15 January 2012

Winter Writing Workshop report

I am disappointed with my progress. Despite fairly steady work, including some 3000 new words, the MMP is not done. It's finicky work. I'm not satisfied with my original classification of the marginalia, done a couple of years ago, and I keep dithering about how many hands comment. For the last week or two, I've been working on ways to attack the problem: not even doing the analysis I think I need to do, but setting up materials so that I can do it. And I'm discouraged that I am still working on this project, because it has dragged on for a long time and I would like to be done with it.

What's more, I'm getting anxious about this spring's conference papers, and though I have carried on with the MMP, I'm not sure it's the best use of my time. Sir John thinks I should be working on the Unexpected Book, because it's a project that has got a lot of good feedback from the people who know about it, because it's a book and he recognizes the importance of books for literature scholars, and because it was going so well through the summer and fall. I think he has a point (several points); but I also feel a bit sick about the idea of putting the MMP aside yet again.

Multi-tasking is really not my thing. It took me most of my life to figure this out, because academia encourages juggling projects: you start by taking several different courses at a time in college; later, you teach however many different preps you have, plus try to keep a research program going, plus attending to your service commitments. And I have to admit that I keep getting attracted by new ideas and want to wander off to play with the new shiny thing instead of concentrating on finishing the old drab one. I want, have been trying, to stop doing that, to put new ideas on a list and try to finish the old ones, but I still feel tangled up in unfinished work.

At any rate, the discouragement is a bigger problem than the work itself. I put off revising a syllabus and putting together my documents for annual review so I could concentrate on the MMP, and now those things are past due and I regret not having just done them sooner.

Oh well. Time to dig in and do those things I ought to have done, and get back to working on a set schedule, because that was incredibly helpful. I'm going to spend till the end of January fussing with the MMP to see if I can either get it done or at least leave it with a clear sense of what will have to be done when I come back to it.

Tell me something good! How are you doing with your writing projects? Feel free to post your achievements and goals even if you're not on the list here.

Another Damned Medievalist: I am madly trying to get my classes together. And I have to write that book review.

Contingent Cassandra: the goal for the week is to complete a full, condensed draft of the article-in-revision, and also to complete some related correspondence (e.g. permissions letters). I think I'll also have time for one session with the article-in-progress this week, just to stay acquainted.

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell: I think my goal this spring semester is to triage the dissertation: contact my readers, send them some chapters. Oh, and move mid-semester.

Good Enough Woman: By next Monday, I hope to have the 12 pages I promised.

Ink: If I can make it through this new chapter before Monday, I will have met my goals for break. . . .I have planned for this term to keep one scheduled block a week for this project.

Lost in Academe: the goal is 15-60 minutes of writing 4-5 times a week.

Matilda: Goal for next week: finishing the half of the rest of the encyclopaedia work; having at least two hours a day for my own research; writing at least 15 minutes a day.

Naked Philologist: still FINISH THE SECTION. I'm also going to try my hardest to do readings in the mornings and write in the afternoon.

Rented Life: I also added several more pages of notes to my journal so I'm in a bit of a loop. Type notes, cross of to-do list, write more notes, need to type said notes, it's back on list.

Sapience: I don't expect to be done by next week, but I might be close.

Sitzfleisch: My goal: again, to meet my 14.5 hours. With the long holiday weekend, I will have even more time, and I plan to have a complete draft of my proposal letter and my introduction done by next Tuesday evening.

Trapped in Canadia: This week's goal - 500 words and writing for one hour a day

Zcat abroad: write at least 500 words a day.

11 comments:

Luo Lin said...

I don't do well with multitasking. I have two simple projects I want to / need to finish up but I am afraid to let go of the complicated article that I've been focusing on.

I didn't check in last week. I hadn't even tried to get work done while my mother was in town for a week. After she left, I spent one day in the office trying to catch up with Big Service Thing and the next day using my usual writing time to prepare for classes starting this Tuesday.

My goal is to re-claim my usual writing time on Friday and add another two hours on Wednesday.

Sapience said...

