We’re three weeks in, and starting a new calendar month—that may give you a jolt of energy, whether you’re working on the transition to a summer schedule, just getting free of other commitments, or arriving in a new place.

A thought for the week is that things take time.  Writing takes time, paying bills takes time, working out takes time.  Maybe it would be better to think about “spending time” than “taking time”; you can be more generous with time, offering your favorite pastimes its largesse like a medieval lord giving gifts to his liege men.  We live in a world that valorizes multi-tasking, efficiency, energy, 24/7 availability, despite research showing that multi-tasking makes you less efficient, as does lack of sleep, as does lack of leisure.  But we can question and resist the emphasis on hurry-rush-now.

This is why I suggest keeping track of how long things take.  I now know, for instance, that I can rough-translate 100 lines in 30-45 minutes, and that on average I can “groom” a translation at half that rate.  Working at this pace on my project for this writing group means I can also get other work done.  None of it is instantaneous.  If I’m working on one thing, I’m not doing anything else.  But at least I can give myself to that one thing.

What will you do for your one thing, this week?

Allan Wilson (formerly known as kiwi2)
write and submit Cox 1
polish dissertation for September defense
write review article
Contingent Cassandra
submit Article J
Dame Eleanor Hull
complete rough translation of all my assigned chunks of Translation Project
Dr. Virago
finish draft of Slow Perk article
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
finish Article B
finish MCA
Heu Mihi
research, plan, and outline the first chapter of Projected Book
finish MS for Revised Book Project (RBP)
hypatia cade
complete Grant Article
finish Article RT
John Spence
edit, introduce, translate short medieval text and submit it for review.
submit Article H
combine two conference papers into one article
revise article draft for publication
contain the Many-headed Monster: about 20pp more of Head 4, ~15 pages introduction, groom the hair on Heads 1, 2, and 3.
clone Small Paper from Big Paper and submit both
write Conference Paper B
finish/polish draft of Cutting Edge Research Book (CERB)
finish Book Spinoff article
Pym Fan
turn WGS Project into finished essay
4 chapters of Reincarnation Book (fiction)
Revise and resubmit Floyd
revise paper for submission as article
complete draft of Methods Paper
What Now?
Finish one chapter of book project
Design Fancyproject; write up grant application for Fancyproject
finish article for Big Name Journal
Paper on the darker side of mestizaje
produce a detailed plan for Book Two


64 thoughts on “Maygust 2013 writing group, week 4

  1. Okay, I managed to complete last week’s task of a rough stitching together of the two papers – kind of tacking them together. This process has made me realise I’m very quick at the rough draft but my grooming takes far more time than I acknowledge.

    This week and next week I won’t be doing any work on the paper. I’m off to a conference and so this week is the final fixing of the paper, along with all the other small things that need doing before I go – all small and all of which, yes, take time, and always a little more time than I expect.

    Next week is the conference and then a few days in Edinburgh. (This gig is not too bad.)

    I’ll be back to sign in on the 17th.

  2. I did not meet my project goal for the week. I had two other deadlines and a bunch of fires to put out (and various mildly sick family, including me) so I kept putting it off. Now it is Sunday and I’ve run a bunch of regressions, but I haven’t decided which to include nor have I written them up. I’m probably much better with process goals.

    With that in mind: Back to 30 min at least (hopefully an hour) of working on this project each day, with an end goal of having a completed draft ready for other folks to look at by the end of the week. This project has been the only project that hasn’t been flinging poo at me all summer long so it’s been nice to spend a little time with it each day. Last week I really didn’t and that was sad.

    It will be even nicer to get it off my plate so I have fewer things to keep in my mind.

      1. Today I worked at home and made a pretty pretty chart, which I will write up tomorrow, and then I’ll be back on task (only behind a couple of days).

  3. This last week, somewhat of a breakthrough. A quick recap: of the five sections of data to curate (cut, nut, iso, morph, hybrid), I had already analysed and written the first. I had then planned to work on the second section, and read material around this, but didn’t feel inspired, and switched to curating the final section, which I did a couple of weeks ago.

    This week I continued with the hybrid data instead of returning to the nut data. I wrote a conference abstract that has now conceptualised and summarised these data. It was exciting, I moved ahead with the way I thought about the data, and it has come together. I then dug out some previous draft work from this section, and I have quite a lot already written that I can improve and rework. I now think this section should probably form a nice stand alone paper as it has grown, and is also more coherent, than I expected.

