Discussion last week suggested that even among members of this group, the “hard” part of writing varies considerably.  We have a small sample size, of course, so I hesitate to draw any significant conclusions.  We do seem to have some predictable divisions: the people I know to be in science agree about what they find difficult, which is not the same as those who have chimed in from the humanities side; and there are differences between grad students and faculty, between those working at institutions with high-teaching, low-research expectations and those at schools with higher research goals.

Obviously the same person, at different times in life, may fall into several of these categories.  Personality, life experience, and institutional culture all contribute to our sense of what is “hard.”

When I was in college, lab work in the sciences was hard for me, although I did better on tests where I could apply theoretical and mathematical techniques.  Still, those classes helped to deepen my devotion to logic and rigor: not a bad quality in itself, but I think that definitely slows me down now, when I’m working on the writing tasks I find “hard,” creating clear arguments.  I can’t just associate ideas or put together a paper that appears to “flow”; I have to make sure that I have an airtight argument where one step leads logically to the next.

It makes me crazy.

But I call this “hard” in quotation marks because I don’t think this is inherently difficult.  It’s just hard for me.  And I think studying people who find argument easier could teach me something about how to do it.  I think I can get better at this, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it, partly by harnessing my strengths.

I’m curious about what other people find hard.  Post your comments!  But let’s put off “easy” for next week, OK?  I’d like to do a whole other post about “easy,” so think about that and make notes if you need to, but this week’s topic is “hard.”

Roll Call:

Amstr: 1) complete a very rough draft of dissertation introduction, 2) outline the theory content of each chapter.
ComradePhysioProf: no goal posted.  Still the last grant mentioned, I presume.
Contingent Cassandra: 3-4 short-medium morning sessions with the P conference paper/article/outline-in-progress. Progress on ancillary tasks as possible.
DEH: get a draft to my RL group.
EAM: contact my dissertation director and readers.
FeMOMhist: 500 more words.
thefrogprincess: MIA.
GEW: Order the friggin book review! Read two chapters of philosophical foundations, and 10 pages of methods chapter.
Ink: make the revisions that I wrote in longhand.
JaneB: a) Smooth out the rest of the lumps into a rough draft. b) type all my notes into the outline of the Unexpected Paper. Keep using those little gaps!
JLiedl: Complete a draft of the grant application: CV, budget and actual research project. information.
kiwimedievalist: Finish this article.
Luo Lin: 1) Work one half hour each weekday morning.  2) Continue the writing and revising of the messy draft.  3) Write and submit conference abstract that has deadline next week.  4) Decide where to send a paper that got rejected last fall. Send it.
Matilda: (re-)read articles, start to construct my argument; write something everyday.
Nancy Warren: excused absence due to travel.
profgrrrl: traveling.
Rented Life: Read lots! The book is divided into three parts, so I’d be happy to finish part one this week. Actually re-read my own stuff and either expand or add new section accordingly–let’s say 5 pages of either editing or new writing.
Sapience: 1) Finalize any conference paper revisions, if necessary; 2) re-try to get the major expansion of chapter 5 researched and written.


80 thoughts on “Writing Group, week 6: what’s hard?

  1. Great topic. Hard = in my critical writing, I tend to make leaps in thought, and it’s difficult for me to slow down enough to go back and reconnect the dots, to develop the argument more gradually.

    ———————weekly check in————–

    Goal: Make revisions I wrote–put into computer.

    Achieved: Revised those, plus wrote brand new piece for upcoming public reading–five pages. Yeah!

    Analysis: Knowing that I’d have to read it aloud within a few weeks created just the right amount of pressure for me to be able to ignore the curriculum project that has been hogging the energy lately and GET TO WORK writing.

    New Goal: Back to those revisions I mentioned: I want to have a new chapter for the novel done by next Friday. There, I said it. (It’s spring break so I have a small “pause” window and plan to write every day.)

  2. hard — actually finishing. I’m really good at getting to “almost” done. Stupid I know, but right now i have an article that I desperately need feedback on and I don’t know any appropriate readers well, so I’ve got to get it as good as I can before I cold email peeps. Am I revising it? No it sits while I work on the “other one” even though I KNOW I should get it polished and sent to people and then work on “the other one” while I await their feedback SIGH

    1. goal 500 words

    2. hacked out a pathetic 500 of “notes”

    3. it was a challenging week on the homefront that I won’t bore my non-blog readers with but that meant not only no work on extra project but no regular work either. However with the group deadline hanging over my head, i quickly wrote what can only be described as 500 words of crap

    4. 500 real words in actual paragraphs 🙂

    1. Your post reminds of Anne Lamott’s advice to aim for shitty first drafts. That means “500 words of crap” gets a gold star.

