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maura @ 10:22 am
I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.
Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.
(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)
Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.
This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.
I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.
Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I think this is the longest gap in posting since I started blagging 11 years ago. Whoa. </Keanu voice>
The quiet is not for lack of writing, though. I’ve written many words in 2016, just not here. It’s been my busiest writing year yet, I think. Two book chapters, 1 chapter proposal, 4 conference proposals, 1 (possibly, still not 100% sure about it) book proposal, 7 library blog posts. And one book, a whole book, co-written with my research partner. It’s in the publisher’s hands now — the ebook version should be out by the end of the year.
I miss blagging here, hoping to get back to a more regular practice now that the big book deadline is past. And I’m thinking about next projects, too. It’s been strange to be suddenly finished with a project that’s been such a huge part of my life this year. I’m cheered (and proud of myself) that I’ve been able to successfully create a habit of 1 hour of morning writing before work every weekday.
I’m also grateful to have the weekends back, especially with this morning’s finally Fall weather. Time to get to it.
maura @ 5:48 pm
This semester is all about deadlines for me, so many deadlines. In addition to the usual work stuff, the chief librarian stuff and department chair stuff, I’ve started the data collection phase of a new research project as well as taken on a few new writing commitments. My research-related to do list is long right now, and I’m working through it as methodically as I can, one deadline at a time, in the evening-and-weekend spaces, slow and steady wins the race. All of it is stuff I really, really want to do, projects that feel meaningful and worthwhile and involve folks I respect and admire. But it’s a lot — after adding the most recent deadline my plate is well and truly full, and I’ve resolved not to say yes to anything else research or writing-related for the foreseeable future.
Lots of these commitments involve writing: a proposal for a book chapter, a draft of another book chapter, perhaps a small grant application, and (I hope) something even bigger looming. There’s research to do as well, both of the literature search-and-review variety and the collecting data in audio/graphical/text variety. I admit that I’ve fallen off the writing wagon again, and have found even blogging here (not to mention library-related blogging) difficult over the past year. Partly I’m sure that was just the busy-ness and challenges of the past year, though last year was also one of revising stuff that had been written/submitted and conference presenting.
This year is different — this year is about writing. I’m only planning to present at one conference this academic year and, while data collection does not = writing, it leads to writing. All of which means that I need to get back into the writing groove, back to a more regular writing practice. It’s *wrimo right now, November — that time when folks write a book or blag or academic writing or other stuff. Longtime readers may remember that I’d done NaBloPoMo several times in the past, though not since 2011. In 2012 and 2013 I did AcWriMo (thank you, blag, for remembering things that I can’t seem to).
It’s already November 7 and I haven’t signed up with any kind of tracking or accountability mechanisms for writing this month, but I have my postit note with all of the deadlines on it that reminds me of my writing goals every day. Slow and steady, let’s go.
maura @ 9:15 pm
It’s not so much that I’ve been writers blocked, exactly. More like an inspiration desert, of sorts — lots of thoughts, but trying to get words onto paper has been difficult. It’s been a very full semester, a full year, really, full of big things both good and bad. And I’m perhaps a bit more tired now at the end of this semester than in years past.
CUNY’s fall semester goes late so I’ve still got 2 more days of work left before break, as does Gus with school. Then it’s 9 days off in a row, which sounds decadent. I have 6 books to read and 2 videogames to play and 2 tv shows to catch up on, woo! And there’s an article idea that’s been kicking around my brain for a while now that I might try to start to draft, too.
Perhaps extra sleep will help me come out on the other end of the inspiration desert. But in the meantime, here are some random recent photos from my phone.
Graffiti from the staircase at work, in one of the classroom buildings. Why indeed?
Graffiti from East Williamsburg across the street from the new gym where Gus does parkour. It’s right near the beginning of the Newtown Creek and is pretty industrial, lots of low warehousy buildings. There must be some kind of understanding with street artists and the building owners because the graffiti is AMAZING, seriously complex and gorgeous. The first time I drove Gus over there I almost crashed the car from all of my neck craning, and I see something new every weekend it seems.
