Thursday, July 01, 2010

Grumpy answers to excellent questions

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Kerry Ann Rockquemore has a series of columns on productivity, of which the latest is "Why Aren't You Writing?"

Why, indeed? Before taking some of her excellent advice, I decided to answer some of her questions from the foot-dragging position I'm now occupying instead of the one that I hope to adopt in a day or so.

"What's holding you back?"

Would you accept "I'm really tired and don't feel like writing" as an answer? No? Let's try again with the errors she identifies.

1. "Error 1: You haven't set aside a specific time for your research."

Well, yes and no. I've set it aside, but my brain isn't showing up.

2. "Error 2: You’ve set aside the wrong time for writing."

Rockquemore suggests that the best time is morning, and she's probably right. Morning is the time when your brain is freshest, but that also means that it's a time when resistance toward writing can be at its highest. Balancing those two factors can be tricky.

3. "Error 3: You have no idea how long writing tasks take."

Oh, but I do. I know how long they take: for a slowcoach writer like myself, way too long. I like her idea of a chart, though. Anything that spells "chart" usually gets me back to work.

4. "Error 4: You think you have to do everything yourself."

She suggests "inexpensive" options for help with research tasks, but even "inexpensive" is too expensive for me and not the best option for the kind of work I do.

5. "Error 5: The tasks you have set out are too complex."

That's true, but I actually have a whole range of tasks. I don't want to work on any of them, even the kind (like reading copyedited proofs) that are usually gratifying and kind of fun.

6. "Error 6: You can't remember what you have to do."

I remember, all right. I made a list (her recommended remedy) even before reading the article, but that's partly causing the resistance to getting to work. There's such a lot of it.

7. "Error 7: Your space is disorganized."

My space is a thing of beauty--desk cleared right down to the wood, books arranged on the bookshelves in front of me, and folders with hopeful, ambitious labels signifying various projects all in their proper places in the wire folder stand. Excessive cleanliness for me is a symptom, not a cure: if I've been organizing, I haven't been writing.

Rockquemore closes with this list:
  • Write every day for 30-60 minutes.
  • Identify what (if any) technical errors are holding you back from writing each day.
  • Experiment by trying one new strategy this week.
  • If you feel reactive to trying new strategies to increase your writing time, ask yourself: what beliefs are keeping you from experimentation?
  • If additional resistance emerges, welcome it with curiosity, engage it in conversation, and identify the behaviors and the feelings associated with it (you may even want to keep a resistance log).
I think this post may be the first step in a resistance log. I don't know if I'm going to welcome Resistance with curiosity (we're old friends, Resistance and I), but I may engage it in conversation long enough to tell it to get out of my study.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Today, re-reading my Zoo paper worked to pacify Resistance. It made me feel smart again. I've been trying to work on one thing at a time, because I have a bad habit of abandoning things mid-stream because I spot a New Shiny (or just have a conference deadline coming up before I'm ready for it). But I still wonder if having projects at different stages might be good for me. I guess in an ideal world, that would be good: one I was polishing, one in the thick of the hard part, one New Shiny. But that world would involve teaching a 1-1, I think.

My captcha is "mingless." One letter off "mindless." Or maybe it's Gollum mingling.

Earnest English said...

My big resistance is calling it "writing," damn it! I swear to you, when I'm reading or taking notes or whatever, I'm getting scholarship done!

Can I just say that this is the best blogpost title in the history of ever? Blog the scholarly work and resistance to scholarly work. These are my fave posts! These help me figure out what the hell is my problem, anyway!

Veri word? Unwings. Does scholarly work make me put on my unwings? Uh, maybe so. I think I'd sometimes rather just swing from thought to thought rather than having to worry about supporting and justifying and locating my argument.

undine said...

Dame Eleanor, I do that, too--read a work that's been presented or published to make me "feel smart again." If you figure out how to be immersed in more than one project at once, tell us the secret.

Earnest English--thanks! I love reading posts about writing, too, but I can't figure out why. These are second only to my favorite posts, photos of workspaces and desks.