Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Scorecard: Admin 1, Writing O

Some days are like that. You start with deadline-driven admin or service tasks and by the time you look up, 12 or 14 or so bleary-eyed hours later, you wonder, "Did I have writing to do today?"

That's not accurate. I did eat lunch and dinner. I did watch an hour of House of Cards with Spouse. I did go out for a run/walk late in the afternoon. I could have done some writing instead of eating or run/walking or watching House of Cards. 

But maybe if I put it all away now, I can make that score Admin 1, Writing 1/4. It's worth a shot, even if it's just revising a page.

Teddy Roosevelt was famously productive. He could start a meeting at 12:20 and end it at 12:25. He'd keep reading while his appointment for that time walked across the room. This is the man who thought he ought to go back to law school because being Vice President wasn't taking up his time.

But I may need more Francis Underwood evil genius than TR energy.

This is me tapping my Sentinel class ring on the wood of my desk and getting back to the real work of writing.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On writing: if it quacks like a book . . .

I'm going through the manuscript and writing short pieces and making edits.  The notes and citations are for another day and another headache, but so far, this is quacking like a book.

Some chapters haven't been touched for a while.  This means that, absent a writing group, I get to look at them with a more impartial eye. My reactions are ranging from "I have to fix this" to "hey, I've read worse" to "okay, this is pretty cool."

One time I read about an irritable projectionist who, when the sprockets wouldn't line up or there was a break in the film he was showing, would simply tear out big handfuls of film and splice the rest together. He didn't care if the film made sense.  I now get where he was coming from.

Pieces I thought were necessary and left to be written later--well, I'm not so sure I need some of them now.  This doesn't have to be the world's last book, or my last book, either.  It's like saving leftover pie crust for tarts: there'll be a use for it somewhere.

I took about 6,000 words out of a chapter today. It was on additional works by an author, and I didn't need them, but--. No buts about it. It's all just more pie crust for another time.

There's still at least an hour of work time left if I get at it now.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Follow your bliss? What if it doesn't follow you back?

Over at the Chronicle, Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer Furlong say something that has long needed to be said: "You don't have to love your job."  This isn't another post by a teacher moaning about hating teaching but a statement that having a job is important, and in many cases, distinct from loving a job.

Sometimes the two go together, and that's fortunate.

But since I am not an optimist by nature, hearing people quote Joseph Campbell's "Follow your bliss," translated into "Do what you love and the money will follow," always seemed beyond daft to me.  It also seemed like advice that privileged people would give to other, younger privileged people, which is the unspoken codicil to this particular phrase.

"What if it doesn't?" was always my immediate question.  Since I didn't want to (choose your own silly 1960s cliche here) harsh someone's mellow or surround them with a cloud of negativity or bring them down or kill their buzz, I usually wouldn't say it.

One time, I did. It's long enough ago that this student has faded into generic student-dom, so here is what happened.

I was talking with a student who was, as the Academic Excellence office would say, not making good choices for a path to success. Translation: she was smart enough to do the work, though not a standout, but she rarely did the work. As a result, her grades were low to middling.

She announced to me that she would get a Ph.D. and be a professor in English.

I tried to explain about the scarcity of jobs, the competitive nature of graduate programs, the hard work and determination needed to keep up with a program, the debt load, and all the rest.  "Are you sure that is what you want to do?" I asked.  "Aren't there other possibilities that would be more--" and I can't recall the word I used, but it was some way of saying "realistic" that wouldn't be insulting.

She shrugged. "No. I guess I'll just have to follow my bliss and it will work out."

What can you say after that? 

This is the power of positive thinking writ large. "Your only limits are your imagination." "If you dream it, you can do it." Remember The Secret?

What Vick and Furlong are doing is making it all right to say "But what if it doesn't follow you back?"

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Mid-career academics: Just tired or over it?

Last week I had lunch with the Colleague from Another Place Who Keeps Me Sane (Colleague for short). We got to talking about how hard it has been to get motivated and keep working longer and longer hours during the Endless Gray Winter--and ours isn't bad compared to some places this year.

"Maybe we're just tired," I said, talking about the possibility of yet another conference with lots of tedious travel, costly out-of-pocket expenses that won't be reimbursed, anxiety about writing yet another paper, time taken away from other projects, and all the rest.

"Or maybe we're just over it," Colleague said. "Maybe we've just done that and want to do something else for a change."

I've been having this conversation a lot with mid-career academics, especially those who are at full rather than associate.  They still love teaching and research, and they're still good at it, but they want to do something else.  If they write criticism, maybe they want to write something different, nonfiction or a biography. Or maybe they want to work more in administration, or write fiction, or work harder for social change within the academic or local community. 

Let me be clear: this isn't a complaint, because I know how lucky we are to have a career in academics and how many adjuncts (of which I was one) would kill to have this job. Reading the blog posts where we're invited--nay, enthusiastically encouraged--to die or quit or retire keeps that very firmly in one's mind.

And I'm not quite at the "over it" stage. I have a lot of academic goals I haven't met yet and am faithfully working away at them.

But I wonder this: at what point does the tipping point for creative reinvention of one's career take place? When do academics start thinking about extending or shifting what they do, even if they love the basic parts of their jobs? After 10 years? 15? 20? After a promotion?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Eight years of blogging

No retrospective, no words of wisdom, because I'm trying to get stuff done--but I couldn't let the day pass without noting, for the first time, a blogiversary. Happy blogosphere to all!

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Quilted writing

I've been reading Claire Potter's posts about writing in chunks, a method that makes a lot of sense. The manuscript I'm working on finishing is complete in some ways but has gaps with placeholders like "write up  review of criticism on this" or "expand on this reading" or "write about this one work." These are all texts I've read, so it's more a matter of "reread and write" than doing something entirely new.

When I open up the chapters, filling in the gaps seems overwhelming.  But if I think of this as a quilt where I need to finish just one square a day, maybe it'll be easier.  Needlework isn't my forte at all--I recently hemmed some gray pants with light blue thread because it was the only kind in the house--but I can visualize a quilt even if I can't make one.

The same holds true for the chapters.  When I look at them in Word, or even in print, I throw up my hands and am afraid to start.  But if I put them in Scrivener, where it's easy to see the tiny pieces separately, that works. That's not unnerving.

One quilt square a day, one patch of writing a day.  Surely I can do this.