Sunday, January 26, 2014

Writing in public

I've been intrigued by Claire Potter/Tenured Radical's two posts about writing in public and Historiann's recent roundup mentioning Matthew Pratt Gutterl's new blog.

Like the other posts, TR's "Re-thinking the Place of Writing in our Lives" has a lot good suggestions, several of which made me think about how they could be implemented.
  • Is it possible to write in the office? Yes, and I love the idea that supportive colleagues would establish quiet times (or, better still, set up quiet rooms/cubicles) on campus.  There are two things that make this tricky. First, at any given time, I have about 20 books open, out of maybe 200 that I rotate in and out of my study at home, and I use them when I'm writing. Second, they're at home rather than in my office, and it's not practical to lug them back and forth.  
Although I work from notes and electronic sources, too, the books have become--maybe from habit--a visual stimulus to thought.  They are visual placeholders.  Sometimes I'm looking away from the screen and thinking of something, and the cover of one of the books will remind me, or I 'll read to get the focus back.

There's also the writing habit that goes with certain spaces.  The office seems to trigger the desire to do a lot of necessary teaching and administrative tasks, whereas home is for writing. 

Perhaps this is more habit than necessity, though. Maybe the books and the division of spaces between work and writing are like a turtle shell, in that they make me feel surrounded and protected by the resources I need to work.  Maybe a little more public writing would help to erase the dependence on that shell.
  • Short-form writing? Also a good idea, and I'm doing some of it, although it counts for nothing at P and T time.
  • Have a conversation about why books are the gold standard in the humanities? The MLA has been weighing in on this for at least 20 years, most seriously 12 years ago with Stephen Greenblatt's statement. We can keep having this conversation, and things may be changing, but in talking to academics in the humanities, I don't hear about there being much change in this.
  • Too much service as an escape, in a way, from publishing, since the rewards are immediate? It's true that this can eat up your time.  One of the hardest lessons I've learned is that this kind of work eats up mental space as well as physical time. Read an email on the weekend or over a break, and even if you don't answer it, your brain will be busy trying to think up a solution.  
    • Train yourself not to read email on the weekend or group them all to answer at one time.
    • If the break is longer, don't read the email but send a polite reply saying that you'll respond once you get back from a conference, semester break, or whatever.  A lot of times, people don't expect an immediate reply; they're just lobbing their thoughts onto your desk so that they don't have to look at them any more.  You are not obliged to respond right way.

No comments: