seems like too much work, remember that while sometimes storytelling means starting from scratch, the same purpose can be served by finding a character you can identify with in someone else’s story. I used to read novels hoping to find out what it was like to be a graduate student, or a professor (and yet I never turned into Kate Fansler, dammit). Now my blog-reading has something of the same purpose, though it’s more to feel I have company than to find out what it’s like. For some of us, it might be easier to “inhabit” someone else’s character. If anyone tries this, tell us about it next week!

    1. I was just thinking that writing ourselves as heroes/heroines is a good idea. Too often, I’m telling myself what a failure I am, and that makes me more depressed, which makes me less likely to try things, which makes me less likely to succeed… If we re-write the ideas (maybe not actual writing, but at least re-thinking) with the focus on our successes, it might help with forward momentum…

  16. 1. Last week’s goal: Write three pages, skim/read intro of methodology book.

    2. Achieved: Read just a few pages of methodology book that I received from ILL. Wrote nothing.

    3. It was a rough week. My college is rife with crisis and scandal, some of which (the crisis, not the scandal), I have to deal with directly. It was hard to think of much else this week, so my “mindfully inflexible” time was affected (all two hours of it). I don’t even want to think about the narrative of myself as a grad student. Sometimes I get really scared it will be the all-too-common ABD narrative. Work and family are just so busy that right now that I want to cry when I think about how I’ll ever finish the dissertation. I had thought I might work on it this coming Friday all day because I’m off from the school and the kids aren’t. But Hubby and a family friend started making plans to take our families skiing, and so there went that work time. My work days are packed with teaching and meetings so I’m up late (very late) many nights prepping and grading. Weekends, I feel accountable to the family, but still I always skip out to get work done (about which I feel guilty). But the grading is so ubiquitous that the work I do on weekends and evenings is never dissertation work. I’m sorry to be such a downer, but I’m feeling like it’s all rather impossible. Not feeling “good enough.”

    4. Goal: Cheer up. Read a methods chapter. Write one page. (So pathetic, but I can’t imagine how I would get more done than that.)

  17. Checking in rather late:

    1. Last week’s goal: work on article-in-revision, due 2/15/12.

    2. What was achieved toward that goal: almost nothing. I sent off one returned permission form to the editor, and PDF’ed another in preparation for sending it. I also took a look at the style sheet to which I need to make sure the revised article conforms.

    3. Comments/analysis of what worked or what went wrong: I haven’t got this semester under control, and I’m not sure exactly why. The teaching is more or less a repeat of last semester, but I’m doing a more revision of assignments, etc. than I’d planned, and purely logistical stuff such as changing format/schedule (traditional vs. hybrid vs. online/computer vs. regular clasroom) takes more time than I want to admit to myself. I am keeping a time diary, in hopes of fending off similar problems in the future. I also didn’t help matters by heading to campus an extra day last week, and planning to do so another (I rescheduled that meeting, which wasn’t urgent); there’s only so much extra I can do if I’m going to write as well (which is officially “extra” to my current job). And I’ve taken on a good deal at church (and can’t really back out now, nor do I entirely want to). I’m definitely in that mode where I have so much to do and feel so behind that I end up having trouble deciding what to do first, when doing anything would help. To top it all off, I’m still gradually recovering from a computer meltdown over break.

    4. Goal for the next week: finish revising the article (which is really pretty much done, and has been done for several weeks), go through the style sheet item by item to see what applies, and apply it (I’ve set aside Tuesday 2/14 to do this, and can, in fact, I’m confident, do it). Finish up some other ancillary tasks related to the article-in-revision that don’t have to be done exactly by 2/15. Come up with a game plan for juggling the P conference paper/article in progress and the J article in progress/conference paper over the next 12 weeks.

    1. As for stories: yes, as a friend at church who does Biblical storytelling says, the stories we tell ourselves and each other do matter, a lot. I like the “scoop the scooper” one (and worry a little bit about the possibility of being scooped as I decide how many of the materials for the little-known-author/P project I want to share in a planned website. On the other hand, I think that might count as starting a conversation, in a good way, and I *do* want to do that. And getting the article-in-revision and the website itself out there should pretty well establish me as the first to do substantial work focused exclusively on this author, so perhaps that means I will have claimed the “scoop,” whatever happens after that?).