I did finish another draft of my article, but it's not done yet. I think the argument isn't as strong as it needs to be yet, though this is definitely a step closer. I have two months to finish it up, but I'll be switching between it and my dissertation between now and then. So, my goals are to put in at least two hours a day on the dissertation, and two hours on the article until the article is done, and then just power through with the dissertation. (I'm usually pretty good at multi-tasking, and getting working on one often helps with getting something done on the other.)

Trapped in Canadia said...

Dame, is the MMP something absolutely vital that you have to get done? I mean, what is the downside of leaving it alone for awhile (or maybe even for good - gasp!)? I don't think there is anything wrong with moving on from it for now. Yes, it is frustrating to spend so much time on a project and not finish it, but maybe you just need a break. Maybe you'll work on the Unexpected Book and find yourself refreshed to work on the MMP again.

I don't like to leave a project unfinished, but I completely gave up one article to finish this dissertation chapter because that article was going nowhere and, after five months of struggling to write 4,000 words, I decided to cut my losses for the time-being and move on. In the meantime, I've come up with great ideas to move that article along and am actually looking forward to getting back to it.

If the Unexpected Book helps your career more, maybe it deserves the attention right now. The MMP will be there, after all.

Ink said...

Completely understand about feeling discouraged--I do think it's part of the process, though. Everything I've ever done has taken infinitely longer than I'd imagined when starting out, and what you say about academia is true in that it doesn't allow for deep focus since there's so much juggling. Perhaps we all need to reconfigure our expectations and celebrate any and all progress (as something practically impossible given the never-ending demands on one's time in academe)?

I did not finish my second chapter but I'm still grateful to have finished up the earlier ones and begin this chapter at least. It's more than I had done at the start of break, so I'm going to try to be glad about that.

Thank you so much, DEH, for hosting this. It did serve a very useful purpose, keeping us thinking about and reaching for progress. Also, it was lovely to be a part of a community, to know that others were engaged in similar efforts (too often, I feel incredibly alone when in the writing mode).

Wishing you all the best on all of your projects as the semester unfolds.

Good Enough Woman said...

Well, I don't have 12 pages, but I have about 10. They aren't very good, but the direction for the paper is shaping up. Still, I really need to send something to my supervisor in the next few weeks, and I feel so far from being ready to do so. Perhaps in a couple of weeks, I can sneak away to a hotel for a night or two and power out some work. It might be necessary.

In the meantime, I'm going to give mindful inflexibility a go as I start classes again this week.

Thank you so much for, Dame Eleanor, for facilitating this group over the break. I gained a lot of great insights and thoroughly appreciated the group support. And I hope someone takes up the charge for another group soon.

nakedphilologist said...

I am with you on the discouragement! Still going on this damn chapter - I have to finish it this week because next week I have jury duty. I've also utterly failed to half/half reading and writing time :(

Matilda said...

This week I have done not so much as I expected with my work. I still have to work on the part I left last week...What I must do is probably decide how much I have to research to write on each item of this encyclopaedia work. I do not have to write a paper on each topic, but I do not want important things left uncommented.

I am so poor at multitasking. I know I need to decide what I must do at that moment,and then, just do it, which I often fail to do. Is this not because of multiple tasks I have, but because I always unconsciously try to avoid work on anything?

rented life said...

Feeling you on the discouragement. Usually that leads to me giving up on things, but I don't want that to happen this time.

Everything came to a screeching halt due to some never ending family drama that has plagued most of my break. Syllabi are done, I have my week roughly planned as far as courses go, and I probably won't touch my project until Friday or Saturday. (That is the hope anyway.) I also need to decide if I'm submitting an abstract to a conference that's nearby.