      1. Indeed. And it’s always fun to quote this advice in class. “Shitty” always shocks the students (though why, I don’t know, given the things they say; I guess it’s an authority figure saying the word), but hey, I’m quoting a well-respected authority on writing!

    2. I’m sure those 500 words served a great purpose of keeping at least part of your mind on your project while the other parts of your mind were concerned with other things. Sometimes 500 words means more than just “500 words.”

    3. I call this version 6 syndrome… I am much better at roughing than polishing, it’s just at once boring AND daunting so I just don’t do it… sigh… glad to know it’s not just me!

  3. I always have the hardest time figuring out how and where to start. There’s always lots of angst starting something new for me. I do research, I have a vague idea of where I want to go, but I’m rarely able to nail it down until I write through a lot of close reading or theoretical apparatus (the latter is NOT my strong suit either), and it’s terrifying to try something and not know where I’m going to end up. Once I hammer out enough to know my argument, I’m fine, and even really enjoy writing. But writing the first three or four pages (and sometimes more) is really hard.

    Check in:
    Goal: 1) Finalize any conference paper revisions, if necessary; 2) re-try to get the major expansion of chapter 5 researched and written.

    Accomplished: 1) Final revisions on conference paper. 2) Did the research…

    Analysis: Revisions on the conference paper were fine–nothing major, just some tweaking. The chapter, on the other hand… I did the research, hoping that my gut instinct would be right one more time about the existence of a particular idea–my gut is usually right about these things 90% of the time, whether through unconscious remembrance of things I’ve read in the past, or just enough contextual knowledge to suspect that something will be there–but it just wasn’t there in the primary text. At all. So, now I need to stand back and figure out what other approaches might work.

    Goal for next week: Do more reading and find another angle to use to revise/expand chapter 5.

    1. It’s so frustrating when ideas don’t pan out. I too put a lot of faith in my memory and what I suspect a text says. (I’m dealing with a few long texts at the moment, and it’s a necessary process.)

      Best wishes finding that new angle.

    2. I had that research problem too, this week: I swear I remember something historical, but I don’t have notes on it, and the book I think it was from was ILL and I returned it, and there’s a literary source that contradicts it, so is the thing in my text significant or not? I finessed it for the present, but at some point I have to work this out properly.

  4. 1. Last week’s goal:

    Work one half hour each weekday morning.

    Continue the writing and revising of the messy draft.

    Write and submit conference abstract that has deadline next week.

    Decide where to send a paper that got rejected last fall. Send it.


    I worked on the article more than an hour (1 1/4, 1 1/2 hours) on Monday and Wednesday mornings and one hour on Friday morning. I worked on the conference abstract in 45-minute sessions Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning, and Thursday afternoon, and then finished and sent it off Thursday night (I was so tired and so annoyed at leaving the last bit till that late that I didn’t keep track of time spent).

    I did not submit my languishing ms, but in the course of preparing the abstract, I at skimmed through it and fixed a couple typos along the way.

    I feel better about this Spring Break than usual. I am not resenting the time spent on work, perhaps since it has been productive (rather than time taken away from play but spent not-working).

    After the past two weeks, I am more hopeful about the rest of the semester, even though it will be v.v.busy. Also, I might not wait a couple of years before listening to my doctor’s suggestion that a new medicine could help. Last week, Dame Eleanor mistook “medicine” for “meditation”, but in fact another improvement over the past couple of weeks has been my ability to stay present rather than escaping for hours into my beloved puzzles. I still do them, but now I can usually stop when it is time to work.

    Goal for next week:

    Write and revise article for 1 hour on Monday and Wednesday, plus half hour on Friday.

    1. Whoops. Sounds like the c/t confusion in medieval hands that I am so used to has somehow intruded itself into reading modern fonts. But anyway, you seem to be making great progress both in writing and in concentrating.

  5. Probably not quite what you were looking for, Dame, but right now what feels hard is juggling too many tasks/priorities/areas of focus. I’m reasonably good at juggling two or maybe three of writing/research and teaching prep and grading and housekeeping and financial stuff during a particular day, but when they all (and all their related subgroups) start staring me in the face (as happens when I’m home for spring break — I think there’s some connection to your comments about what happens when we try to sit down and write and things get quiet), I get overwhelmed, and can’t seem to settle down to any one, even when I make schedules and such to try to keep me on track.

    Maybe I’ll think of something more writing-related later this weekend, but I wanted to check in now, and that’s what comes to mind.


    Last week’s goal: 3-4 short-medium morning sessions with the P conference paper/article/outline-in-progress. Progress on ancillary tasks as possible.

