Term is over and I even wrangled in a vacation. (A week in eastern Ireland: it was lovely!) Now it’s back to work which means writing. I’ve been writing throughout the academic term, but it’s time to get serious and pull together the bits and pieces for an article that I can submit on crime and mothering.
I cleared the decks yesterday by completing a book review due at the end of the month. The eight hundred words is just a tenth of the article total I’ll be pulling together but it helps to both relieve the tension of a looming deadline and remind me of how modest the goal of an 8,000 word article will be to polish off. Then I can move on to the next article that’s been backed up nearly as long as the first.
Today I downloaded the template and author instructions for the first journal I’m targeting. I had been putting off writing the next bit and I realized that part of it was simply not feeling certain about the format. Problem solved and a page added!
Much of this re-energizing was fuelled by my conference paper last fall that led to a forum piece dealing with the transience of impoverished early modern London mothers. The chance to quickly refine and submit the work was exciting, but it also made me realize that I have several stalled projects that I really ought to move along.
This is also why I refrained from proposing a conference paper for the upcoming NECBS meetings in Montreal this October, instead helping to organize three sessions along with volunteering to chair at least one: this is the summer of writing and, more importantly, submitting!
Next month sees the release of Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood in print on 17 April, 2017. Edited by Brian Pavlac and published by Wiley (small world!), it’s a fun collection of pop culture linked with history. I’ve contributed a chapter on what the history of parenting can tell us about the characters and cultures of Westeros and Essos: “Rocking Cradles and Hatching Dragons: Parents in Game of Thrones” A lot of other great scholars have also contributed to this volume: I’m especially excited about Steve Muhlberger’s piece as well as the chapters by Kris Swank and Gillian Polack, all of whom were on board to contribute to the volume I’d planned to edit in 2013. Take a look: there are chapters on the Machiavellian world of Westeros and slave soldiers, along with so many other fascinating topics. I’m pleased this topic is finally getting a chance to be seen by so many, and ahead of season seven!
Here’s an excerpt from my chapter:
Rather than seeing children as expendable pawns, historical fathers and mothers were normally expected to treasure them. Consider a fifteenth‐century story about a young girl badly injured by a fallen tree. Her father rushed to her rescue, “his heart wrung with an agony of grief: yet, lifting the log with some difficulty, he raised her in his hands. Then the fountains of his eyes were loosed.” The tale concludes with the desperate parents restoring their daughter to life and health through the miraculous intervention of the deceased King Henry VI (r. 1421–1471), to whom they prayed in their distress. These medieval parents’ devastation recalls the grief and worry weighing down Ned and Catelyn Stark after Bran’s horrific fall in the first episode. While some historical parents may have felt little or no emotional bond with their offspring, the Starks’ heartfelt love for their injured son would have been widely lauded in the Middle Ages.
Teaching term is well and truly over. Except for supporting my grad student’s major project, I can focus on my research and publishing plans.
What are they? Well, there are a few ongoing projects that need to be shepherded to the next step but I’m actually at that happy if terrifying moment where I contemplate what’s next. I know, in big strokes, what my research plan is, but what’s the best next step? What’s the smoothest option? What will be quickest to publish or pull the project together? What’s best?
Trick question. There’s no best step, there’s just any good next step. Stop dithering and just do it, I remind myself. Sometimes the rougher, less perfect research prospects offer the most reward. I thrill to research challenges like learning a new set of sources or discovering a new element in an old story. So now it’s time to go back to the primary sources and immerse myself for a while, writing out bits and pieces until I see where the research is taking me next.
On Monday I’ll open up my research folders, virtual and real, and get back into the stories of women’s lives in early modern England. As I’ve said before, the best advice for me is to write early, write often. While a busy term might eat away at that discipline, it’s easy enough to restore now that teaching is at an end. I just need to let the river run.
2014 turned out to be a banner professional year, despite health problems that sapped my strength for most of the first six months of the year. I shepherded four different projects into print that resulted in one scholarly article, three book chapters and a co-edited book. That also cleared a lot of my academic writing to-do list (except for Game of Thrones and History), leaving me in the strange situation of trying to determine exactly what is next.
