Saturday, May 22, 2010

On Why Writing Daily May Not Be for Me

Undine and Kathleen Fitzpatrick over at Prof Hacker are talking about writing again and the old writing-in-the-morning game again. I know that this conversation, while inspiring, may not really be for me. Yes, I can wake up and plunge into something, but the brain that plunges is certainly not my best brain. Not to mention, one's time with an active nineteen month-old is not one's own. But I'm sure I have friends who'd simply wake up before the Tot and get much done. But here's the thing: when I do wake up before him and focus on work before I get him, I don't really want to stop. And I'm not sure I really want my brain to be in work stuff and wanting to be in work stuff when I really should be with him with my whole head. Especially now as he has just vaulted into some incredibly annoying phase where his favorite things are all things he's not supposed to do: standing on the chair, climbing over the sofa, and sitting on the bottom shelf of the entertainment unit. These are all things he's heard "no" to a dozen times, so he does them while watching us with that smile. I don't know if he can truly understand "no" yet, but he spent a lot of time today in his playpen, which is the punishment for naughty things. Is he too young for that? Are we still supposed to be doing distraction? Any thoughts?

Anyway, back to writing. After a horrendous week where I actually got some strange sickness leaving me very very weak but without many symptoms, I was determined on Friday to get some scholarly work done, especially because it's Annual Review time and I have that my scholarship -- or lack of published verification thereof -- on the brain. So I worked and made good progress. I did not actually write. I read a vital source for my article and took copious notes and really allowed myself some time to wade around in those ideas. It was great. When I was done, I didn't really want to stop. I didn't want to work on the backlog of student marking I have to do. I didn't want to prep for Monday. I couldn't make myself sit still to do those things either. I wanted to do research, Annual Review things like work on the report, or chat with colleagues.

This is my problem with the whole writing in the morning idea. It works really well for people who are better at transitions than I am. I suck at closing something up and going on to the next thing. My brain really wants to stick around in the research. Which makes it hard to focus on even the most worthy student project.

So I have teaching prep to do tomorrow that I couldn't get myself to do on Friday, even though I stayed until 6pm. I don't know if other people have this problem. I don't know how to get around this problem either, because I definitely have to work on research on a regular basis, because this article I'm working on must be done by August 1, and I'll be teaching pretty much straight through until and past then. (We're on quarters, so we're still a month away from being done with this quarter, then I'm teaching in the summer.)

But I feel amazing for having finally read the source article and taken notes. Also, I met with my mentor, and we have a plan. I need to work on getting some articles out. There's even a timeline for this, if you can believe it. So I have to get serious. I am to learn to say no until I get these articles done and out. It's very liberating.

So I'm trying to figure out exactly how I'm going to get work done while I'm teaching. I had a mentor long ago who was one of those giving dynamic beloved rock-star professors who saved one day a week to focus on scholarship. Maybe I can do something more like that, since a half-hour each day may work for me when I'm revising, but not really in the earlier stages. And I hate feeling badly about teaching or taking care of the Tot because they're not research when my brain refuses to shut off and move on.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I know just what you mean. If I know that I'm going to be interrupted, I don't even really want to start working on something. It's frustrating as hell. I think the only way around it is to try to schedule one day a week -- like you said another prof did -- so that you can have one day to get some research done. If you don't do that, then you're just going to keep being frustrated.

Good luck juggling it all. It's really hard with kids (or one kid, as the case may be). Even when I was working "part-time" (teaching three classes), I still had to have eldest in full-time daycare just to keep up. And I got zero research done. Ah well. Moving on...

Anonymous said...

I have that problem! It's so nice to know that others struggle with it too, as frustrating as it is. Lately I find that I have to sit down and force myself to work in one-hour blocks and sometimes that does actually result in not wanting to stop when the hour is over. But, I don't have a little one at home and have more flexibility to keep going if the mood strikes. Non-research work, however, is so hard to make myself focus on.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand being interrupted, so I end up working very late into the night, when the kids are sleeping. either that or I need time away.

and for me, 19 months is not too young for what you describe.

maepress said...

(just stopping in - thought I'd add my two cents since this is also something I've struggled with)

I think that the whole writing some everyday actually helps with the transitioning from one thing to the next. The reason being that it's much easier to get started when you are picking up from where you left off yesterday as opposed to last week. Even if AM is the best time.

Oh, and by the way, redirection is always less of a hassle, even when they're much older. I also feel that consistent time outs work wonders. (or at least did with our little one)

Horace said...

Soooooo know what you're saying. I've been having a great deal of trouble getting the ball rolling, between a busy end of Spring semester and another new grad class for summer session. With all of that going on, when I finally do have free time, I'd rather pull weeds or play with the kids.

I WISH I could push you along, but all I can say at the moment is, don't be like me.

Anonymous said...

19 months is not too young. and i agree with maepress that if you can redirect it truly works (and there are fewer tears involved).

i've always assumed that everybody has an ideal writing time. some are morning people (that's me) others can do the late night thing. i cannot write after 6pm, but i can prep then. so i try to arrange my schedule so that scholarship happens early in the day.

i have a three year old, but he was one when i started my job (tenure track like yours). it is so hard, i know.

i can't focus on scholarship just one day/week because i need it fresh in my mind. what about devoting every other day to it, but in smaller chunks of time? even if you're just reading or taking notes, you're staying 'in touch' with your project more frequently during the week.

that works wonders for me.

feMOMhist said...

I'm fortunate in that I like to write first thing. Oddly enough having the pressure of a kiddie coming home keeps me on track. My poor spouse however is one of those academics who doesn't even get warmed up until the late afternoon and prefers to work late into the night. That isn't compatible with parenthood and he is still struggling to figure out how to research and write in the new constraints. I find rigid compartmentalization to be the key to combing parenthood, teaching and writing. I know exactly when I prep, when I write and when I have to transition back to mommy, which is the hardest. Good luck finding your pattern!

Renaissance Girl said...

I've got no advice to share, mostly because like Pocha I think that everyone has hir own best writing schedule. I need to produce just one paragraph a day. Doesn't matter when in the day--after kids in bed is fine, naptime was great for me when I was dissertating with an infant. I could start the actual writing slowly, and ruminate, and make headway as the allotted time went on because I didn't feel like I had to write 10 pages in a sitting. My problem is the decompressing--I can't get my head out of it after I've finished that paragraph, even if I go play games or pull weeds or whatever. I guess once I'm in, I'm in.

And for what it's worth, I can't even GET in when I'm teaching--it takes up too much brainspace for me to write at all.

Like I said, no help at all.