    Achieved: one short-medium reacquaintance session with the P outline-in-progress. No real progress on ancillary tasks.

    Analysis: Some of the problem is discussed above. I also find saying “no” hard, and that has landed me with too many things to do this semester. I’m trying to whittle and focus as I move forward, but it’s going to take a while for that to bear fruit. In the meantime, I’m not in a panic, and I am happy at some of the things I got done this week (the reacquaintance with the outline and some related planning; some grading/prep; some household stuff; a bit of thinking about financial matters, which are pressing because my very old car is acting up again and I’m weighing options; and — hurrah! — several decent nights of sleep, and some leisure reading, both of which were sorely needed. Also, one meeting which I’d been somewhat dreading was not as bad as I feared it would be). But I’m still seriously behind on grading/prep, and that’s going to have to be first priority for the next few days. I also have a presentation to do in a colleague’s class which is related to the J article (and that is, I still think, something I was right to say “yes” to, though the timing is difficult).

    Goal for next week: Short writing sessions on 2-3 weekday mornings; longer one on Saturday morning (which is free for the first time in weeks! hurrah!). One session may be devoted to further organizing of the outline, but then all my energy needs to go into writing a draft of the P conference paper, which I’m scheduled to present two weeks from today. I’m one of four presenters in an hour-and-a-half-long session, so the main challenge will be deciding what to leave out, and what to go over briefly (and then wording it succinctly). That can, of course, take longer than writing something longer.

    1. Cassandra, I am right there with you. It’s the juggling of too many things that sucks time AND energy. Good luck with your goals–you can do it!

      1. Thanks, Ink! I know you have far more to juggle than I do (and I sometimes feel a bit guilty complaining about juggling when i know others have much more complicated lives).

    2. Okay, after reading others’ replies, I can think of a few more substantive things that are hard for me: not so much finding an argument, but finding an argument that will appeal to a particular audience, and/or tie into ongoing critical conversations. I tend to like to work on texts that haven’t had much written about them before, in part because I don’t have to spend so much time finding something to say that no one has before. But I still need to connect to a critical conversation, and that isn’t always easy. Also, since I’m most comfortable working at the intersection of history and literature (but have formal training only in literature), figuring out how to connect to *different* scholarly conversations can get tricky. I’m probably going to end up presenting some of the same aspects of the P project at both a mostly history-oriented conference (in 2 weeks) and a mostly literature-oriented one (later in the year). It will be interesting to see which audience picks up on which aspects, if any, of my argument. Perhaps that will help with the situating-in-a-scholarly-conversation problem?

      1. I think we all have too much to do and have to juggle too much (so please don’t feel guilty complaining–vent away)!

        And excellent point about fitting into critical conversations…adding that to my “hard” list.

      2. Hmm, sound like we work in a similar fashion, in similar areas. My PhD was under both Literature (English, despite the Latin, Old French and other langauges) and History, so my writing has a foot in both camps. Trying to work out who’s conversations you’re butting in on can be interesting. What I found most annoying is that the part of my thesis which the markers picked up on as deserving more space was not the part I was most interested in. So I figured I’d try and get some articles out on that stuff, so I could focus my book project (a pipe-dream atm) on the bits I was interested in. And this is making things harder, too – trying to write about stuff which other people are curious about, but which was only a side-line to me.

    3. I hear you on the juggling; and the question of entering different scholarly conversations is also a familiar one.

      I am teaching my students how much harder it is to write briefly than at length. It blows their minds—and makes them much better writers.

      1. “What do you mean there’s no page requirement?” “I mean that you need to make your point, not fill 6 pages.” Every time I assign a paper. But they’re catching on.

  6. As with Sapience, what I find hard is knowing how to start, and what my argument is. For my current article, I had a call for articles in a journal which kind of fit some of the things I had been thinking about with the text I was working on, so that helped with directing my article and giving me an angle on the text. So far, however, the ‘article’ is mostly a close reading of an obscure (because not yet published in translation) text of a saint’s life, and now I’ve got to find relevant secondary material to back up my close reading. Is this the wrong way round? I always feel it is, but I’d rather see what the text said first, before I read other people’s ideas about different texts. (Most of my work, currently, is in saints’ lives – hence the icon(s).)

    The other thing I find hard relates to last week’s thought – if I’m working at a computer, it’s usually connected to the internet, and there’s so much distraction. I’ll check the emails again. (Avoiding Facebook is becoming easier!), and if I’m in at uni (not on dial-up at home) I’ll check out the latest Maru video, or Cheeseburger. And I know this is pointless and stupid, so then I get mad at myself, and that then takes me even further out of the ‘mood’ for writing. However, this week I had the ‘threat’ of meeting with a friend to compare articles on Friday, which helped get a bit more done. I really need due dates, and people to be responsible to, which is not a good sign, at this stage!