    Meantime, I have deadlines for other urgent things this week that really are important, but all I am thinking about is the hybrid data and what they mean.
    So, in the coming week I will reward myself with a block of least two hours, to work on some new graphs for my hybrid section/ paper, work on some analysis and re-check the analysis.

  4. This week totally failed all my gaols, because I underestimated how much time administrative tasks sometimes take. At least I contacted one of my possible collaborators and got a positive response, but there was not writing last week.
    So this week I’ll have to catch up and write the page of general future plans and contact at least two more possible collaborators and fix appointments with them.

    1. If you really have more time this week, then this sounds good. OTOH, “catching up” can be problematic, if it means more work than there is time for. Just keep moving forward.

      Loved the Freudian spelling slip of failing “gaols”—in combination with administration, I think we all know what you mean!

  5. Goal was 30 minutes of writing per day, starting Tuesday (Monday having been the day off last week); this goal was met and yielded about 360 new and polished words.

    Commentary: I also spent about 2 hours fooling around, rereading notes, and so on to go with each 30 minutes of writing. I think it needed it.

    Plan for this week: the same, so that I can get some other things done and also because I seem to be thinking at about this pace, 60 words a day if they are to be words that actually move me ahead as opposed to bog me down. Day off is Thursday.

  6. Goal: two hours of writing a day and 750 words in those hours.

    Results: Well, I only managed two days of my two hours, but each of those days I exceeded my goal of 750 words. I am finding that if I do it at the very start of the day and restrict my internet access I am able to get this done pretty consistently. It is when I can’t get to it—because of other intervening projects—other things fill up that space. Plus, then some mindless internet breaks might also get in the way.

    The focus on the ONE THING can be very challenging for me, especially when there are competing (louder) things that must get done.

    ONE THING: Two writing hours per day, 1000 words a day.

    1. Breaks are good, but I find the best break gets me away from the computer. Reading something imaginative, on paper, is also good: it helps give some restless piece of the brain something to dwell on when you get back to work.

  7. Last week: send Arc to advisor, finish conclusion draft, assess revision needed for Titus, and do a first pass revision on ER (when it comes back from my writing partner). Optional: finish last FQ bits.

    I did my one big thing: sending Arc to my advisor. Thanks to this group (and an impending vacation), I got it sent. I also finished the conclusion draft, and boy will it need some revision. I’m about halfway through Titus, and I finished FQ. My writing partner still has ER, so I’ll get to tackle that one next week.

    This next week is my big push week. I have two big things: 1) get ER out to my advisor, and 2) stitch the whole diss into one doc to send to my editor on Friday. The little bits are finishing additional revisions on Titus and the intro, and giving the conclusion at least a first pass of a revision. Getting the conclusion to my advisor would be a big bonus.

    I’ll be on vacation next week, so I’ll probably next check in on the 17th.

  8. Last Week: A sick family held me back a bit, but I made some serious inroads in organizing my sources and made some decisions about what to keep in the article and what to keep out.
    This week: Finish with the sources (except that one roll of microfilm I’m waiting for) and finalizing my outline to get ready for the real writing.

    I love the “spending time” concept. I’m trying for a model of spending mornings on research and afternoons on the always capacious “everything else.”

    1. I’m trying for the same schedule, but even when I get up early, a lot of the morning seems to flit away before I get down to research, and then there’s not enough of the afternoon left! But every week gets a little better, I think.

  9. Last week: 1) start reading M (2-3 hours?); 2) start reading BR (2-3 hours?); 3) freewrite 1 page; 4) spend a couple of hours revising G.

    I did all of these things. But the realization that it’s week 4 (counting the weeks of summer feels *terrible*! Doesn’t it just go on for five or six years?) makes me want to step things up. But I also don’t want to overcommit, and my new thing is a loathing for the word “productive.”

    I also realized this week that M is probably not going to fit into the chapter that I’m ostensibly working on. I’ll read some more, though, because it’s something that I ought to read.

    Next week’s goal: 1) Through ch. 4 of BR (probably 4 hours); 2) Read some more of M (2-3 hours); 3) Freewrite 1 page; 4) Get G into penultimate form. If time: Read articles accumulating on my desktop.