      At the moment, the main story I’m telling myself takes note of the fact that I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have been told I do it well, and that the extreme difficulty I encountered writing the dissertation seems to have been something of an anomaly. Combined with the hardly-new insight that a teaching-intensive job isn’t really the best choice for an introvert (not that anybody really enjoys a 4/4 writing-intensive load, but some of my colleagues clearly get a charge out of being in the classroom that I don’t, even though I do take more than a little satisfaction in my own and my students’ work), that leads to a narrative in which I may be trying to write my way into a better (or at least better-for-me) job. But I’m not sure whether, given the current academic job climate, my time to degree, my age, and my (lack of) publishing record so far, that isn’t a fairy tale (though I can imagine, if I manage to publish a good deal in the next few years, spinning a tale to potential employers in which an archive-intensive project is finally yielding fruit, and will continue to do so for some time, with promising ancillary projects appearing popping up along the way). So, even as I find myself really enjoying my academic writing, I find myself wondering about an alternative ending to the story in which I find a way to be paid directly, rather than indirectly, for my writing. That one’s still definitely in the brainstorming stage, and I’m not sure it, the one that centers around my academic writing, and one that chronicles doing a bit more than keeping afloat in my current job can all coexist. At some point, I will probably need to choose between plots, and allot my time accordingly.

  18. Argh, checking in late, but have decided to check in anyway. I don’t expect a response, but I need to get my goals up, so I can do better next week!

    1)Goal – write for about an hour each day.

    2)Achieved – wrote for about one hour on Tuesday, and managed to add about 1,000 words at that point.

    3)Analysis! – Well, this week illustrated why I need the accountability. I’d hate to think what I’d do otherwise. I got an email on Tuesday saying that my article abstract had been accepted, so I need to get this article finished by the 25th of March. Yay for a deadline – I’m hopeless without them. Hearing that I had a deadline, I worked really hard for one day, and then failed the others. I am going to work harder on consistency this week, and hope that I can get things done over these last three weeks of ESL teaching, so that when uni tutoring starts up, I’m in a good position to continue writing…

    4)Goal for next week – Again we’ll try for an hour of writing a day. I have the time; I’ve just got to stop putting things off. I will be gaining more desk space this week, as our house-guest bird is leaving tomorrow, so hopefully more space will equal greater productivity.

  19. Question: is it too late to join? I’ve got some writing that needs to get done this semester, and I’m finding it incredibly hard to get anything done. I’m in some serious need of some kind of accountability. No worries if it’s too late.

  20. Sorry for the late update–I was out of town over the weekend with limited internet access.

    Last Week’s Goal: make progress on conference paper version of book chapter for new book project (conference in late March)

    Achieved: finished taking notes on primary material and made inroads into notetaking on secondary material

    Comments: I found a new piece of evidence that led me to some interesting argumentative developments, so that was a bonus. Because I had a large piece of admin work with a quick turnaround dropped in my lap last week, I didn’t get to do anything toward actually drafting the paper.

    Next Goal: draft introduction and outline at least a bare bones argument for the paper

  21. GEW, you’re sticking with the project in the face of crisis and scandal. Pat yourself on the back for that. Can you scribble some notes in your margins or on post-its to write up later? That way, you can claim some writing as well as reading. Any chance you can send the hub and kids off to ski and stay home to write? I don’t know how old your kids are, but if Sir John started making plans with someone without consulting me first, he’d be doing whatever it was on his own. But maybe that’s my aristocratic privilege speaking.

    Kiwimedievalist, if you can write 1000 words in an hour you are capable of rapid production in the right circumstances. I wonder if, perhaps, you are like me and can write fluently but question your direction, and fear bogging down in reams of prose before nailing down your thesis. If so, you can find some posts in my blog about dealing with this sort of thing, and you also have my permission to do other sorts of writing-related activities that move your project forward without necessarily being “writing.” And BTW, your icon did show up: a little nun reading, it looks like, & then you have a stained-glass saint or some such when the link to your blog appears.

    Contingent Cassandra, dealing with permission forms and style sheets is a necessary part of getting published, so the same goes for you as for Kiwi: you’re moving forward on other important aspects of writing. Congratulations on rescheduling that meeting. The issues will still be there later. I hear you on the unexpectedly large hassles of re-doing assignments, teaching as an introvert, and thrashing in the face of too many obligations (see oh-shit-it’s-August syndrome, but it happens other times, too).

    Welcome to Dr. Frogprincess! That said, I think we have a good group posting here this week, and I’m going to close the application process.

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