I’ve been telling myself since the end of October that I could either go with the stalled article draft that’s sitting on my hard drive or move sideways to the related article idea that hasn’t been giving me kittens as the first piece has. Seriously, every time I reopen the first file, I find another point that makes me stop and think “self, isn’t that taking the analysis off-topic?” The stalled draft is stalled for a good reason: it’s not coherent and focused.
In contrast, the related article is just an idea, but it takes one of the elements from the stalled article and runs with only that element. I think that’s a better way to approach the project: start by outlining the clear elements in the sources and then move onto the more complex questions from their interaction.
So I know, when I stop to think about it, which way I need to go with my writing. The tricky part was that I needed the last week to see clearly. A week ago I wrapped up my marking for the fall term. That’s given me a week free of teaching worries (except for my new preps for January) and other pressures of the term or family life. That breather week has helped me to realize what I can and can’t do.
The next trick is not to get too far ahead of myself on the project. I’m going to open a new note in Evernote to collect any insights but, otherwise, I won’t tackle this until January 5 when the new term begins. Let’s see what another week off of the hamster wheel can do for my prospects ahead.
Term’s underway and I’m buried in work of all sorts. Four courses at present, plus additional responsibilities with M.A. and senior project supervisions to get up and running with the students involved. An unexpected committee to steer towards a rapid conclusion. A revision (done!). Other writing and editing projects on the go. And home life full of busy-ness all its own.
So when I do sit down at the computer and think about starting a blog post, I shy away as my inner voice chides “You should be doing X.” This holds for certain values of X that have to do with the next writing project, teaching preps for the coming week, more emails for administrative duties or even just cleaning the bathroom. . . again. And so, I don’t post because, hey, there are more things that need to be done. Interesting ideas I might have developed in a blog post mostly become Twitter fodder and while I love that platform, it’s hardly the same as a blog. Either way, I write less and less here as I let the guilt and internalized negativity weigh me down.
This isn’t a radical new insight. Many others have pointed out how academics can be disdainful of anyone who pursues hobbies as “wasting their time” in general or blogging in particular as unworthy. Even though I know my colleagues wouldn’t hold that opinion, it’s easy to internalize the critique, isn’t it, and ditch the personal pastimes as unworthy. Even blogging can appear a waste of time when it’s really anything but that. Blogging connects people, blogging helps to clarify thought processes, blogging sparks creativity.
So I’m going to try to embrace a new mantra: “You should be blogging.” At least once a week, throughout the term, I will post because blogging is something that I really should be doing more of, even when I’m at my busiest.
It’s the start of summer and I’ve been writing pretty steadily all the way through the past four weeks. I’m finally getting to the project that I’ve been giddily awaiting – wrapping up an article draft on perceptions of stepmothers and mothering in the Old Bailey.
The difficulty is that I’d gotten pretty far along with the project last fall before I had to put it on the shelf. Now, I’m picking up the pieces and I’m thanking past me for, once again, being smarter than I’d thought. In this case, I’d peppered the draft with notes reminding me that I wanted to insert more of a lit review dealing with A, B and C issues and another alert that I should draw from the cases of X and Y to beef up the examples I’m analyzing. It doesn’t matter what particular form you employ, whether it’s comments in the text or a outline sheet for the project. What matters is that you have these notes somewhere they’ll be the first things that you see when you get back to the project.
Leaving breadcrumbs for your research is so helpful especially when you know that research will be interrupted. When I was a grad student, I had no idea about this. Once I started my dissertation research, I was on the same subject pretty much non-stop until the last eighteen months when I added in some conference papers branching off in related areas. I never got far enough away from my research to need a guide when I returned to it.
That changed dramatically when I started this job and figuring out smart, helpful strategies to keep my research on track despite months of sidelining? That’s something I wish I’d figured out before the last decade but it still makes me happy to have all of these breadcrumbs laid out to follow.