  10. Oh yes, keeping track of time is a really smart thing to do and help immensely with organizing that time. So does switching tasks so that you’re not doing one thing all day or for hours. If it’s a onerous or boring task, especially, you’ll be more efficient in small doses. I got a timer app for my iPhone called 30/30 (based on the Pomodoro system of time management, I think, but it’s highly adaptable) and I set up a timing system for grading and for working on the boring bits of my own work that keeps me focused in small chunks and allows reasonable, short breaks at certain intervals, and it really works. (And yes, you really *can* grade an undergrad papers in 20 minutes if you’re being timed!)

    In fact, even though I’m working in bigger chunks of time this summer, I might go back to my timer. I think I need it…as you’ll see

    Anyway, LAST WEEK I was supposed to make it all the way through the already-written section of my paper and to revise it to take into account my new approach. I made it halfway through. I piddled away a lot of time. But, on the brighter side, even though the main thrust of my argument changed *again*, I think I’ve finally got this baby figured out and will have something coherent written by the end of summer! Woot!

    For THIS WEEK: i’m going to finish the initial re-writing of the part that’s already there in draft, so that I can spend the rest of the summer carefully reshaping and writing the whole.

    1. I’m still thinking about this question of transitions and warm-up time. As I suggested to Odilon, above, right now I’m having good luck with starting my day with fiction (previously read, to avoid the problems inherent in a new book, for me)—something imaginative and inspirational, preferably sci-fi or fantasy, so it doesn’t remind me of people or tasks IRL. Then I settle down to work and the restless part of my brain stays in that other world while I get my main consciousness focused on the task at hand. Part of the way this works is that I have to spend a certain amount of time in the morning sitting with the Grammarian while he eats, slowly, so I can fend off the greedy Glendower and Basement Cat. Once the Grammarian is done, I can finally get to work. I’m not sure what the signal to stop would be if I didn’t have the cats.

      1. Hm, previously read fiction. That’s an idea. This morning I was reading my backlog of Michael Connelly mysteries, which was NOT so good for stopping that and getting to serious stuff.

      2. Ah, the tending to the eating cats. I suspect that any Person Without Cats (such as my mother) would think me crazy if I told them how much of my day is taken up with feeding the cats. It’s not as though you can just leave a big bowl of food out (HA-HA! OH! hurts to laugh that hard). There are the two greedy ones to monitor, the deaf one to protect from being snuck up on, the shy eater to encourage… On the plus side, the cats do signal, quite clearly, when it’s time for me to get up from my desk (so that I can attend to the real work of kibble doling).

      3. Ah, Pym Fan, you truly understand the work of being a household servant to our feline overlords. We had a diabetic cat once, and don’t want to go through that again, so yeah, leaving a bowl of kibble out is not an option.

    2. Hurrah! It’s a great feeling to get a sense of the bigger picture.

      Interestingly, I find that timing the grading of individual undergraduate papers does *not* work well for me. Thinking about how long I have left is distracting, and running up against a paper that will take longer than average (and that does happen, especially since I deliberately assign tasks that push students out of their comfort zones, and thus elicit idiosyncratic responses) is discouraging. I do, after many years of teaching the same courses/variations on the same assignments, have a pretty good idea of how long grading a full batch of responses to a particular assignment will take, but paper-by-paper timing is, for me, counterproductive.

      I also tend to be hampered rather than helped by “task-switching,” and in fact am happiest when I get to do one thing all day/for hours, so perhaps there’s an underlying difference of temperament/work style/neurochemistry/whatever?

      1. Yes, I agree that it’s not a system that will necessarily work for everyone. (I perhaps should have couched it in those terms.) And *I* don’t even take well to the task-switching when I’m reading or writing intensely. But when it’s a tedious and/or boring task, the timing keeps me focused and prevents me from doing some time-wasting activity as a distraction. And I’ve long needed a way to keep my grading time from expanding, so the timing helped me there, too. But yes, sometimes one paper takes more or less time than another. I don’t stick to it in a draconian way, but it really does help me from letting it drag. on. forever. You know what I mean?

