19 December 2011

Our strengths are our weaknesses

I believe this is true in all areas of life. The key is to find a way to make your weaknesses serve you. Jonathan Mayhew has a number of posts about taking inventory, establishing your scholarly base, and so on; if you’re not familiar with the concept, maybe you’d like to check out some of his ideas this week, and think about what your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are.

One of my strengths is an ability to write quickly. One of my weaknesses is trouble organizing an argument, or even coming up with an argument in the first place. These may not be exactly the two sides of the same coin, but they are related: I can easily produce a lot of verbiage that doesn’t really go anywhere, although it sounds plausible if I run it by you quickly, as in a conference paper. But coming up with an argument (beyond, “Wow, this is cool!”) and getting it organized, this is hard, slow work for me (not least because I don’t always know a good argument when I have one).

During this intersession, then, I’m trying to harness the strength to make up for the weakness. What the MMP really needs is a strong framework to support all its details: an overview of the fields where this research matters, and a clear statement of how the MMP contributes to these fields. I made a list of the topics the MMP might contribute to, and I’m using the writing-quickly strength to produce around 500 words on each of the topics. Sometimes it turns out that I have more ideas than I thought I did; sometimes I just come up with questions that I can’t answer without doing more research. But if I can identify the questions sooner rather than later, that’s a good thing.

So: can you use the idea of making your strengths serve your weaknesses, or turning a weakness into a strength?

Roll call, based on the latest info I have from you all:

ADM: finish grading, then get Rewrite.

Contingent Cassandra: 3 or so short writing sessions per week.

DEH: Last week’s goals were to work 2 hours a day and do three 500-word directed free-writing sessions.
Achieved: work was intermittent because of illness, but I have done three 500-word directed freewriting sessions (actually 545, 624, and 604 words). They were supposed to be on particular topics, but kept drifting back to my central questions, What can we tell? and Why do we care? I’ve come up with new questions, whose answers (when I find them) may help with the central questions.
New goals: one library day (check out books, consult reference works), another day or half-day if possible before Wednesday (then the library will be closed till January). Read and take notes on at least 3 books/articles. Start working on an outline, using the format that worked for the sections-turned-chapters of the Unexpected Book.

Digger: finish schoolwork by 20 Dec. Then, finish the Why Wheels chapter.

EAM: lit review.

GEW: I'd like to read 30 pages of primary text and and freewrite for 15 minutes at least four times during the rest of the week. In addition, I will decide which texts to take with me on my trip (space is limited!).

Highly Eccentric: at least 1/2 a day every day to finish a chapter by 3 Jan.

Ink: finish grading. Then revise previous novel chapters, write two new chapters, put in two hours a day.

Luo Lin: make plan.

Matilda: finish encyclopedia entries, 2 hours a day.

nicoleandmaggie: finish a draft.

Profacero: at least 25 minutes of work by Monday night.

rented life: finish grading. [For 2-week break: 44 hand-written pages (small journal sized pages) that need to be typed up and then I need to compile it with what I already have written and see where my (fiction) project is going]

Sapience: finish re-reading my primary texts (14 novels total, 10 to go) and outline the rest of my argument.

Sisyphus: find/collect everything I need for the article and pack it. And refresh my article to-do list.

Sitzfleisch: complete academic book proposal due in January.

Theologoumenathon: lit review for my next project.

Trapped in Canadia: read and review one book and finish the book chapter about my mob. My goal is to write two hours a day, but three hours would make me super happy.

Waytogohomesteader: write a page a week.

Zcat: goal for week one is to write 500 words a day.


Matilda said...


What I have achieved this week is that I have been able to take at least two hours a day for my own research, except for a day when I stayed away for a conference. The problem is that I was not able to proceed my encyclopedia work as much as I wanted to. Probably I have not yet been able to find how to organise this type of work. It is not actually an encyclopaedia, but an index-glossary of a book. I do not have to write at length about each items, but I have to write about numerous items. Anyway, I have to do it. I think I need to make a plan. So, for next week, I am going to make a tangible plan and follow it.

Good Enough Woman said...

I did not read 30 pages, and I did not write. I didn't even get a chance to finish grading before we hit the road. So the only goal I accomplished was choosing books for the trip. I'm typing this from a hotel in Mesquite, NV while Hubby takes a shower and the kids jump on the bed.

So, this week, I need to finish grades. Then, Inplan to read 50 pages of primary text and skim/read an intro and one chapter from a secondary book. And I will free write for 15 minutes at least three times.

As for my strengths: I think I'm good at being accountable for my arguments--supporting them clearly and with evidence. But first, for this chapter,I need to figure out what the argument is!

Time to pack the car and head into Utah. I think we might see snow today! Maybe I can ponder my argument while I look out the window.

Ink said...