    Goal this week (I first typed in ‘gaol – possibly more true?): Finish article

    Progress: The word count is sitting 3,300-odd words, with about another section of close-reading to write up, and a fair bit of secondary material located, but not read. Not many words added this week, but a fair bit of tidying up, and fixing references.

    Analysis: See above under stupid waste of time. I had a couple of mornings to work solidly on this, and I did some useful work, and found a lot of secondary material. But there’s still more reading and writing to do, and the article is due in on the 25th. (Cue hollow laughter.) I’ve got free time this next week to work on it, though my first lot of marking has come in already, and I’ll have to address that this weekend and next week.

    Goal for next week: REALLY finish – so that I can give it to others to read, and re-write, before next weekend.

    (Sigh. There won’t be much time for polishing, but hopefully the readers will see some potential there!)

    1. @Kiwi: internet distraction is definitely a problem for me, too (in fact, I’m currently checking in on *this* blog because I think it’s more likely to help me keep on track after ditching one commitment this morning to grade than the other options). Part of the problem, I think, is context: the internet browser is where we now both work *and* play (and/or fritter away time in ways that aren’t ultimately that satisfying). I’m trying to get in the habit of responding to the feeling that I need a break by getting up and doing some small task (e.g. a few dishes, a bit of picking up, laundry sorting, or the like). But that, too, has a way of sucking me in for longer than I’d planned. On the other hand, if I keep it up, maybe there will only be brief jobs available.

      1. Also, I, too, prefer doing my own close reading and then trying to connect to the secondary lit, but find it difficult. I don’t think that’s backwards — we’re supposed to be making new knowledge, right? — but I realize it *is* important for us to connect our ideas to others’, not just all talk about what interests us the most without listening or replying to anybody else (Dante probably has a scene somewhere with that happening, or there’s always Babel).

        I’m always surprised by people who seem to want to write one more article about a much-studied work. Plenty do it, and plenty find genuinely new angles, but it strikes me as more difficult than plunging into uncharted territory. But eventually one does have to figure out where the fresh new map connects to the old ones — is it an extension? an overlay of another dimension? a rethinking of where or what the major landmarks really are?

      2. Yes, once you get started on ‘just this bit’ of housework, it’s amazing how much easier it is to do that, than get back to writing! My house was never so clean as when I was trying to finish the dissertation.

    2. Needing due dates and people to be responsible to is why we’re all here. No shame in that. And don’t waste time and energy getting mad at yourself (see last week’s advice to Janice: don’t treat yourself worse than you would treat a friend). Just keep moving forward.

  7. What’s hard? Shaping the argument and getting to a point where it’s not overwhelming. And how long it takes to get to that point. (I’ll write more about this over at writingaccount.wordpress.com)

    Goal: 1) complete a very rough draft of dissertation introduction, 2) outline the theory content of each chapter.

    Accomplished: 1) very, very rough, but done enough. 2) again, rough, but outlined. I even started working out how I need to revise my first chapter.

    Analysis: Boy, am I thankful for this group (thanks for letting me join, DEH). I’ve had a hard time putting in extra evening hours, but the deadline made me push through. Thanks to my husband taking the day off for kid-care today, I got a long, luxurious day of writing in. I thoroughly enjoyed the leisure of having a whole day–I got to take breaks without feeling guilty, and I got to take time with some paragraphs.

    I’m working mostly on theory and background right now, and I have a good grasp of the theory, but I’m needing to push myself toward more comprehensive knowledge. It’s a slog, but I need to push myself in my reading a bit more.

    For next week: 1) work two sections of the intro to completion (incl. footnotes, 2) read for and write the theory sections for two chapters, 3) outline the revision for Chapter 1.

    1. Oh, that theory-slogging was the slowest part of the diss process (at least mine) and once I got past the introductory chapter, it all went faster. Good for you and hang in there!

    2. That’s awesome that you’ve got a good handle on theory and methods. I’m still near the beginning of that process. Thanks for blazing the trail! Glad to know it’s possible to “have a good grasp of the theory.”

  8. Goal last week: get a draft of the MMP to my RL group.
    Achieved: did it Tuesday morning. Also tinkered with the paper I will present next weekend.
    Analysis: I had to go to the library to work on Monday. Glendower is turning out to be a handful; also some gastrointestinal thing seems to be working through our cats, and I’ve made 3 vet trips this week. Why, why do I sabotage myself by adopting cats? I could have had a productive spring break.
    Goal for next week: minimal goal, because I will be traveling from Wednesday night to the following Tuesday, with lots of stuff to do. I will write up comments from my RL group on the MMP draft and make the easy fixes to the document.