  11. I met most of last week’s goal, although the co-author drama did wind up taking several hours. Fortunately, that situation is now resolved, at least for the summer, and so my summer project is once again very clear: Write Ch. 4 of this project. That goal has been rather up in the air in recent weeks, which was making it hard for me to concentrate and make any progress on it. So the certainty feels good.

    I also spent an hour in the archives, as had been my goal, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it — it truly felt like a reward. So that’s how I’m going to treat it this week. We’re in exam/graduation week, which means I’ve got quite a bit of grading to do and many events to attend, but I also want to finish working through a specific set of files in the archives, which will take maybe two to three hours to accomplish. My goal is to get those files read through AND to look on this time as a reward for doing all of my other work.

  12. Well, I’ve completed week 1 of a three week goal to collate and organise all old notes within the new structure of BookTwo. Last week was a bit of a downer, with lots of the old confidence-sapping thoughts crowding in. This week, I’m in a new place physically, and hopefully mentally, too. (Hint: it has a big old library, a meadow, and a view of the Alps…)

    My goal for the next two weeks is to work systematically through a number of half-finished projects and *finish them*. With regards to my BookTwo goals, this will be an hour a day on the draft plan, with the aim of getting it all done by Friday. If I manage that, next week will be an “off week” while I work on something else.

    DEH’s comment came at a good time — I’m good at planning to spend x-amount of time on something, much less good at sticking to these plans. I need to get a much better handle on how long things take, and how realistic my expectations are. One very nice thing about working on this One Big Thing through a long period of time is that it gives me a bit more of a perspective on where I’m going research-wise beyond the usual presentations ‘n’ deadlines firefighting. I think my best quality work comes not from long periods of concentrated work, but long periods of periodic engagement, where I don’t consciously try to do too much with it, but the material is gently composting in my mind in the meantime.

    1. Sometime recently, in some book or blog about planning and productivity, I read something that resonated strongly with me. A creative person was very good at planning out her time, loved making plans in fact, and then hated to sit down and do the planned thing at the planned time. Her creativity went into the planning, but she felt constrained and annoyed about having to do some particular thing at a scheduled time, even if she had scheduled it herself. So knowing how long things take, and how realistic expectations are, is definitely useful; but if you find yourself rebelling against your own plans, take a step back and leave yourself more flexibility. I’m finding that a loose plan like the following works well for me: “Work about 4 hours, 8-12, 9-1, or 10-2, tackle at least X and Y for at least Z amount of time, in whatever order I feel like; if there’s time, then do something about Q or R.” This plan tricks the inner toddler into getting dressed (red shirt or blue shirt?) without ordering it around too much (put your shirt on!).

  13. [first check-in for the summer, so no goal for last week. In the past 10 days or so, I’ve been finishing up my spring project, the chapter for a multiauthor volume, and am almost done — ETA tomorrow/Tues. Hurrah!]

    Goal for this week: spend one substantial (c. 3-hour) session reacquainting myself with the J article, and planning the summer’s work. I dipped into it briefly last week to mine some citations for the chapter-in-progress mentioned above, and was pleased with what I saw, so I hope this will go smoothly.

    i agree that knowing how long things take, and recognizing that one can only really be doing one thing at once, is invaluable. I was doing a pretty good job of keeping time records (mostly of teaching) last semester until c. spring break/early April; that went by the board, as it often does, as things got frantic toward the end of the semester (which means I’m missing possibly-valuable information; on the other hand, it is also true that things take longer the tireder I get, and i’m not sure quite what to do about that, other than not plan/promise to do anything extra in April or Nov/Dec. Yes, that would be wise, though extras imposed by others always pop up). I also have a pretty good writing log going back a few years now (more or less concurrent with the beginning of the J project); it’s partly due to that that I’m confident I can finish the J article in the time available, as long as I just keep plugging away.

    1. I think not planning to do anything extra in April or Nov/Dec is an excellent idea. It has finally dawned on me that I really cannot do anything with a deadline that falls in Dec-Feb; I’m just too Seasonally-Affected in those months.

  14. I’m going to stick with 500 lines of rough translation and 300 lines of grooming. I got that done last week, despite Monday off and some distractions on another day, so I’m pretty sure I can keep up that pace. It’s good to have a goal that brings significant progress and also is low enough per day that I can catch up by putting in slightly longer sessions or working on Saturday. The translation is so . . . orderly. Predictable. I wish some of the other things I’m working on were like that—but the rules require that progress (or not) on other projects go in a separate post. Still, it’s a shot in the arm to see the translation lines mount up.

