Sunday, January 08, 2006

Writing about Writing

The stars must be aligned because Bitch, Ph.D. generated an amazing discussion on how to succeed with daily writing among her loyal readers. The comments thread is full of amazing advice, commiseration, and insight about writing. I opened up my "stickies" (a feature of OS X software) to cut and paste a great deal of the advice given on how to get academic writing projects in the midst of other distractions and duties.

I am back from CA and starting to settle into my sabbatical to finally finish my book. I have been incredibly nervous about my ability to succeed with this project since it requires spending each day wisely and not frittering all that luxurious time away. I do not have to teach, attend meetings, or hold office hours.

The scary thing is that when I had this much free time in graduate school I found ways to fill the huge blocks of time. After a great deal of psychoanalyzing myself I think I fill empty blocks of time because the act of writing is a really solitary and lonely act. While I was visiting my mom, I would whip out my computer, sit next to her, and write while she was watched television. I discovered how irritating she found this behavior and so felt guilty when I continued to do so. She would try to talk to me and I would totally tune her out.

In a rather heated argument, I tried to explain carefully why I would start writing in her presence. The fact is, I wanted the company. I wanted to be with other human beings but not necessarily have to talk to them or interact. This was a rather poor attempt to explain myself and she, rightfully, was flabbergasted.

I learned from this a few things that I have to keep in mind if I want to write everyday and not piss off everyone that I love. I will also mingle with my list some fantastic insights that I culled from Bitch Ph.D.s comments thread and from from Dr. Crazy at Reassigned Time and Professor Staff at Schmacademia.

(1) Do not write at home. I don't like to consistently work in coffee shops because I find the seats uncomfortable, the tables too small, and the heating out of my control. So, I have convinced a friend to let me write in his office. This seems ideal since other people around me are working, which reminds me that writing is my work. I never get any meaningful writing done in my office at campus since people hunt me down.

(2) Do not write where I can easily hook into an internet connection. Leave blogging, email checking and surfing for later in the day. I need one period in the afternoon and then evening where I check and respond to emails. I also need to blog only after my book writing is done, since I am not getting paid or promoted for blog writing.

(3) Write for 2 hours a day. This is does not include making notes on research or jotting down ideas for a chapter. It means writing completed sentences. Do not leave the office until you finish this quota and do not promise that I will finish writing at home. I don't have to write for 2 hours straight, but 2 hours total.

(4) Finish writing at a point where you know what you will say next. This is one of the smartest pieces of advice I have ever gotten. If you write until you get everything out that you had on your mind then you have the blank page syndrome facing you the next morning. Just as that brilliant idea for the next move bubbles into consciousness, turn off the computer and take a walk to reward yourself. However, before leaving the project, jot down where you will begin the next day.

(5) Build in exercise and sleep to your day. I am a horrible insomniac and will take any advice out there to solve the problem. I know that if I don't sleep well, I will get nothing done the whole day. I also know that if I don't exercise, I will get tense, twisted, knottly muscles. I have a horrible back and sitting for long periods of time in states of anxiety or excitement while writing leaves me in pain. If I don't find a way to burn off the stress, I will be screwed the next day.

(6) Use a calendar and block off time. I need to do this from now on in my life. Many of the comments on Dr. B's website reminded me how important it is to block off time that you are not going to give away to others. When I give my time away to others--i.e., answer phone, involve myself in long IMs or emails, or stop everything I am doing to accompany someone on an errand etc.--I get pissed off. I feel depleted because I have not given any time to myself and my own work. At the end of the day I am bitter and resentful and take it out on my poor dog and boyfriend.

I cannot stress enough how rewarding you will find the comments on the above sites. I discovered that I am not alone in my sense of inadequacy and panic toward large writing tasks. I also think that many of these people have found really smart ways to balance their obligations and build in quality down time and rewards.