    Inspirational quotations and next Friday’s post will be pre-written and scheduled to appear, but I don’t know how much time/ability I will have to comment on your comments next week.

  9. Reporting in fromd the depths of the country via my sister,s pad-thingie so apologies for typos!

    Goal: finish first draft of annoying paper, outline unexpected paper.

    Progress: first draft done. And passed to post-doc coauthor for comment. Outline done and sent to rest of authors…

    Analysis: annoying paper just suddenly came together, unfotunately late at night, but all those little bits accumulated to the upping point ans it worked… The outlining was done as procrastination from grading. Which also just got done. I’m a bit short on sleep but feeling a lot happier about my writing!

    Next week: data analysis week. I need to line up the data and do some stats and make figures across four different projects, and I’d like to get one to a writable state by the end of this week. And write a few hundred words on one of those grant ideas…

  10. What I find hard is organizing and writing, I like making plans, collecting materials, and starting to read them, but for me, writing is hard, organizing is hard, and finishing is hard.

    Last week’s goal: reading articles, constructing my argument; writing something everyday

    Achieved: re-reading articles – I have gathered several important ones, some of them I have read 2 years ago. I found them interesting other way that I found them last time. I have started to construct my argumnet, but I need to read more sources to support my argument. As for writing, I have only several sentences this week.

    Analysis: my daughter got ill and I had to stay home to take care of her. After she recovered, then my son got ill…

    Goal for next week: reading the rest of articles, (re-)reading materials, constructing my argument, writing the introductory part

      1. By organizing I mean constructing my argument, the structure and the order you need to think when you write something, and making plans I mean just making a when to do, what to do schedule. Perhaps I will try to make a more detailed plans, with organinzing my writings.

    1. Sorry to hear about sick kids. That was me a couple weeks ago. That sure throws a wrench in writing plans. Hope everyone’s well soon!

    2. Oh no. Sick kids are really one of those situations that are out of our control. May everyone stay healthy so you can get work done on the intro.

  11. 1. Last week’s goal: Contact my dissertation committee.

    2. Accomplished: No. I wrote up the email, but then I spoke to my Dean at the new day job on Friday. She wants me to finish a couple of articles, so I need to edit the emails to reflect this change. However, there is another issue that I will talk about below.

    3. What have I learned: I am terrified by the thought of going back into the dissertation writing arena. Some of the reasons will be explored below, but some of it is that I am a long-distance dissertation writer; I have had massive problems getting any administrative support from the department administration or the graduate advisor. It all plays into my insecurities that I detail below.

    4. Goal for next week: Edit the emails, and send them off.

    My goodness, Dame Eleanor, I was shocked at my emotional answer to your question of what is hard. For me, the hardest thing is that I don’t feel that my dissertation or any of my other scholarship is of interest to the scholarly community. My Ph.D will be in Comparative Literature with a medieval studies concentration; however, I am not a literary theorist, which has been the hot thing in comp lit for the past 20 years. I do textual criticism, source studies, that sort of thing. I am a good textual critic, but I have had several professors tell me that it is not late19th-century Germany, and I have no place in 21st-century scholarship. I won’t maunder on, but that in brief is what is hardest for me.

    1. That is hard, and that is why I didn’t get a degree in Comp Lit, although from some perspectives it looked like an obvious field for me. (And it’s more than 20 years, I think!) The trick is to find the scholarly community where you belong. It sounds like it’s not the one where your professors are, which is another brand of hard. You will have to do enough theory to satisfy your committee and get the degree, but then you can find your people and live happily ever after. There are still people doing textual criticism. Who are the scholars whose work you admire and want to emulate? Try to go to the conferences they go to. Meet like-minded people: even if the presenters are swamped afterward, see if someone else in the audience would like to go to lunch and talk about the papers.

      1. Thank you for the excellent hints, Dame Eleanor. I also appreciate your relating your near escape 😉 from Comp Lit. It does help to realize that I can look for similar minds in the happily ever after.

    2. Seconding DEH’s comment that there _is_, somewhere, a group of scholars who will be interested. Perhaps they’re not in the Comp Lit camp, but what you’re doing, with textual criticism, is much appreciated in literary areas.

      The biggest trouble (possibly more with medieval studies, but with other literatures too) is that it’s very hard to draw lines between study areas. For many of us, the literature (subject) which we’re studying doesn’t usually fit into any one literature (language). My diss was in English and History (and I was so grateful I was allowed to dabble in both sides), but the languages covered included Latin (lots of it – ugh!), Middle English, Old English, and Anglo-Norman.

