Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Writing

There are a few interesting happenings on the parenting front, like the fact that E. and I finally had it with Magnolia's night wakings (getting oppressive again) and last night at 2 in the morning agreed she was just going to have to cry it out, and then hunkered down like Berliners during the siege.  But the crying it out lasted about 2.5 minutes and then was over and then she slept all night long.

Stunning.  Revelation.  Better than the Book of Revelations, which is what we were living before.

Also, the homework wars with Addie, where there is much screaming and gnashing of teeth and pleading with us to "HELP ME!" and then "YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!" and then we call Child Protective Services because we cannot be trusted not to kill this child before she turns seven, seem to be over.  Of course, these things are never really over.  They just cycle.  But for now, we have a detente.

What I really want to write about, though, is writing.  Academic writing.

Boooooring, I know.  But it's on my mind.

See, all semester long I've known I had two kind of major writing projects to tackle before the term ended.  You might remember I had a fairly writing-intensive summer, churning out a bunch of small pieces, one or two medium pieces, and a long article.  Then this semester came, and I got swallowed by a calendar full of meetings, departmental drama, and a thousand talks/guest-teaching spots.  Which was all very nice, but which also gave me a very convenient excuse to not work on my two major writing tasks.  See, in practice, I tend to not need huge chunks of time for writing.  I can sit down for two hours and make progress on something, but then I need to go do something else, like scoop out the kitty litter, or my brain explodes.  But I still have graduate-student brain, which tells me I need an eight-hour stretch to get anything meaningful done.  And my graduate-student brain is convincing, especially when I don't really want to work on my writing tasks or I'm afraid.  So I frequently put off doing my writing until I have a beautiful eight-hour stretch of time.

That never happens, of course, the eight-hour block of time during which to write.  If it does happen, I sabotage it by polishing my shoes or something, which suddenly seems very urgent when I'm faced with an eight-hour block of time.  I'm much more productive when I have two-hours and better write like my ass is on fire or it won't get done.

Good to know about one's self.

The other good news is that one of the writing projects fell away.  I thought I was going to have a chapter due by the end of December, but the editors postponed the book project for another year while they go after a big-gun publisher.  Good news and good news.  Because I was not ready to write that thing and would have had to pull out of the project.

The other project, though, was an article revision.  That longer piece I had submitted this summer was, well, hastily done.  In fact, I never should have submitted it in the form it was submitted in.  I am embarrassed and ashamed.  But, to be honest, I wanted it out the freaking door and I let my haste overwhelm my better judgment.

Somehow, by some gift of God, the article received what's called an "R&R"--an invitation to Revise and Resubmit (not rest and relax, unfortunately).  This really was a gift, as the article deserved to be rejected outright.  But the editor must have been feeling charitable that day, and let it slide.

The reviewers of the paper didn't, however, and called for a total rewrite.

So I've been thinking about that rewrite all semester, and fearing it and dreading it.  This is a piece I'd sure like to get published, as it would fill a bit of a hole in my research.  I've been working on it a long time, though not to great effect, as I stated earlier.  I want to succeed.

Good set up for procrastination and writer's block.  I was thinking I would not get it done.  I was thinking about how I hate this part of the job, the solo writing aspect.  I was thinking about how sitting down to do this is favorable only to pap smears and tax hearings.

But then, I started.  And something odd happened.  My grad-student brain--which loathes and fears writing and failure tremendously--went away, and I started to enjoy the writing!  This has happened a few times before.  There is a flow to academic writing, sometimes, that is very creative and fun.  But I had psyched myself out so much I had forgotten that could happen.

I had also forgotten that I had done quite a bit of writing and reading over the course of the semester on my topic.  Little smatterings here and there, but which are coming together in ways more meaningful than I had expected.

Not to say that the article is a work of genius, or even that it will be accepted on this go-around.  It may not, and then I'll have to do another revision and send it out to another journal.  My point is that the process of writing this has been much more enjoyable than I anticipated.  The worry about sitting down to write was much worse.

This is the kind of lesson I'm amnesiac about, unfortunately.  Do you think I'll ever grow out of sitting down to write for work with fear and trepidation?  Or at some point will I learn to trust myself and the outcome?

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