The Lego research scientists set was back in stock for like 1 day, and I got one! Kind of amazing, actually — I just happened to be on twitter in the 10 minutes I had between meetings at exactly the right time, and ordered one up right then and there. Funny, too, as I haven’t been on twitter much lately, just unable to keep up even using my old strategy of scrolling through quickly as I walk between meetings. So many meetings, the mind boggles.
Anyway, not that I need any more stuff in my life, what grown lady does? But women in science toys FTW! And I can always bring it to work to decorate my office, right?
EDITED TO ADD: What slays me is the support strut under the dinosaur skeleton. I mean, that’s not necessary to make the legos structurally sound, but it is totally necessary for a real life dino skeleton in a museum. Swoon.
maura @ 9:37 am
By now everyone has seen the news about Amtrak’s writing residency trips, right? It’s been all over mah twitterz, though since I (unsurprisingly) follow a whole pile o’ academics* and journalists and other writerly folks perhaps that’s just me. There was this article about the joys of writing on trains,** then this one about the practicalities of the whole residency thing. Both are fascinating.
* Shocking, I know, that academics would even use twitter, because we don’t like to talk to anyone but ourselves. Nope, we don’t blog in multiple places or have websites for our research projects or send op-eds to the Times (to get rejected) or nothing, why would you think that? </Kristof rant>
** Though I have to say, her trip on the Lake Shore Limited sounded much more pleasant than when Jonathan and I took the train to Chicago many (eep, more than 15?!) years ago. That’s the sleeper car for you — 18 hrs (one-way, with delays) in the cheap seats was, at times, somewhat unpleasant.
I am, as regular readers know, a huge fan of both train travel and writing on trains. When I think about the writing I’ve done in the past almost-6 (next month!) years since I’ve been a full-time librarian + professor, what I’ve written on train trips stands out. It was on one of our 9 hour Amtrak odysseys to northern Vermont to visit family that I wrote the very first IRB application for what ended up being our huge (because we couldn’t stop collecting data, it was so interesting) research project on how commuter college students do their academic work. I took the train to DC and back a few years ago for a conference, and wrote several blog posts and other small things. And the first book proposal that emerged from the aforementioned research project was also (partially) written on the train, when I took a trip up to Saratoga Springs for another conference. Last month I took the train to Delaware for a family thing and also got lots of writing work done, this time on the theory part of chapter 1 of the book, which was particularly challenging to write. The train helped.
I love writing on trains for all of the same reasons the author of the Paris Review piece does. Travel by train is so pleasant, compared to other forms of travel, that it seems to free up more mental space to accomplish other things. Perhaps most importantly (though also perhaps most difficult to describe), there’s the suspended animation dreamtime aspect of train travel. The time component is critical: with a set amount of time to write, it’s easier to write (that’s why people use pomodoros and all of those other writing strategies). Also, on a train you are physically moving forward: if you get stuck or need to take a break it’s easy to look out the window and let the pleasant scenery rush through your brain and unstick you. On the quiet car it is even more awesome, because there tend to be other folks who are writing (and as the students who participated in our study were quick to tell us, it’s easier to work when the people around you are working too).
All of which has me wondering when my next train trip will be. Really I’d love for us never to fly or drive again when we travel anywhere east of the Mississippi river, but unfortunately train travel is still a smidge too expensive for that to happen in all cases (esp. the sleeper car, and esp. now that the kid is big enough that he’d need his own room). But it’s worth researching for sure.
maura @ 9:08 pm
So as it happens, the hardest thing about writing a book isn’t the writing part. That sounds kind of snotty — like “Oh, writing is so easy for me, I just sit down at the computer and the words stream out of my head through my fingers and onto the screen. And they are awesome amazing words that are perfect the first time.” That never (well, okay, very very rarely) happens — writing is hard work, sometimes very hard. I do all the things that everyone tells you to do: take it bird by bird, keep your butt in the chair for a set amount of time, outline, prewrite, shitty first draft, keep the argument in mind, track of my progress to help motivate me, revise revise revise, etc. But the thing about writing is that, while it’s hard work, at this point I’m old enough and have written enough that it’s hard work that’s known. I know it’s difficult to write a book, but I also have a good sense of the steps and tasks required. It’s challenging — sometimes very challenging — but not an unknown entity.
