Spring 2012 Writing Group, Week 8: Motivation

I was going to have a different topic this week.  But the redbud and hawthorn are out, the lilacs are just coming into bloom, and I have recently returned from a conference; therefore it must be mid-May.

What do you MEAN there are still five weeks of classes to go?  Where did that grading come from?  Who are all these people who expect me to discuss changes to the catalog?  Who are all these other people who still expect me to instruct them?

Time to dig deep into the suitcase of courage, feel the world of hurt, and fight to survive . . . only I think that suitcase got lost by the airlines, or mixed in with the ones marked “Not Wanted On Voyage.”  The conference reminded me that in addition to the MMP, I once had plans to publish other work on the text in question (two previous conference papers got set aside when my parents were so ill; now that I look at them again, I think they have a lot of potential).  What most needs attention are teaching and taxes, but I know I’m supposed to write every day and set a good example to the group.  And what I really want to do is work on the garden for hours and then park my bones in a hot bath with a glass of wine and a mystery.  If I have to work, I’d rather just write, but I can’t settle to that because I’m tweaked out about the grading and getting caught up with the class spreadsheets, but it seems like there’s such a lot to do that I feel overwhelmed.

I know the answer, or at least, what the answer should be.  Schedule time to work, do short increments if that’s what it takes, set a timer, give myself rewards.  I keep dishing it out to my fellow writers.  But at the moment, I can’t take it.

So, what are your ideas about how to re-motivate when the end is not in sight, when there are two more cat 1’s to climb before the finish, when bonk is setting in?

Amstr: 1) tidy up intro based on writing partner’s comments, 2) revise Chapter 1 revision outline, 3) draft at least half of Chapter 3 (two-thirds would be even better).
ComradePhysioProf: no goal posted.
Contingent Cassandra: have a 15-minute conference paper ready to present on Friday afternoon. Use the conference to get a better idea of the historical/historiographical context for my project, perhaps do a bit of networking.
DEH: reverse-outline current draft, to figure out where a paragraph that doesn’t fit should go instead.  Start grooming the rest of the document.
EAM: Weigh the three articles; figure out whether to flit amongst them, or whether one has more traction right now than the others.
FeMOMhist: just keep going forward with “real writing” and cleaning up as I go. Hopefully 500 more words.
thefrogprincess: MIA.
GEW: Read two chapters of philosophical primary text. Read three book reviews. Write two pages.
Ink: Write 1000 words before next Friday.
JaneB: a) Reorganise my desk area at the office; b) as part of that, make a proper list of all the writing things I currently have on the go and where they are at, and check the folders are all up to date in my dropbox; c) do the analysis on another paper’s worth of data.
JLiedl: Revise grant application after getting some feedback. Write 500 words on chapter for another collection.
kiwimedievalist: Reading about saints and communities, for interest.
Luo Lin: checked in, but no goal posted.
Matilda: Start to read materials, construct my arguments, write something at least 15 minutes.
Nancy Warren: continue to write the chapter from which the conference paper was taken. I’d like to get 5 pages.
profgrrrl: Finish off the manuscript I’ve been working on (it’s so close) and the book proposal.
Rented Life: Read 2 chapters from previously mentioned book. Write one page or edit one section.
Sapience: I need to do keep working on Chapter 5, but I may need to re-prioritize mid week after my meeting with my advisor about Chapter 4. So… make progress of some sort on something?

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Friday’s forceps

“I’m in the midst of writing my BOOK PROPOSAL (for publisher).  Severe LABOR PAINS (sorry—contractions; no pain to speak of accdg to midwives though I rather doubt that), now coming about once every five minutes.  Am trying to induce labor with massive input of telephone calls & letters to Loved Ones (like you).  It may have to be a C-section birth, editors with their bloodied knives (red pencils, in the context) or at the very least, a painful forceps delivery in which the wretched book is dragged from the screaming author with huge hooks.”

Jessica Mitford, letter to Constancia Romilly, March 21, 1989 (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman, New York: Knopf, 2006; 633).

Thursday’s tease

“She [Shana Alexander] asks if I’ve any sort of outline, or plan, for the book?  No, alas, say I; I’m still mucking about on the fringes, very unsure of what tack I’m taking, or what to cover or how.”