  15. Last week I said I was going to continue working my way through the articles I need to read for the Methods Paper. I deliberately didn’t give myself a set number of articles to read. I managed to get through 5. I also wrote and submitted a conference abstract on this paper.

    I now have about 16 pages of detailed notes on the readings. I still have plenty more articles to get through (although luckily I only found 1 additional this past week). My plan for next week is to continue reading an undefined amount of articles and to try and write some type of organizing memo/outline/concept model to help pull together some of my notes. I find it is really important to start writing earlier rather than later, even if what I’m writing is going to change drastically in the future.

  16. Last week’s goal was to write 1000 words on chapter 4 because I had to finish another project. I had hoped to finish the chapter by the end of May, but it has just not cooperated. I wound up adding and taking away so I grossed only an additional 600 words. I got out of my house which helped me break through with a paragraph that I had been struggling with for over 2wks. It’s still a mess though.

    Next week’s goal is to write 1000 really good words. I need to get this last chapter done within the next two weeks so I’m making a giant push.

  17. Where the hell did May go? I seriously spent the better part of last week thinking it was the week of May 20 for some reason. When I realized it wasn’t I felt a little cheated. I did not complete my goal for last week–poor planning and thinking it was NOT the week where all the meetings were happening. (I made it to all the meetings, so there’s that.)

    This week I think a smaller goal is in order because I have other life stuff in the way this week. So 2 sections: usually, expand, edit, etc. I will try to see how long a section, or maybe a page takes. Pages might make more sense since not all sections are equal size at the moment.

  18. Well, I needed to take the week off last week so didn’t set a goal.

    Goal for this week: notes on 20 lines of text and write up a paragraph for which I have notes, about the handwriting of the manuscript copy of the text.

    Analysis: other priorities have come up since committing to this round of the writing group, which are needing to take a lot of precedence over writing. It’s going to be difficult to accomplish much writing over the summer at all now, but I’ll try for now to continue because I’d like to make some progress on this!

    1. I’m starting to feel like w/r/t research we are the same person. Translating, notes, handwriting . . . I hope the other priorities are at least interesting, and that you’ll be able to keep moving forward on the research, even if in small chunks.

  19. I did well, writing enough to cover the section all the way up to the transition to the paper’s main body. This week I’m going to write two sub-sections in the main part of the paper.

    Your idea about tracking time is a good reminder that any of us might be too much given to fragmenting ourselves. Between meetings and consultations, course-prep work (there’s some even now that I absolutely have to manage) and the other details of mundane life, my day can get eaten up quickly by pressing tasks away from my main goal. It will be interesting to see what comes of tracking my hours the rest of the week!

    1. I think we need to steer a course between tracking hours and judging. It’s easy to say “why can’t I get more done?” but sometimes—especially in certain jobs, or with certain life challenges—there really is only so much time/mental energy for demanding work like writing.

  20. I met last week’s goal of organizing notes and doing a tiny bit of writing. To carry forward the conversation about time: indeed, I really didn’t predict how complicated it would be to put all of these notes in order. With hope, the process of revision will flow more readily with practice. I am a rather rusty writer these days.

    I had planned for two weeks for each chapter but will certainly need more time for chapter 2, especially as I’m back to teaching today. My goal for this week will be to revise the first two sections of chapter 2.

    1. That sounds like a good goal. I’m revising/doing footnotes for MMP-1 and finding that I can do max 2 paragraphs a day! It feels like very little, but it does Move the Project Forward.

  21. Last week was more crowded than expected, and I did not meet my WGS goals. However, I did have a thought about this essay’s structure that I will let myself count as Tiny Progress.

    This week: continue compiling list of Subject’s published writings. My One Thing: give myself at least one chunk of time (1-2 hours?) to spend just noodling on this essay project, without worrying about what’s going to fit in or how it’s going to be structured. In the midst of other tasks and worries, I need to recharge my enthusiasm for this project.

    1. Hurrah for even tiny progress! That’s one of the benefits of at least thinking about the project once a week, I think; it keeps it somewhere in the working part of the unconscious (and perhaps even the conscious), rather than allowing it to slip entirely away into the depths, and needing extensive fishing-out and resuscitation sometime in the future.