This is in contrast to trying to find a publisher and get a contract for the book. Which, it turns out, has been really really really hard. Since this is my first book, of course my utter lack of experience with this type of academic publishing is certainly one reason for our difficulty. But there are other likely causes too. Our book isn’t just about libraries, but about commuter students doing their academic work in lots of places. So we’ve sent proposals to university presses rather than library publishers both because they seemed like a better fit and because we’d like the book to be distributed more widely than seems likely with library publishers. It’s been a struggle to figure out how to pitch the book, too, because it’s interdisciplinary and occupies a space that doesn’t seem to have many other published studies. We’re using anthropological methods and theories, but we’re studying higher education, and we do have recommendations/strategies to suggest. So it’s not pure research but not pure policy either. I also think, which has been hard to admit as a recovering academic snob, that we’ve probably aimed too high thus far, sending proposals to fancy university presses that are frankly a stretch for faculty at a public commuter university.
The most frustrating thing about the book thing as opposed to the journal thing is the deafening silence with which proposals are sometimes greeted. I think we’ve finally figured out how to get a better response, which is to send our two-page project overview as an inquiry rather than a full proposal. But it’s taken us a long time to get here. And academic book proposals are MASSIVE — honestly I think the first one we sent in (via postal mail, also not unusual) was over 100 pages including the sample chapters. And when you send something that massive, even the relatively easy ones to those presses that accept submission via email, and don’t ever hear anything back, even after following up, sometimes multiples times… Sigh. I know university presses are strapped — as a librarian, I’m probably more familiar with the contraction of the market for academic monographs than are many faculty in other departments. But it sucks to send a huge number of words that you worked really hard on out into the unresponsive ether.
I’ve also probably slowed us down a bit, too. In my perfect dream world our book would be published open access and freely available to anyone who wanted to read it. We’re working on a website to accompany the book to showcase some of the visual data from the project, and it’d be great if it were easy to connect the two, to go back and forth between them. But books are not articles, and for lots of reasons there just aren’t that many OA monograph publishers yet, especially in the social sciences (things are starting to pick up in the humanities). And we want to go through both peer review and editing, so self-publishing is out. So I think my focus on OA has led us to be too conservative in sending out proposals so far.
Which will change. We’ve revised our original plans somewhat to give the book a tighter focus, and are almost finished with a full draft of the manuscript. We’ve identified some presses that seem like less of a stretch and we have our project overview to send along as an inquiry (along with an offer to send a full proposal). I’m trying to concentrate on looking forward to contacting new presses, as well as the excitement of being almost! finished! with the entire manuscript, and the opportunity to work on the website in earnest once that happens. But it’s hard work with an uncertain ending. Hard hard hard.
maura @ 9:15 am
Hi blag. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Already the end of December, nearly the new year. I’ve written post after post in my head for over a month now, unable to find slash make the time to get the words out. November was busy (including with lots of scholarly kinds of writing, though not quite as much as I’d hoped), and Thanksgiving was late which lent the whole kid’s birthday + xmas prep a bit more urgency this year, given the time constraints.
Of course the thing about not writing is that with every day you don’t write it’s easier to not write the next day. Or the day after. &tc. And that’s how the not writing becomes a routine, much more comfortable and cozy than even the best writing routine. Because inaction is always easier. This is hardly the worst dry spell I’ve ever had, but it feels yucky nonetheless because I know it’s not for lack of material or even, strictly speaking, lack of time. Yeah, I’m busy, but there’s always time for a bit of writing every day, even if only 30 minutes.
