Help me choose my own writing adventure

So far my Drafting Week! has been off to a dismal start. I did manage to get myself to the pool this morning with the “Suck Less” exercise policy (I promised myself I could get out after 5 minutes if I wanted to). I swam harder than I intended for 45 min., and now I feel a bit waterlogged. And after a weekend of late nights out, lots of great conversation, a few margaritas, and an afternoon of watching children’s soccer games, I want another weekend for recovery. Or at least a nap.

My brain is foggy, so reading through the chapter draft I didn’t get to this weekend or starting to re-draft my current chapter feels impossible. At the coffee shop today, I tried to start in on the chapter revision and gave up after a paragraph. I did, however, decide on some productive procrastination. (I read two helpful articles and wrote annotations for them, and had a delicious prosciutto, provolone, and fig jam panini on sourdough.)

But now what? To keep up the pace, I need to get through reading the chapter tonight.

So do I:

a) sneak in a nap before the afternoon kid activities start,
b) stick to reading for the day,
c) try to get just the right amount of caffeine in my system so I can be focused and productive,*
d) go to bed early tonight at all costs
e) some combination of the above
f) other

Help me save Drafting Week! from fatigue and bad planning. Recommendations?

* I’ve been off caffeine for twenty some-odd years, and if I do have a full cup off coffee, I get very jittery. Getting the right amount is a tricky prospect.


A sudden drop into Overwhelmed

I started out today with some reading, a little writing, some notetaking. Everything was going on swimmingly, and then this happened:

Is there more research than I can possibly read? Yes. Are there really important things I have tagged that I will forget all about? Of course. Are those the notes on my chapter from 2010 that I forgot to read before my last revision? Yes. Yes, they are. Do I love those little book marker post-its? I think I may have written an entire post on them once.

Solution: Straighten up those piles. Then pick one thing (let me repeat, ONE). Then do that one thing. Take a short break. Drink some water. Repeat.

(For the curious, the books are Sir Philip Sidney, Courtier Poet (Katherine Duncan-Jones), Changing the Subject by Naomi Miller (the purple one), and Sidney, The Major Works (peeking out on the right side). That last one is under Entertainments for Elizabeth I. Also hiding in the pile/mess: Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney Dobranski’s Readers and Authorship in Early Modern England, and Shakespeare Co-Author by Brian Vickers.)

Fake Sick Day

My daughter has been home sick from kindergarten all week. I feel very luck that I don’t have to change my schedule drastically to be home with her. I have to rely on the other families in our carpool to get my son to and from school, I’m housebound during the day, and my writing time gets, shall we say, interrupted regularly. The last couple days I’ve tried to be pretty mellow about it: I let her watch lots of movies, and I lowered my expectations for how much work I would get done.

Today, I tried a different tack. I’m calling it “Fake Sick Day.” I skipped swimming this morning. I didn’t shower until noon. I’m still wearing my husband’s company sweatpants at 5:30pm. I pretty much stayed in bed all day. But I got work done. Lots of work done.

Now I can’t take these Fake Sick Days all the time–my family does need to eat, needs clothes to wear, and needs a semblance of order in the house–but I think I might try to take one every once in a while. For now, because of my work load, they’ll have to be reserved for work. Like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, without the convertible and the ticker-tape parade.

For everything there is a season

I’m trying to make use this fall of helpful cycles in writing. I can’t possibly write 2000 words a day every day and have them be valuable and useful to my project. But I can write 2000 words a day for two weeks, if I’ve done the prep work, which includes plenty of freewriting, reading, notetaking, abstract writing, and outline writing.

I’m currently in a prep phase, and will need to shift into “real” writing soon. In the three other iterations of this chapter (which have all failed miserably in one way or another), I spent some time preparing, but not nearly enough. I was writing early. Especially this summer, writing early was not the answer. The draft actually got worse, and not the kind of “it needs to get worse before it gets better”–it was just worse.*

So now I’m attempting to put in the time reading and doing preliminary writing so this draft has the argument and quality it needs. It’s slow going, but everything’s beginning to coalesce.

The hardest part about doing the preparation work well is watching the deadline approach without having thousands of words on paper in draft form. I’m having to trust the process and will away panic. Not only that, I have to trust myself–my scholarly abilities, my ideas, my endurance. Some days that’s easier said than done. But I have some amazing cheerleaders and some good habits, and those carry me through.

*My advisor’s comments actually included portions he cut and pasted from comments he made two years ago that I hadn’t addressed, or had addressed and taken out again. Sad, sad, sad.

Writing Retreat

I just booked a weekend in a tiny cabin in the hills about a 20 min. drive from where I live. It’s cheaper than a hotel, has a little kitchenette, a redwood deck, and surrounding woods, and is located on an organic educational farm. For one weekend in October, I’ll have almost 48 hours of quiet in which to write.

The long span of time seems somehow hallowed. A daunting gift. The most set-aside writing time I’ve had in a row (since kids) is about eight hours–before non-stop chattering and boisterous jumping returned. My first instinct is to wish for a writing friend to share it with, but the wee cabin is a solitary retreat. Of course I have idyllic visions of getting loads of work done AND relaxing completely, but I’m not sure that will happen.

Any advice for the retreating writer? Any ways I can prepare?

Knitting during meetings

In the online writing group (at Dame Eleanor’s last spring, I think) there was a discussion in the comments about the possibility of knitting during meetings. For those meeting-knitters, I found some predecessors:

. . . several female rulers in Europe, such as Margaret of Parma, Regent of the Netherlands, are known to have worked at embroidery while presiding over council meetings, and Mary Queen of Scots produced many embroideries during her long imprisonment.

from Sir Philip Sidney, Courtier Poet by Katherine Duncan-Jones (1991), p. 20.

Happy knitting during your council meetings and imprisonments.

Writing Vacation

I’ve taken the last 8 days off from writing. Totally off. No mental energy. No actual words. No academic reading. And yet.*

I found myself on a bus in Yosemite Valley with a short story idea. (I haven’t written a short story since fourth grade, I think. But even through high school I wanted to be a writer. Long story, that.) I found myself figuring out some necessary plot points. Some character details. I think I’ve finally come to a place in my life where writing is in me. Or I suppose one could argue that it’s been there all along and I’ve stifled it for years and years and years for various reasons.

Vacation gave me that gift, and another: that I am beginning to think more clearly about the end of my current academic work, and what might come after. I haven’t had any grand revelations, but the future doesn’t look quite so scary. I’m beginning to see the choices I have, where I’m limited by the choices I’ve made, and how I might hang on to a writerly self inside or outside formal academia.

I may or may not decide to write the story eventually. For now, I’ve recovered at least some of the mental and emotional energy I’ll need to tackle the rest of this dissertation.

*I am reading Kent Haruf’s The Tie that Binds, thus the use of the narrator’s refrain. (Review: good, gritty, compelling.)