One of my tasks this week is to revise a chapter I finished in December according to my second advisor’s notes. Good news: he mentioned four typos, and asked for one element of my argument to be signposted earlier. The chapter is already complete; I must credit my advisor who wisely advised me to fill in all the little blanks before I sent the draft to him. I should be able to check this task off my list after a quick read-through tomorrow.

But then I have to get back to the ungainly monster chapter (that I’ve already revised numerous times). I’ve got my writing partner’s notes on my latest introduction, and I’m headed in the right direction. (Writing Partner Knows.) I’m getting closer to done, but I’m not sure I’ve quite got the framing of the chapter right yet.

In other news, I started a grammar class for editors through UC Berkeley Extension. Wow, have I forgotten the details of grammar. Gerunds? Participial phrases? Indefinite pronouns? My favorite part of the class so far is getting to re-read Patricia O’Conner’s Woe is I.

And my kids have started swim team. Today I was at the pool from 4-5, at the soccer field from 5:30-6:30, driving to pick up my husband-of-the-wounded-feet at work after that, and finally home by 7:45. Dinner in the car? Yes. McDonald’s? No. Falafel? Oh, yes.* And my kids still smell like chlorine.

*one of the great joys of my life is that my kids ask to eat both curry and falafel.



Why it’s noon on a Monday and I haven’t really started working yet

Yesterday at the end of Field Day at the kids’ school, my husband got a bunch of dads to race around the parking lot. Many of them take this stuff seriously, including my husband. And he didn’t have his running shoes on. We had searched the house before we left, and couldn’t find them anywhere. (Late last night I found them PUT AWAY in the shoe bench. The one place we didn’t look thoroughly.) So he took off his shoes and ran barefoot on hot asphalt. And then he pulled a hamstring five steps into the race. As far as we can figure out, his feet blistered before he even started running, and the rest of the run ripped the blisters off of his toes and the balls of his feet.

Luckily, a doctor and a paramedic/firefighter were running, too, so he was well taken care of, and we didn’t end up at emergency on a Sunday evening.

Last night, I got to clean the wounds. Bike commuting is not an option for him for a couple weeks, and we only have one car (not that he could drive anyway), so I got to drive him to work in rush hour traffic. And I can’t make him stand up to do the dishes, so I get to do those too. These things all cut into my work time, but the truth of it is, I’m happy to do them.* It makes me thankful for all he does for me regularly, and it makes me thankful that we have good health most of the time. His convalescence will be temporary–only a couple weeks. It also motivates me to take the spare minutes I can to push through dissertation work. I could clearly use this event as an excuse to have a less-than-productive week, and it may very well be less productive than I had planned in my “now to completion” schedule. But it’s proving the opposite: the sooner I’m done, the sooner events like this won’t be keeping me from finishing.

I could break into some extended simile about how writing is like wound care, but I don’t have quite enough distance from the wound care to go there. Let’s just say that some things just need to get done. So go write.

*Just to be clear, being happy to do them, doesn’t mean I skip the grumbling all the time. But I’m not angry, and in the moment, it’s what I want to be doing.

Writing Retreat Report


The view from the top of the hill on my long hike.

My little cabin was as lovely as ever. It’s amazing to me how quickly I can get into the rhythm of solitary life. It didn’t feel like I was working a lot, but I did work a lot. It felt slower paced than the fall retreat, but I think it was because the work I was doing was less intense and took more thought.

Here’s what I did:

  • re-read two chapter drafts (one rough, one with writing partner comments)
  • made a list of what to fix on the Arc chapter
  • made a list of what to fix on ER, but decided it needed major reorganization
  • marked each section with a letter, revised outline a zillion times, moved all the text around to make it match my new outline
  • filled in some blanks in the chapter
  • checked some footnotes

My ER chapter draft (the final one I had to write) was done enough after the weekend, that I was able to clean it up enough to send to my writing partner this past week.


I met this little guy while I was hiking the Bunny Trail

On this retreat I took a few longer breaks–a 90 minute hike up and down some big hills, and a lively dinner out with a friend. Those “reward” breaks motivated me to push through times when I was wanting to curl up with a book of fiction instead of a book of criticism, or with something written in the last decade rather than something written five centuries ago.

I’m beginning to think I need a writing retreat every weekend! (but maybe once a month will suffice)

Writing Retreat (prep)

Where I get to write for the weekend.

Where I get to write for the weekend.