    2. Compiling lists is certainly useful research work, and insights about structure are excellent! And time to noodle around, i.e., invite the Muse to offer creative insights, is even better. Good for you for allowing yourself that time.

  22. Last week’s goal was to figure out how many more hours of transcribing I have, based on last week, and plan to get it done four hours a week (which seems to be my sweet spot).

    I did manage to figure this out. Between the 15th-century hand,and my “mid-century” 20th century hand, I have about eight more hours, or two more weeks to go.

    This week, I’ll put in four hours of transcription.

    Fighting the multi-tasking monster is tough for me. Even though I have empirical evidence that I am awful at it, I have colleagues who seem to do it well, and make me feel less competent. Conversely, I tend to hyper-focus, and can lose hours on one task–sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. I cannot move too quickly from important task to another, so I have to do one thing for at least an hour.

    As annoying as it may sound to some (and therefore may not work for them), I set alarms and intersperse a walk around the stacks or a turn outside around the building to transition from task to task. I also have a list of “10-minute tasks,” that I use waiting for meetings to start, for example.

    1. Comparisons are odious! Let’s leave the others to do what works for them (I have some of those around, too, and I have colleagues who are hugely more productive than I am—I just take the ostrich approach, mostly), and do what we know works for us. I, too, like to get away from the computer between tasks. I mean, I don’t always do it, but I know it works.

  23. A quick, late check-in. I did not accomplish last week’s goal, so the goal for this week and next are the same: a rough outline of conference paper B. Overwhelmed by other projects at this point, but those are wrapping up.

    I may not be checking in next week since I have family arriving today for a visit. Headed to the beach later this week. Hoping for an opportunity to re-group and get a better grasp on this summer’s projects.

  24. Late checking in, sorry. I more or less met my goals.

    However, my day job has become unpleasantly chaotic, which is unlikely to resolve anytime soon, and I need to have writing be enjoyable and, at this point, a form of self-care. I mentioned last week that the original paper has turned out to have some serious problems/signs of deep struggle, and I’m realizing that I can’t fix it or even, really, write this kind of paper — it’s too much of a hybrid of two styles of writing (history, library) that, apparently, I need to keep separate. I had this same problem when I first wrote it, hence all the struggle that is so apparent in the text.

    I really thought this would be a quick rewrite/update and I’d move on to something else, but it’s not going to be quick at all. And if it’s not enjoyable (it’s not) or making me feel marketable (I have another project which does that better), I think it’s going to have to go. So i guess I’m going to need to drop out. I may still follow along though…

      1. Well, it’s not a writing project, it’s a database project that’s been stalled at the data entry phase for awhile. Data entry = soothing in the midst of chaos! and my collaborator and I have a conference proposal re it for the Berks that we’re waiting to hear about.

        Maybe I’ll take this week to think about using this group for a different, more fun writing project in mind?

  25. I’m also late checking in — failed to meet my goals of two weeks ago… I did (1) reread the paper and the reviews
    Then I experienced a serious sense of deja vu and realized I had already started many of the changes for this paper. Apparently I made nearly all of the changes save the stats and then set it aside in favor of more pressing deadlines and forgot. All the more reason to have it be my writing project this summer — and so instead of doing (2) I went hunting for the in progress revision. Found it in my dropbox and am now re-doing (1) with the updated version. It appears I am MUCH MUCH closer to done than I thought. Hooray! The crappy part is that I think I can write a much better version than the exisiting intro and I can’t remember (and didn’t document) which of the stats I changed (some, I’m sure, I can tell from the text) and which I did not.

    2) make a list of action items for working through when I get back and
    3) read a new paper that came out last month that bears on my topic.

    2 is realistic this week.
    3 is not. (I have a conf. thurs-sat.)

    Many things have gotten in the way of this, not the least of which are other academic things like prepping for the conf. but also I seem to find myself overwhelmed by the task of sorting through the changes. And by a sense that I am still not meeting the reviewers requests re: clarity in the intro and discussion. When I’m overwhelmed I know from the past that time on task helps me.

    So, starting next week my process goal — instead– is to work for 30 min every day on this and 1 hr on wed (I work a full day that day so 30 min in am and 30 min in pm).

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