      Right, I think I’ve indulged in enough parenthesis. Time to do some of that writing. Just wanted to say that you’re not alone!

      1. Thank you for the encouragement, kiwimedievalist. Certainly in the US, one has to scrabble together a medieval studies program among various departments, as the Ph.D.-granting medieval studies departments are rare.

        I very much appreciate your telling me that I am not alone. Enjoy the writing!

    3. I can’t identify with the comp lit part, but definitely with being non-theoretical, and trying to do things long-distance, and not getting much support from one’s committee (I didn’t get any negative attention, either, which may have been a blessing of sorts). I can’t provide any evidence from my own career that this approach is tremendously successful, but, after taking 15 years to finish (and defending my dissertation to pretty much the minimum number of faculty plus a couple of loyal friends, with no certainty that either of my advisors had ever actually read the darn thing), then getting distracted by family and other crises for a while, I’ve finally headed in the direction DEH suggests: just doing what I find interesting, and making what connections I can. At the very least, it’s more pleasurable than trying to do what someone else wants, and since even the most trendy, theoretical diss (or article, or book) doesn’t guarantee a job these days, and it doesn’t sound like you’ll necessarily be looking for a job on the strength of the diss anyway, why not? (In fact, it occurs to me to wonder whether some of your committee’s criticisms might be some form of defensive projection and/or denial in relation to the current job market — if only the student were better, they’d be getting jobs!)

      Perhaps you could stick most of the theoretical stuff in a review of lit chapter which you know will have to be ditched and/or shortened anyway, or even keep parallel versions — one for your committee, one for future books/articles? Whatever approach you take, just getting something done that they’ll accept as a diss, and that you can mine later for articles and/or a book, and getting out of ABD limbo, is probably the smartest approach (but it’s easier said than done when life keeps happening, I know — I definitely know that).

    4. I just wrote a post recently about believing my work has value–which can be very hard without any external validation, especially with discouragement from advisors (I’m lucky to have a very supportive advisor, even though my theoretical approach is not exactly his cup of tea). I’m working at a distance too, and I miss having a community of scholars to discuss my work with in person. At the very least, though, it seems like your work has value to you–it’s hard to make that enough, but if you can, let it be enough.

  12. Hard: doing research with heavy teaching loads, without support from the school (financial or otherwise). In my case this is compounded by the fact that I didn’t go to a writing intensive grad department so much as a math intensive one. It was good in that I didn’t know how much I could enjoy math (or do it well), but getting published…well we won’t talk about it. I can say what I need to say, but being required to expand? I was constantly told my work was too short. I had this great thing that was supposed to be part of a book but they kept asking for changes to my writing, my argument, and I didn’t know how to do it and still maintain the point I was trying to make. I don’t have much confidence in my writing—no matter what kind I’m doing.

    Also hard–I tend to pick topics “no one has done before” which not only opens me up to more criticism but makes it harder to make my argument because no one has written about that specific item/issue/etc.

    Hard for any kind of writing? Leaving life aside to focus on the task at hand. Those voices DEH talked about last week are really a block for me. And when life isn’t going well, like right now, I don’t know how to really enter the writing world that I need to.

    Goal: Read lots! The book is divided into three parts, so I’d be happy to finish part one this week. Actually re-read my own stuff and either expand or add new section accordingly–let’s say 5 pages of either editing or new writing.

    Accomplished: I really can’t talk about what happened this week as it’s highly personal, but it became difficult to get much done. I’m on chapter 5 of my book, so I didn’t finish part one. I didn’t write. I kind of looked at some old writing notes. (Had a “huh. I don’t remember writing that idea” moment.)

    Analysis: The specific of what went wrong is too personal to be airing considering it’s not just about me. I’m currently trying to decide what to do about the personal situation—stay or leave the situation. The little bit of reading and looking at notes is really a big deal when I consider everything else. In a perfect world I certainly had a reasonable goal for a week off, so I don’t think I was off so much as just unprepared for the reality of the rest of my life. Sorry, vague. Like I said, it doesn’t just involve me and it’s not fair to air other people’s stuff.

    New goal: quite frankly anything I get done this upcoming week writing wise will be an accomplishment. So read, write, edit, anything that happens is a small achievement for how everything else is.

    1. I’m sorry you’ve had such a hard week. Could you give yourself some small period of time each day, maybe just 10 minutes, in which you tell yourself you’re allowed this time as a break from the situation and to use for your writing?

