Monday, June 4, 2007

Donning the Robe and Reflections on Writing

So I have decided that I'm already a faculty member -- and it's making things a whole lot easier. Prevailing wisdom says I should wait for my advisor's decisions about which revisions I should go ahead on and which I shouldn't. While I see the practical use of this strategy, I've decided that this takes too much control out of my hands in a way that makes me feel pretty powerless and then angry and argumentative, none of which is good for my mental state and attitude during this transition from grad student to faculty member. (Gotta get mentally acclimated now. I graduate and leave for my job in the same week!) So I'm going to go ahead and use my own best judgment on the diss revisions. (Don't worry, I'm not stupid. There are things that I will wait on and discuss with PA, because I don't want to waste my time either.)

Last night, I was reading Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members, the section on writing. I remember when I was reading it before, I felt that I had a long way to go to get to be one of those "exemplary" writers/faculty members he was talking about. But reading it this time, I realized that I know my own process pretty well -- and it's pretty much what he talks about in terms of freewriting. I write a lot in the exploratory phase so that the formal writing is kept to a minimum. I do this as a strategy to get me writing, but I also just like it. Exploring concepts and ideas and possibilities is what I enjoy about this work, so this writing is really play. Also, when I get comments, it's important for me not to just try to "fix" things in the formal writing, but to go back to some exploratory writing so I can really engage with and explore the comment. This makes it more fun for me -- inviting me to learn more about what I'm thinking about. It's true that when it shapes up into something, as it often does through lots of writing and then cutting and pasting, finding ways to meld the texts together can be the hardest part. But at least it foregrounds for me what I like best. Imagining spending some amount of time every day exploring and tinkering with ideas in writing for the rest of my life sounds like fun as opposed to thinking I have to work on the dissertation or I've got to crank out this article/conference paper/book. I realize that these are different orientations to the same practical matter of getting down to writing, but as in English we affirm that point of view is important, so it is in Earnest English's old brainbox. Boice really helps me pay attention to how my attitude shapes my experience. His rules that focus on mental self-discipline -- letting go of negative thoughts and moderating extreme emotions -- is very important for me. (Since I'm notoriously snarky and freaked-out, we'll see how well this works. But at least I'm blogging the one moment where this all seems pretty clear. I'll be able to remind myself later with it. Better than sticking it in a journal and never picking it up again.)

I think some of Boice's terms get in the way for me. For example, his first "writing rule" is "Wait, actively." Now, for me, this means do something meditative, waiting for the good stuff to come. But then his second rule is "Begin writing early (before feeling ready)." Those two don't go together for me. So instead of "wait," I'm going to think "pause, breathe, reflect." That's what makes sense to me. I suck at conventional (what some call "emotional") meditation and mindfulness strategies. On the other hand, I'm great at freewriting, which Natalie Goldberg's Zen teacher said counted as a Zen practice, and yoga. I need meditations that get my body into it. I'm already too much mind already.

The "rule" I really don't follow is the one about writing daily. Writing for me is often like exercise -- I just stupidly forget how good it feels. So I decided last night that I would do some exploratory writing on the notes I had made from my readers' comments. So this morning, after some blogbrowsing and the usual warm up, I got down to it. I also must remember that the best way for me to get to work is to let myself write about all the other stuff that is crowding my mind and get that onto the page so I can make some space to focus and explore. If I'm trying to remember half-a-dozen things, I can't focus. Better to just accept that I need to write other stuff because writing is so much how I sort out my own mind, then I can settle down into some exploring.

So after getting that done, I felt pretty good the rest of the day, even from an hour of work. I sent out loads of emails, solved some problems, backed up my laptop, and took it in. It may be gone for a week or more (waaaaa). So I'm stuck with the old desktop I plan to pack up and give to my mother -- as soon as the laptop comes home.

So tomorrow I think instead of writing about all the different reader comments, I'll spend some time on more close-up work. There's one problem that a reader mentioned that I want to explore and reflect on more. I even began doing some reading concerning that issue, but two pages in I figured out what direction I need to explore in order to explain/discover my own thinking. Instead of writing it down, I daydreamed a little, then took a nap. So I'll start there tomorrow. Though it's unlikely I'll forget, I can always just read over those couple pages again, waiting for that same match to spark.

So I feel pretty good. But I'm starting to yawn, and I really wanted to do yoga tonight. Good night all.


Hilaire said...

This is a lovely post...I love reading about your writing process!

Maude said...

you really inspire me EE. since i have to crank out chapter five so quickly (as in finish it by tomorrow morning) i've been trying to adopt parts of your process to see if it helps me get stuff out more quickly so that i can be done.

thanks for being so lovely!

<3, maude

k8 said...

So, is the Boice text one I should get my grubby little hands on?

k8 said...

I just looked it up on amazon and saw the title of chapter 21 - "Combine Self-Service With Service For Others" - and my reaction is more adolescent that it should be.

Earnest English said...

You're all fabulous. I thought this would be a most self-indulgent post.

K8: Yes, that's the one. He's didactic, to be sure, and reading it reminds me of performance improvement, a field I was once in before this last round of grad school. What do I mean? I mean he's done these studies of new faculty members -- and picked things out that differentiate the exemplary ones, who get good work done and, I assume, get tenure, though I was more interested in overall productivity, from the ordinary ones. With the idea that we can all learn from the exemplary ones. Basic performance improvement. Doesn't make much room for the idea that people are different, but then something to start with is better than nothing.

You could always look at a different one and we could compare, contrast, take the best out of each! (We could start an online reading group even. Or not.)

gwoertendyke said...

i love that you've donned the professorial identity. good for you. and self-indulgence is not always a bad thing.

k8 said...

Sadly, my diss director has "forbidden" me from taking on any new (read non-dissertation) responsiblities or reading groups. I sometimes try to do to much. This makes her sound harsh - she was half-laughing when she said it. She knows me too well.

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