Here’s where I’ll be working from 4-9pm Friday, 8am-7pm Saturday, and 8am-noon on Sunday. I’m hoping to crank out a lot of work (and I can change locations from the desk to the table to the bed to the porch), and to relax a little in the California oaks. There are trails all around, and the retreat is on a working farm. I’m not planning to go visit the pigs, but it could happen. I am, however, planning on some little hikes, and glass of wine on the porch. For much of my life I’ve thought the scrub oak landscape and brown hills (I refuse to call them “golden”) ugly. But they’re growing on me. It’s just about the perfect place to get away, and it’s only 10 minutes from civilization.

The desk and table area.

The desk and table area.

Where I get to cook and do dishes.

Where I get to cook and do dishes.

Not bad for an outhouse view.

Not bad for an outhouse view.

The view from the porch.

The view from the porch.

Writing Between (Week 4)

My final check-in before the writing retreat:

Goal for Week 3: Write 3300 words/complete Chapter 4 draft; finish reading book chapter; read more of new book; plan for writing retreat (and pack).

Accomplished: finished Chapter 4 draft!!! Planned for writing retreat and started packing.

Analysis: It feels good to have the full draft done. I’m letting it sit until tomorrow afternoon so I can have some fresh(er) eyes on it. I may actually leave it to late in the evening and focus on my Chapter 2 revision, just to give Chapter 4 more rest. I worked diligently, and lots of other things in life got left undone, but my actual writing time didn’t take up that many hours. But I’m still exhausted! Getting to sleep early didn’t really happen, but I did think about getting to sleep earlier. I’ll count that as progress.

One thing that will improve productivity for the retreat: Write First, and Walk A Lot. That’s really two things, but both help give me room to focus and room to think.

Goals for writing retreat: clean up Chapter 4 to send to writing partner; clean up Chapter 2 to send to advisor; re-draft conclusion. Anything else is golden.

For the writing retreat, I’m planning a schedule much like my October retreat: work for 2 hour chunks, and then half hour breaks, with some longer meal times in between. I’m also sneaking out for dinner with a friend on Saturday night, and I’ve got some movies cued/queued up on the iPad for the meals and evenings. I’m looking forward to being back in the little cabin. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I avoid mountain lion sightings again.

Writing Between: The Beauty of Cut and Paste

During my comprehensive exams, a medieval literature professor told me to write paragraphs after I read things. “You’ll be able to drop them into your drafts,” she promised. Today I was reminded that she was right.

I’m not one to write single paragraphs. I tend to think of a piece of writing as a whole. In what I consider the “pre-writing” phase, I produce three or four very rough drafts. For each iteration, I start with a blank page and a simple outline. And I keep my old draft handy. (Scrivener allows me to see both documents at once.) Then for my first full draft I’ve not only thought through the material a few times, I also have raw matter in basic paragraph containers.

Today, I was able to cut and paste 600+ words from my old draft into my full draft. They’ll need a slight bit of shaping, but I have four paragraphs (that have the right basic material) moved into place. I love when previous work makes present work easier.

Current word count: 7660/9000

Writing Between: Write First

What happens when I follow this piece of writerly advice? I get over 600 words written before noon. I also have some ideas flowing from the freewriting I started with. (I may have to jump on the bandwagon again.)


Afternoon update: I’m well on my way to 1200 words today. Woohoo!

Writing Between (Week 3)

Posts start again over at Dame Eleanor’s May-August writing group on the 13th, and by that time I should have my full rough draft done. Here’s how: this week, I’ll finish drafting my final chapter; at my writing retreat next weekend, I’ll clean it up to send to readers and draft my conclusion. My May-August goal will be to take my full draft and turn it in to something submittable by mid-August, in time for a September defense.

Last week was not as productive as I’d have liked, but I’m still making progress.

Goals for Week 2: write 3000 words (or more–4000 would be amazing); finish the book chapter I started two weeks ago.

Accomplished: wrote 1229 words; re-read the first quarter of the book chapter (the lit review is really good and relevant to my work); and read the introduction and a bit of the first chapter of another relevant book.

Analysis: I had a decent start to the week, but I got distracted by home life. May is always a crazy month with end-of-the-year school activities and swim team starting up (plus one kid is in soccer this spring), and even though it happens every year, it surprised me again.

One thing I can change to make next week more productive: scheduling loosely (in 1/2 hour chunks) worked well last week when I managed to work, so I’ll continue. This week will be helped by getting to bed a little earlier than usual–say 10:30, instead of 11:30 or midnight.

Goals for Week 3: Write 3300 words/complete Chapter 4 draft; finish reading book chapter; read more of new book; plan for writing retreat (and pack).

I’ll try to check in Friday before I leave on my writing retreat, and again Monday when I return.