This time around it’s most definitely the blahs that have been slowing me down. Nothing huge, really, but lots of little things adding up. We still haven’t had any bites on our book proposal.* I took on a service commitment at work that’s taken up considerably more time than I’d anticipated. A couple of our household appliances went belly up and it’s taken more cognitive effort than I anticipated to incorporate the new ones into my usual chores routines. Lots of my favorite items of clothing have finally worn out, and clothes shopping is one of my least favorite things ever.
*Lest I seem too mopey about this I should note that when we were at a conference last month we spent a long time hashing out a new book strategy, and we’re definitely on a more productive path now. So a new round of proposals should be ready to go out soon, yay!
And there have been some maybe not so little things too. A colleague in another department died; while he wasn’t a young man, it was still very sudden and sad. A dear friend’s parent died too, not suddenly at all but no less sad. I also learned that a colleague in a different department who I respect very much is leaving the college for another position, a big loss for the students and the college.
In addition to the mental reasons there’ve also been some physical reasons for the blahs. Over the fall I started having persistent neck and shoulder tingling and pain, I think related to something I pulled or strained last winter while shoveling snow. Dr visits + testing revealed that I have 2 herniated discs in my neck, hooray. *Not* hooray at all, really annoying, actually. So I’m going to physical therapy and trying to be careful not to slouch or look down much. Which is a pain in the ass, frankly, because it’s difficult to write (or read!) without looking down.
So, back on the wagon with me, though perhaps climbing on a bit more slowly than before. Aging, sigh.
maura @ 10:21 pm
That’s right, it’s November, the month of writing. Like last year I’m planning to eschew NaBloPoMo in favor of the academic version: AcWriMo. I’ll try not to ignore this blag too much as well, though this has been a low-blagging semester already, so take that with a grain of salt, I guess.
Goals! It’s good to have goals. I’m not going to set a word count goal because I’ve got some deadlines that involve presentations and other non-strictly-writing work that I want to be able to accommodate. Really for me this month should be AcScholMo, because I’m going to count anything I do that’s related to my research and scholarship (as opposed to librarianing or service). This is the first semester since my junior faculty research leave has run out and I am frankly struggling to find time for my scholarship. But I really should be able to fit it in on most days even though there’s always lots going on. At the very least, I have a lunch hour. Right? Right. (She typed optimistically.)
So, my AcWriMo goals for this month include:
– prepping for our undergraduate scholarly habits conference presentation at the American Anthropological Association meetings in three weeks
– thinking on another conference submission due on 11/15
– radical revisions to the book proposal, because we have a new plan (yay for a new plan! related: getting a book contract is hard work.)
– creating a compelling one-sheet description of our book project that we can bring to the AAAs and use when talking with publishers
– once the proposal and one-sheet are done, implementing the radical revisions on the manuscript draft
– is working on the CUNY Games conference a scholarly thing or a service thing? whichever it is, the conference is in January so there will doubtless be lots to do this month
– if I have time, thinking on a possible new idea for a conference proposal that’s not due til January but will take some research to determine whether its truly feasible
There are a couple of potential stumbling blocks too. Thanksgiving, of course — it’s always hard to carve out time for scholarly work when we’re visiting family (and maybe I shouldn’t sweat that too much). Also the 4 days at the anthro conference. I should be able to get some work done on the plane, and with my research partner and I together for 4 days won’t we basically be working much of the time anyway, as we discuss the project nonstop and shop the new and improved book proposal around? Let’s go with yes, and if I end up eating flaming cheese* as we discuss the project then so much the better.
* Because the conference is in Chicago, and apparently saganaki was invented at the Parthenon, a Greek restaurant there. Which I think we went to during orientation week — can any faithful readers confirm that?