Must finish grading, so that's the priority.

One of my weaknesses is letting go of the writing first if the schedule gets crowded (before letting go of other obligations). Once I finish grades, I'm going to try really hard to keep that 2 hours a day as SACRED time.

**fist raised in manner of Scarlett O'Hara**

I did look over the chapter rewrites and made editing notes, so I just have to type them in, basically (which often leads to full-on global revision but we'll see).

Anonymous said...

I got sick for a while (and am still sick but whatevs), but finished my grading and tried to organize myself. In addition to submitting a draft of R paper to B journal, I also have to deal with revisions on K paper, which came back from the editor with MORE changes. I should also finish my academic reading and organize myself for next semester's research and writing, but those may not happen. O argh, I just remembered the rec letters I have to write. Ok, back to work!

rented life said...

GRADING DONE! All that needs to happen is returning student portfolios and dropping off busy work (we enter our grades online and turn in a paper roster with grades) then I am somewhat free. Still need to do holiday baking this week, too.

I think my weakness is organizing myself: my writing, the research I have to do, keeping track of everything. I think I need to write down some of the things I'm thinking instead of letting it all float around in my head. And having faith in my project. I need to stop saying "oh what if this is lame?"

theologoumenathon said...

This was pretty much a lost week, because I've still been in the midst of exams. I did collect all of the materials I want to use, and packed them to take with me to my partner's house for the break. Onward!

My weakness is definitely multi-tasking. I have a hard time turning to a new project before the last one is done. As this is (praise heaven) essentially the only writing I have going this month, I'm hoping to use that single-minded focus for all it's worth!

Contingent Cassandra said...

I wrote on Thursday and Friday last week, with an especially short session on Friday. So we'll call that 1/2 to 2/3 success. Could be worse; the article itself is going well, if slowly (and I probably would have let it drop entirely until the grading and other stuff was done without the WWW, so that's a success for the group). On other fronts, holiday shopping is mostly done (mostly via the other www, in between bouts of grading); some exercise (but not as much I planned) has taken place; little to no cooking has been accomplished. Grading is perking along, not as quickly as I (or my students, or perhaps the registrar) would prefer, but I'll make the real, drop-dead deadline, and that's the best I can hope for this year.

I think my strength is my weakness (and I hope maybe also vice-versa): I much prefer working with texts that have not received a lot of attention from other scholars, which means I bring new things into the critical conversation, but I'm not always as good at weaving my own thoughts into that conversation, and so truly making a contribution, as I might be (so, yes, I, too, sometimes have trouble getting beyond "wow, this is cool!" or maybe "wow, this is cool, too!"). In my less reasonable moments, I sometimes veer into moment of thinking that the problem is others who don't want their assumptions challenged, but of course it's my job as a scholar/writer to explain why the picture that results once you challenge assumptions/expand horizons is, in fact, more interesting, and thus worth embracing.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Not doing too well on my own goals here. :s I did get a substanial chunk of work done on Thurs/Fri last week, but I seem to lose momentum every weekend... Oh well! It's only lunchtime now, that means I still have half a day today, right?


zcat_abroad said...

Hmm, well, I managed 500 words a day for a total of three days. It's all still at note-level, but there's starting to be a bit of structure. My weakness is that, as with the Dame, I struggle to find an argument, beyond 'Behold! This thing is cool!'. Which somehow doesn't make it. I think, this time, that I've got some kind of argument, as I am writing my article for a themed volume on relationships, and arguing against a new book. However, I'm still trying to figure out the structure.

Goal for this next week: 500 words a day - start writing an article (full sentences), rather than notes.

SwallowingSoul said...

I'm enjoying some ostensibly uninterrupted days of writing, with the family away for awhile just to give me time to accomplish something. Unfortunately, I have found plenty of ways to interrupt myself. This, of course, makes me feel guilty as well as laggardly. Sigh.

One of my weaknesses: I make big plans. Sometimes, Very Big Plans. They are not unreasonable plans, per se ... just unlikely ones, given everything else that must get done. So, then I am thwarted by the realities that I tend to ignore while swept up in the pleasures of making the Big Plans.

My goal, then, is to re-cast this weakness as a strength by pairing it with another strength: I'm a very good organizer ... a maker of charts, a compiler of lists, a filler-inner of grids. I am making some writing plans now just for the satisfaction of checking off boxes later. I really think this will help. I've even mapped out a schedule for next quarter that guarantees me at least 12 hours a week of writing time. This doesn't sound like much, but it's certainly more time than I've ever officially allotted to writing in any other quarter.

As for checking in: I'll just say that I've accomplished only about half of my nebulous (and unposted, since I'm new here) writing goals for last week. On the other hand, I did complete all grading and rec letters, and I cleaned out my email inbox.