Jessica Mitford, letter to Vivian Cadden, April 9, 1971 (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman, New York: Knopf, 2006; 428).

Wednesday, the worst of it

“You’re right about articles being a lot of work, specially when they are not accepted . . . . Now here’s a funny thing: Time was when if I got an article accepted, I was astonished and delighted.  Now, if one is rejected I am astonished and simply livid.  The worst of it, you know, is the damper it puts on future work—the horrid uncertainty, I mean, which dogs you at every stage while you are working.”

Jessica Mitford, letter to Barbara Kahn, March 30, 1965 (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman, New York: Knopf, 2006; 336).

Tuesday’s Decca

“The schedule here is going to be for me to get down to work—starting tomorrow morning.  And to really stay at it till all is finished.  So do write, otherwise I won’t have the classic excuse (got to answer letters) for quitting from time to time.”

Jessica Mitford, letter to Marge Frantz, June 26, 1959 (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman, New York: Knopf, 2006; 220).

Mitford Monday

Actually, the first day of a whole Mitford week:

“Just writing to keep in touch, aren’t I, and because for the moment I’m a touch stuck with the book.  Also to let you know I’ve started on a tremendous program of self-improvement.  It consists of: 1. Getting up at 7 or earlier each day.  2. Doing the stomach and waist exercises (Reduce in Record Time) 15 minutes morn and eve.  3. A diet, 600 to 800 calories INCLUDING LIQUOR.  4. Doing my book first thing till at least lunch time.”

Jessica Mitford, letter to Constancia Romilly, 3 March 1959 (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman, New York: Knopf, 2006; 187).

Spring 2012 Writing Group, Week 7: What’s easy?

I have always been able to write fluidly, easily.  I come from a highly literate family: my mother wrote reams of letters to a close friend, and always had a sheet of paper in the typewriter.  One of my brothers is a journalist.  My father started, but never finished, several children’s books when I was little.  (I keep hoping maybe he’ll finish one before he dies; there was one about children tunneling under the playground of the school we all attended that I loved, and I would very much like to know how it came out; but I’m not sure my dad ever knew.  I think he wrote till he got stuck.)  I kept a diary from an early age.  I read voraciously.  Words poured out when I wrote.

I just didn’t think of this as a useful skill, one that not everyone had, until late in my undergraduate career.  All my friends in high school were good all-rounders, B+ to A students in all our classes.  The wanna-be scientists were good writers and the potential journalists got good grades in math.  I didn’t feel there was anything I was especially good at, and I thought you went to college to do something hard, to stretch, so (omit digression here on how I still regret giving up on archeology) I wound up, for a time, aiming at a STEM career.  But languages were still my fun classes, and I worked at the campus radio station, where I discovered both that I was very good at putting together a good script or story very quickly, and that other people were not.  Combined with a nasty problem in ultra-filters, I finally realized that I was in the wrong field.

Perhaps I should have been a journalist, with a who-what-when-where-why structure dictated.  Structure in academic writing is tricky for me, but I can write to length and to deadline.  Give me a topic and a half hour, and I will give you 500 words.  But I absolutely do not have the temperament for journalism, which is why I didn’t go there (that, and the older brother: not getting into direct competition with him, thank you).

I’ve written before about using this strength to compensate for my problems with structure and argument.

What’s easy for you?  How could you use something you do easily to help you attack something that’s hard?

Friday, 23 March: pleasure

“I’ve rarely taken so much pleasure in writing as I do these days, especially in the afternoon when I come back at half past four into this room that’s still thick with smoke from the morning, the paper already covered with green ink lying on the desk; and my cigarette and fountain pen feel so pleasant in my fingers. . . . And even inside, I sense things loosening up; perhaps I imagine it.  At any rate, I feel lots of things to say.”

Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Harper Colophon, 1977; orig. La Force des Choses, Gallimard, 1963), vol. 1, 84-5.

Thursday, 22 March: growth

“As I wrote, a new strength was growing in me that had no connection with literature.  But it gave way if I tried it too hard . . . . But I was changing.  Slowly, if you like, but what matter?  To change is the great thing.”

Colette, My Apprenticeships, trans. Helen Beauclerk (New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1978; orig. Mes Apprentissages, Ferenczi, 1936), 84-5.