ANYway, I’ll check in every so often here, but also will tweet with the #AcWriMo hashtag. Game on!
maura @ 2:39 pm
It’s been a quiet Spring ’round these parts, not really intentionally. The semester was busy, book writing is a slow business, we’ve had some proposals rejected (though have also sent out some that are still under consideration), I finished my junior faculty research leave time. Nothing super huge, but enough to keep me kind of mopey. Plus it rained and rained, and while I prefer cooler weather to heat I seem to be growing more susceptible to prolonged cloudiness as I age. Mope mope mope.
But now it’s July, the kids are out of school, and summer’s begun in earnest. We took a brief vacation to Montreal over the weekend and the combination of mostly ignoring the interwebs for 4 days + reading a leisure (if nonfiction) book + plenty of time in the car to space out while looking at the green hilly landscape has helped clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. There’s lots of writing I want to do this summer, both finishing the book (contract or no contract!) as well as finishing another article I’m working on with colleagues and starting on a couple (perhaps several?) of other articles with other colleagues. I’ve apparently been unintentionally hoarding vacation days, too, and since we don’t have any long trips planned for the summer I’m going to take a bunch of them as writing days, in whole or in part. Though since they’re vacation days (like today, actually), the rule is that I’m not allowed to beat myself up if I don’t get as much work done as I think I should. Any work on the book counts, even if only an hour.
Writing begets writing for me — as I always have to remind myself — so I’m going to try to up the posting levels here as well this summer. Striving for daily blags, even if only a few hundred words (like today, actually). Maybe just for July, maybe the whole summer, we’ll see. Butt in chair, smashing words together, all summer long. Go!
maura @ 9:58 pm
The most surprising thing about the aging process is how it goes through phases of happening all at once. When I turned 40 a few years ago it seemed like no big deal, 40, phhfft, who cares? Things are the same, of course they’re the same, why wouldn’t they be the same? But gradually it’s settled in: aging, it’s for real. All of a sudden my hair is grayer,* my eyes don’t like contact lenses anymore,** and to make matters worse far-sightedness has been added to my near-sightedness, what the what? Of course this is probably only surprising to me — I guess I’d never really read or thought much about the humdrum practicalities of the far side of forty.
* I actually don’t mind the gray at all, never have, though I will cop to a smidge of worry about the nonconformist nature of many of the gray strands. We’ll see how anarchic things get — worst case scenario I will finally have an excuse to see how it looks short, which hasn’t been the case for a long long time.
** After almost 30 years, how could they betray me like that? I used to wear them for 18 hours straight, to a smoke-filled late-night concert, and put them right back in after just a few hours of sleep. And now I can’t wear the plastic see-helpers for more than about 6 hrs at a time. This summer I need to find a good optometrist and explore some options, I think.
Today was another aha moment. Last night I was up late, very late (for me), til about 1am, and I had a touch of the awesome (not) early morning insomnia today so up at 6. And as it turns out, the occasional night of 5 hours of sleep is no longer really feasible if I want to have a productive day. Today was slow. Slooooooooooow. I kept drinking coffee, and it kept not helping. I had a candy bar, because I deserved it. No sugar rush. No rushing of any sort, more like padding down a hallway in soft slippers.
It wasn’t the kind of crushing, I-could-fall-asleep-at-any-moment kind of tiredness that hits you when you’ve done lots of exercise or travel or that kind of thing. It was more the blanket-of-muffle kind of tiredness. Everything seemed a little bit unreal, like I was behind glass. Everything took longer, far loooooonger than usual. It’s not that I didn’t get anything done — I walked Gus to school, finished and crossed a bunch of stuff off my list at work, even went to a meeting. It’s more that I kept losing focus and spacing out, then snapping back to attention.
Today was my least meeting-laden day this week so I’m a little bit sad about this, though not too sad, because I just can’t work up the energy for that. But last night’s waking excess was for a good cause: I’m happy to report that Chapter 6 is drafted and in my research partner’s hands, woo! And that’s worth all the spaciness and wasted coffee money for sure.