Monday, April 05, 2010

Getting back on the horse

I try to keep a record of writing productivity, a la Silvia's How to Write a Lot, but that particular spreadsheet isn't one I've opened in a while. "Here I am," it says to me, and I'm off in another room with my fingers in my ears, singing "La la la, I can't hear you. Look! There's another book on flying dinosaurs to prep! Another paper to grade! Another set of response papers to read!" I have never used teaching as a distraction and procrastination device before, but lo and behold, that's what I've done this semester.

This morning, in trying to write and get back a sense of order, I took a look at the spreadsheet. The record has more zeros in it than a hedge fund manager's salary, except that mine doesn't have the mitigating number before those zeros that measures worth in millions or billions. No, I just have zeros where a record of days spent writing could be.

To be fair, a number of those days were on-campus days, usually 3-4 a week; that means 12 hours per on-campus day, counting travel, and an absence of opportunity to write between teaching, dealing with students, and attending committee meetings.

But that's really an excuse. What I've done is like making a big sandcastle instead of building a house: by the time the semester is done, all the writing on those papers, all the prep--everything--will be washed away, and I'll be standing there on the beach with nothing except satisfaction in what I did with teaching to show for the semester.

Now, that kind of satisfaction is valuable to me personally, and presumably the effort I put into teaching helps students, but in a count-happy culture (how many publications? how perfect are your evaluations?), it doesn't really matter to anyone except me. As we're constantly being reminded in a count-happy culture, and, as we remind our students, effort doesn't count. Product does.

So although it's not one of the traditional times to turn over a new leaf--beginning of the semester, January 1--I'm going to get back on this particular horse of writing, and to do that, I have to record the progress I've made. I'm going to stare down those zeros every day until they turn into something else: evidence of work accomplished.


Anonymous said...

Good luck Undine. Alas, I've often used teaching related tasks as a procrastination device. I wish you more persistence!

Anonymous said...

Yes, good luck!

Totally understand. It makes me frustrated when I can't get through the teaching tasks to reach the writing mode...sigh.

word ver= agonsi. As in "I'm in agonsies when I can't get writing."

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I've been thinking something similar. Well, actually, I have been writing, because I have this conference paper I have to go and give, but writing on it has come at the expense of grading that I really don't know when I'll do . . . it really is hard to balance writing and teaching. For me, they use the same energy, as well as the same time.

Murr Brewster said...

Stick with a binary system and it will look like a whole lot.

undine said...

Thanks, annieem. I'm going to work on it, anyway.

Ink, that deserves to be a real word: "agonsies." That's the thing: even if I can get through the tasks, somehow I can't get to that "mode" because my mind is still filled up with teaching. I have to agree with what Dame Eleanor says: they use the same energy and same amount of time, and, well, there's only so much of either to go around.

Murr Brewster, welcome! Yes, in binary, I'd probably be golden.

Ink said...

You're so right about the energy required.

On a related note, I just started prepping a research presentation yesterday and realized that it was, like, **joyful activity** in comparison to slogging through the grading piles. I would SO much rather be exhausted from creating/producing something than from grading (especially that which only brings complaints when it isn't handed back with an "A").

Is that wrong?

undine said...

Ink, what a great way to see it--"joyful activity"! If you're wrong, I don't want to be right.