      1. Well that’s where we’re back to what’s hard–shutting out the situation and not allowing my thoughts to turn to it while trying to focus on another task. Right now I’m just trying to take everything one day at a time.

  13. Hard, within writing: writing less thickly. I used to write thickly and be admired for it, all this depth in every phrase. Now if I try to allude to everything I know like that, I’ll get stuck or go on tangents, I know too much. I have to stretch it out, out, out, if I want an audience of any diversity at all to follow, but I don’t like to talk on and on like that, I would rather stick radiant ideas and words together in intricate mosaics. Should leave that for my novel!!!

  14. 1. Last Week’s Goal: Order the friggin book review! Read two chapters of philosophical foundations, and 10 pages of methods chapter.

    2. Can you believe I did not order the book review? And I totally could have done it on Thursday night, but I just spaced it. But I did read 10 pages of methods chapter and one chapter of philosophical foundations chapter.

    3. I posted last week on that which is hard for me, so I guess I won’t repeat any detailed analysis. But I’ll just give a brief summary and say that, for me, finding the argument is hard, figuring out how to develop it is hard, and writing with effective style is hard. Also, since I’m sort of an “outsider student” (in that I’m getting my PhD in the UK but live in the US), I’m not around anyone else who is doing what I’m doing or studying what I’m studying. I often feel as if I’m not attuned to the current dialogue of my discipline. Therefore, it’s often very hard to figure out how my argument fits in with the rest of the scholarship.

    Goal for next week: Read 10 pages of methods chapter, read 2 philosophical foundations chapters.

  15. This will be my 2-week catch-up, I guess. I was abroad for about 10 days and when I got back I had to crash immediately back into work for 3 intense days, followed by a weekend of solo parenting. Yippee!!

    What I had to do:
    Get the book in to the publisher. I had the next book proposal on my list also. I don’t think I had the encyclopedia entry that I kept forgetting about.

    So, what got done:
    Well, I was traveling and didn’t intend to get that much done. In fact, I really enjoyed taking a 3-4 days entirely off from the computer after having such an intense Jan-Feb. Work has gotten done around the margins. Before leaving I finished every last thing for the book and zipped it off to the publisher. What a relief! I also wrote a 500 word encyclopedia entry and a blurb for an upcoming talk. And I did some work-related reading (2 books and about 10 articles) which is directly related to some upcoming writing tasks. Not bad.

    I did not work on the book proposal. I wanted to give that some good focused time and in the end I traded that time for pure vacation. It was (I think) worth it.

    The key now is to step right back into regular writing as if the vacation never happened. I’m a bit nervous about that, but I do feel like I’m writing more freely at the moment.

    Next goal:
    This week is preschool spring break, and I don’t have much child care. It will be … interesting. I’m aiming low in terms of goals since most of my child care coverage will have to go to 2 defenses (haven’t read for them yet), a local conference (giving a talk) and teaching (2 classes, plus prep). That said, I would like to have some writing accomplishment. I’ll go for a draft of the proposal (need a paragraph for each of 8 chapters) and progress on a manuscript that I want out by the end of the month.

  16. Oh, I wanted to comment on all the later posts, but now that I’m done checking e-mail I have to rush to dress myself, medicate cats, and hit the road. Tonight, I hope! Everybody have a good week!

  17. What’s Hard? I’ve been mulling over this question all day, and I keep coming back to the same issue: time. That said, I think that I use time as an avoidance technique.

    I find it hard to find the time to write. I am overcommitted at work. I do too many service tasks, have too many students, too many administrative duties … then I come home to a child, cooking, housework. I don’t have time to write. That’s an excuse, of course, but it *is* hard to learn how to say no to others and to make time for yourself (and honor that time). I’ve made good strides there in the last few months, but it has required a lot of concentrated effort.

    I wonder if sometimes I give myself other things to do because they’re more comfortable for me. I’m really good at coming up with ideas, and really good at executing them once I get on a roll and have time, but that initial bit of fleshing out the idea can be a challenge for me. I don’t struggle with writing up research very much, unless it needs to be very carefully framed and I haven’t yet figured out what that frame would be. In some ways this comes back to time — I don’t give myself time to just think (seems too inactive, right? no measurable outcomes at the end of a session). Writing handbook / review chapters has nearly killed me. I struggle to find a thesis, or I come up with one only to discover when scratching deeper that it doesn’t quite work and I need to reorganize. That’s the hard part, and then when I don’t leave enough time to comfortably go through the process it all gets worse for me.

    I’m not sure if this is making much sense, but it’s the best I’ve been able to articulate it so far.

  18. I’ve been thinking too about what’s hard. I don’t really know how to articulate it, but ‘hard’ is about ‘the voices’ _and_ about the old important-versus-urgent balancing.