As for next week: my goals are (1) to decide which chapter to submit with my proposal, and (2) to complete one read-through/write-through of said chapter so that at least its skeletons are organized and logical. I will work on making it pretty over the next few weeks. Another priority (though it must come *after* the writing) is to complete the course Blackboards and policy docs for my classes starting in the first week of January.

Onward, ho!

Sisyphus said...

I turned in my grades! That's about it, so far.

Hmm, I guess my weakness is how easily distracted I am by things. My strength is that I often procrastinate on one assignment by doing work for another assignment. I will try to see how I can make the strength work against my weakness this week. *scratches head.*

Ok, I plan to put 2 hours a day this week towards my article! Today I read and took notes on an article I might want to include, and I still have to reread my latest draft and make a full-on to do list. And I still have a bunch of other things that have been added to my list! Oy.

Jodi A. Campbell said...

Writing two hours a day did not happen. I was traveling to my parents' house for two days, but I'm not sure what happened to the other days. I did do a lot of reading to help me clarify my argument in my own head. I need to find a place here where I can work because it's clearly not happening at their house, but obviously my weakness is committing to writing. I let way too many things come in the way of me and my writing. That needs to stop, so I've set aside two hours a day in my schedule and will not be deterred from it this week. Baby steps, I suppose.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Greetings! I'm glad to hear that there are other people whose first idea about scholarly communication is "wow, this is cool!" That makes me feel hopeful.

Those of you who are having trouble getting down to work, here are some things to think about: is this a true obstacle (no childcare, for instance, or illness), or one you are throwing in your own way? True obstacles exist. If you are dealing with one, treat it as a proper real-world problem and don't beat yourself up about it.

Actually, if the obstacle is internal, you should still analyze it and not beat yourself up. Ink is on the right track: when other obligations pile up, writing gets cut. OK. How, then, do you make writing feel like an obligation that must not get cut? If you are motivated to do things for other people, then think about other people: must write so as to keep job so as to support family; must write so as to entertain eager audience; must show up to writing date with writing buddy so as not to let writing buddy down.

If writing just makes you nervous for some reason (what if I just show how stupid I am? Will I ever be able to complete a dissertation?), then you need to address the anxiety. Cognitive behavioral techniques and behavior modification can help. You might want to start by saying "I'm just going to work for 15 minutes," like Virgina Valian, and only increase after you're comfortable working for a quarter of an hour at a time. Or read some dissertations done in your department, and consider the range of quality. If you're at a more advanced stage, find a couple of recent books that make you think "I could do better than that!" and keep them by you to remind yourself that you're going to do better.

It's true that we can't all be above average. But it's also true that if a thing doesn't get written, it has no chance to be great. If nothing else, it's good practice. Writers, too, need our scales and five-finger exercises.

Luo Lin said...

Well, I'm making my plan now, which means it didn't get done last week. For the rest of the week, my goal is 4 writing hours spread over Tues-Thursday. I am working now on re-organizing the article and fitting in new references.

I'm finding it very hard to articulate a strength (how can I have a research strength if I am so unproductive? I ask myself). I will add to my goal: figuring out my strengths.

My weakness is getting caught up in necessary but not sufficient parts of writing (reading, outlining/organizing)that keep me from finishing the actual writing.

"Wow, this is cool" is a big part of getting started for me too.

Also, I think that serendipity can be a wonderful research method, though I hesitate to name it on grant applications.

Sapience said...

Well, I didn't make it as far with my reading as I had hoped. I got distracted with job market stuff (got an interview request, started prepping syllabi and reading about my interviewers and all of that) and then family stuff interrupted, as is wont to happen when I'm home (my grandfather ended up going to the hospital for surgery, and just got out this afternoon, hence being late with this update). But I did get another three novels read, and about two pages of writing done, as well as some revision of what I had done.

My strengths are close reading a text, and my weakness is theory. And this project is more of the latter, so that's something I'm going to have to be really focused on, but I'm hoping that I can really develop my theory out of my close reading.

Anonymous said...

still grading. they're due today. Can I make it?

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I hope you're all done grading by now and are either enjoying yourselves or being productive in some way (whether by baking and wrapping or writing or reading . . . at this point, it's all good).

Contingent Cassandra said...

*Still* grading. Not sure I *am* going to make the deadline, at least not for all 4 sections (I did fill in Fs for the students who disappeared over the course of the semester). Too many new things this semester, too many little things to grade, too many things due at the end of the semester. And the gradebook in the new version of the LMS is extremely uncooperative -- downright contrary, in fact. Ah, well; live and learn (adjust accordingly).

New goal: write on Saturday morning (which means going to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday).

Anonymous said...

OK, I did more than that, like about 4 hours, but most of it was not the work I was supposed to do. I am now going for 25 minutes a day for 3 days.