Sometimes I do quite well with multitasking. I enjoy being busy. But as someone who suffers from depression, when I'm experiencing an episode, I can't handle multitasking. That's been a big problem this last month.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I can report success on the full revised/cut draft of the article-in-revision (as of the end of Monday morning's session, after losing a few planned sessions last week, and with a few details still to be filled in, but still, it exists, it flows, and it's *just* under the word limit). I didn't get any permissions letters done last week, and those are becoming urgent, so I think those, and filling in the pesky citations-and-other-details-to-be-looked-up stuff is the agenda for this week. It's not my favorite work, and in some ways it feels not like "real" writing, but like stuff I should be doing in my spare/down time, except I don't seem to have any of that right now, and it needs to be done in the next few weeks. And the rest of the week's work is similar -- updating details on syllabi, assignments, etc., and getting stuff up on the LMS -- so I'll be more or less consistently in the same mode. I don't know whether that's good or bad (it might be nice to experience the deeper concentration of really writing early in the morning), but it's how things worked out.

I'm going to have to think hard about multitasking/juggling in relation to the semester ahead. I have a conference paper (eventually to be an article) due in late March, for which I have a very rough brainstorming-type outline, but nothing else. I have to decide soon whether to switch to concentrating solely on it (in which case I'd aim for a full article draft, plus a conference-size version, by late March), dropping the article-in-progress (now scheduled to be presented as a conference paper in Fall '12) for now, or to try juggling working on a conference version of the second-article-to-be (let's call that one P) and continuing work on the article-in-progress (J). I also need to decide what I'll work on this summer, but expect it to be closely related to the ongoing project that includes the article-in-revision and the P conference paper/article-in-progress. And there's another, at most tangentially-related project (a proposed contribution to one of the MLA teaching volumes which currently exists *only* as a proposal) which might make its way onto the agenda in the coming months, once the MLA finishes reviewing the volume proposal.

So, yes, multitasking seems like a relevant topic, but I have no answers, only questions of my own.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Only 9 comments by Wednesday . . . I think schedules must be filling up.

Luo Lin, welcome back; sorry I left you off the list. I hope you get your writing time back this week.

I now see part of the reason why ADNWG had its rule about dropping: it's easy to pick up people who posted the previous list, but gets trickier when you have to work back through past posts.

Sapience, if I had four hours a day to write, I might be better at switching off tasks. It sounds like you're making good progress.

Trapped in Canadia, it's partly sunk costs and start-up time, partly that I really do think the MMP is a valuable project, partly that I have spent so much of my life getting attracted by the new shiny thing and not following through with old ones, that I was really determined that I need to finish the MMP. I suppose it will still be there; but I always fear that someone else will come along and work on my good ideas because I didn't get to them fast enough.

Ink, it is helpful to hear that you too have spent much longer than you expected on writing projects. The isolation we feel as writers is very conducive to paranoid beliefs that EVERYONE else is producing 2000 words a day and an article a month. And you are moving in the right direction---more than at the beginning of break is definite progress---so I'm glad the group was helpful.

GEW, 10 pages is good! And a writer's retreat at a hotel could be a great way to turn them into 12 pages good enough for your advisor. Well done!

Naked Philologist, okay, let us be discouraged together for a bit, and then remember that it is a new week and we can set new goals. I hope you are able to get to a good stopping place before jury duty.

Matilda, taking the two ideas in your comment together---needing to plan how much research to do, and why you don't just do things on your list---makes me wonder if possibly you are like me: when I have a gut sense that a task will take longer than I really have to spend on it (but without having actually worked out the time necessary) I tend to procrastinate because that gut sense makes me too nervous to work on something that I know (at some level) will take over my life once I start it. Breaking the task down and seeing how big it really is can be helpful because either I accept its size, or I find ways to "cheat" on the work, or I give up on it or accept that I'll do an acceptable but not good job, whatever seems appropriate. Anyway, it's a thought; ignore it if it's not helpful.

Rented Life, sorry to hear about both the family drama and the depression. Getting your syllabi done and classes planned is useful work, though. I hope you'll be able to find time to continue your research---are things calmer now?

Contingent Cassandra, it sounds like you're making truly awesome progress. I think writing for permissions counts as moving the project forward, even if it isn't "writing" as such. I have the same anxieties about "real" work and things that ought to be done some other time, but I don't think we should indulge them. Whatever moves a project forward counts, especially in a busy week.

Z said...

I'm disappointed with my progress too, but I'm oddly happy otherwise so what can I say?