    Yes, it’s hard to do any one task when there’s lots of demands on your time, and writing which is often important-but-not-urgent often loses out. Urgent usually carries a particular shade of emotional weight – students being Let Down if one doesn’t prepare a class or grade work, the implied threats behind faculty deadlines – that Important doesn’t. Important often seems to equal selfish – ‘good for my career’ not ‘good for my colleagues/students/institution’. The satisfaction of setting Urgent aside for Important carries a tinge of ‘not being a nice girl/colleagial person/good citizen’ that reduces its impact, whilst setting Important aside for Urgent can give the false positives of seeing oneself as martyred, noble, community-minded – but those things breed a sense of being hard-done-by, under-appreciated and ultimately burnt-out, because other people just don’t see it the same way!

    The voices, though… I have begun to wonder if they don’t like me writing because when I write, I am immersed in a sort of flow where outside influences don’t matter – I write for me, primarily, and to sort out my thoughts. The writing is external memory storage, a place to put all the pieces, then organise them, in a way that my own head can’t quite cope with. I can just about hold a haiku in my head and edit it – anything longer, I need some kind of paper-and-writing-implement combination (see Loss Of Oral Tradition And Its SkillSet etc.). Writing is, ultimately, fun. It’s something I do for me, primarily – the career benefits, indeed the choice of a career where writing can bring career benefits, are side effects of that simple fact – writing is fun. I was that child who spent most of their pocket money on new notebooks and who still feels the lure of a new pen FAR more strongly than the lure of makeup or clothes or household objects or electrical gadgets or whatever other people like to buy/be bought as presents… which also of course feeds into the ‘writing is self-indulgent, you should do things you DON’T like doing because they are worthier’ sort of emotional reaction (it’s not thinking, it happens below thinking).

    This also explains why the finishing, the getting-ready-to-send bit, is hard – because at that point, I’ve got the argument lined up to my satisfaction, I’ve marshalled the evidence and got it herded into nice pictures/tables/key points, I’ve made something which has an effective shape. I’m happy with it, it’s done what I needed it to do and I’ve done what I needed to do with it. Why SHOULD I want to make it ‘pretty’, especially if it’s for a journal with fussy requirements for formatting etc.? Whenever we do work-style type analysis, I come out with a remarkably low score for completer-finisher – I am good at whacky ideas, at carving through the jungle to extract a usable orchard, but turning it into a pretty garden is just not my skillset. Which is, come to think of it, probably why my greatest grant-winning success has been with one particular colleague at another UK university, and why we keep working together (for over a decade now) despite lots of low-level tiffs and grumbling and in-fighting – he’s a total detail person, and I’m not. At some level, our recognition of how complementary our skillsets are, how together we do better work than either of us could do alone, is what keeps us working together.

    Maybe THAT’S part of the answer, too – finding other ways of tackling your own weaknesses than just hammering away at them (and making yourself feel bad about it)…

    1. “which also of course feeds into the ‘writing is self-indulgent, you should do things you DON’T like doing because they are worthier’ sort of emotional reaction (it’s not thinking, it happens below thinking)”

      THIS is so true – except that I like the idea of writing more than I like the act of writing. Thinking about it, just now, suggests that it may be these emotions-below-thought which stop me from some kinds of writings..

  19. Sorry that I was AFK from Friday midday until Monday late: I missed checking in!

    Diving in late for the topic, I’ll say that my “hard” is writing for a new audience or new paradigm. Like parts of this grant proposal. *sigh*

    My accomplishments in writing this week weren’t so good because of that blockage – I wanted to confer with colleague about how to ‘pitch’ the grant and that insight ended up with me trashing almost all of the content that I’d sketched in. The good news is that I have a much better idea of what I need to do in order to finish this up for Friday.

    So, to report?

    1) Goals were to finish my grant application as a complete draft

    2) Achieved: half of the grant-format CV and a very sketchy outline of the grant narrative after I realized I was approaching it all wrong (thanks to colleague who shared their insight and experience with this particular grant)

    3) Analysis: this was an especially hard week because I was writing something different for me. I rarely apply for grants and this one is very different in form from the others for which I’d previously applied. That meant that I second guessed myself every step of the way, juggling frustration and annoyance in equal parts. Just figuring out how to approach the CV wasted the better part of two days.

    4) Goals: Take my outline to a polished form before Friday so I can request feedback from a colleague who’s been successful at this grant.

  20. More re hard —

    I think all the discussion of how hard it is is gatekeeping: people want you to think that if it’s that hard for them, then it must be impossible for you.

    All very condescending and designed to discourage / deflate / make you non serious.

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