maura @ 9:09 am
I’m having a lot of trouble writing lately, most specifically writing chapter 6. Partly I think it’s that chapter 6 is the last chapter in section 1 of the book and in the big outline we did at the very beginning of planning the book it was the most fuzzy chapter in that section. The chapter (which we’ve tentatively titled “Fitting It All In”) begins with a discussion of how the students we talked to manage their time. This is a pretty straightforward writing task: grab the data (student quotes) from the relevant codes, pick the best quotes to include and write expository text around them. Not that it’s nothing — writing is never nothing — but it’s easier than the rest of the chapter.
Because chapter 6 also needs to pull together the threads from chapters 2-5 into a coherent discussion of the scholarly ecosystem of undergraduates, highlighting the overall themes of place, tools, and time. And chapter 6 also needs to set up section 2 of the book: a deep dive into student work on research-based assignments which will demonstrate the way the strategies and constraints discussed in section 1 are expressed in a particular type of academic work. And there are other sources to pull in, too, from other studies like ours and from the literature on student engagement and anything else that might be relevant.
Part of the block is my standard internal whining about having enough time to work. Why is writing so hard, why does it take so long, why can’t I sleep less and write more, etc. etc. etc. I’m still looking back at January with regrets, which is silly, really, because despite losing the first week of the month to illness I was still able to finish the shitty first draft of chapter 5 on MLK Day. But then work got very busy and I took a week break from the book and I’m having trouble revving my brain up again. I’m back to taking RT on two mornings each week and it should be enough, has been enough: 3 hours if I can get my act together enough to start just before 8 (I have to leave at 11 to get into work by 11:30). Three hours is nothing to sneeze at, and yet I’m moping around like a teenager bemoaning how there’s just not enough time, oh woe is me. (Ironic, isn’t it, since time is the framework for chapter 6?)
More than anything I think I’m psyching myself out about chapter 6 doing all the things and being perfect and amazing and OMG the best thing ever written about anything ever!!! Which is silly. It doesn’t need to be any of that. It’s not a heavy lift; it’s the same as the rest of the book. It just needs to tell our students’ stories and suggest strategies we think could help them succeed despite the constraints they face. That’s it. The students we interviewed shared so much with us, I just need to make sure their voices are heard.
Writing is slow work, even the easier bits. Back to the best writing advice ever, from Anne Lamott: keep my butt in the chair for three hours. And sometimes it’s okay to write 500 blog words before settling down to write book words.