Not sure if it’s a reward or what, but I’ve been spending most of this month with my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I’ve been marking and writing and preparing teaching. The writing has come to a frenzy of productivity as my deadline looms.
I’ve also submitted the complete manuscript of The Hobbit and History to our publishers. It’s going to look very nice when it comes out in 2014 but no time to think of that now. I need to be writing!
A lot of habit-changing programs or groups incorporate some sort of incentive. Lose X pounds of weight, get a branded star or reward yourself with a coveted item. Let’s be honest: sometimes it works. I’ve found it very useful for me this summer as I’ve powered my way through several writing projects as well as my recent round of course preps.
I have to say, my incentive program doesn’t involve tangible goods that are purchased or expensive experiences. My incentive program is game time. Yes, deep inside, this fifty-year-old academic is rather akin to a tween gamer. What’s embarrassing is what game is my reward: Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Gone are the days of playing EQ or DaoC, WoW or Warhammer: Online. These days the only game I’ve got is a silly one with matching virtual jewels in one-minute bursts.
Despite that, this incentive program works exceedingly well. I have to log in every day to the game to maintain my free points reward level. Never mind the fact that I have 1.5 million points banked. I can’t let those points slide. So I’m inspired on a daily basis to achieve a goal, say, five hundred words of writing or another completed section of my course outline, all so I can fire up the game, do my free spin and play a few rounds.
Extra bonus confession? If I’ve completed my entire day’s work goal, I can play not only a three-game streak but I allow myself a half hour of the addictive mess.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to play. Be back soon!
I wrapped up my winter’s term marking just as the last of the ice melted off of the lake. While getting back into my academic writing that’s been shelved most of the past month and pulling together the reams of documentation necessary for my annual report, I’ve been reading lots. Bingeing, almost. Fiction, that is. Genre-style.
Over at Novel Readings, Rohan Maitzen has an intriguing post on binge reading. In her case, she’s doing it for a project, to review the novels of Dick Francis. When I saw mention of this on her Twitter update earlier in the week, I was intrigued. Not only because I was a big fan of Dick Francis’s work back in the day (when I was a teen, I binged on about twelve or fifteen books of his in quick succession, borrowing a stack at a go from our city library). I quickly recognized the formula (wiry, game ex-jockey who goes through some horrifying torture on his way to solving a racing-related mystery) and reveled in the easy read that predictability provided.
Today we read more about binge-watching television shows but binge-reading has its uses. Concentrated non-academic reading clears my mind of the detritus of a term of teaching. I’m not obsessing about the successes and failures of my students (or the recurrent problem some demonstrated in differentiating between hanged and hung in a discussion of early modern punishments). By reading a raft of mysteries, romances, fantasies and other completely non-work-related non-fiction, I’m attuned to words in a very different way than I was in the midst of marking. I’m thinking about what makes a story compelling and where it disappoints. I’m aware of how word choice can make or break a scene, all in a way that’s fun and energizing. I’m reminded about what I love in reading and ready to get back into writing, even my own much more sedate academic history.
Reading for teaching is diagnostic: you’re trying to find problems or help prescribe solutions. Reading for research is surgical: you’re in there to get some specific nuggets of information to fuel your own scholarship. Reading for entertainment is restorative: you’re in there to relax or explore or think in different ways. A balanced reading life includes all of these aspects. Sadly, when term’s crazy, I tend towards only the first two forms but this entertainment binge has me back in balance and just in time. Another deadline’s looming!
This morning I was all prepared to polish off the last course prep tasks for my winter classes when I got derailed. Pet health issues again: trying to figure out what was wrong, booking an appointment with the vet and dealing with the logistics of how to get there on a carless day with much snow? That ate up a big chunk of the morning.
Now it’s afternoon and I’ve just gotten back on track with compiling the last course materials. I couldn’t do it right away after dealing with all of the above. I was too flustered and high on adrenaline. Instead, I substituted a few low-stakes tasks into the rest of the morning. My range and kitchen counters sparkle, there’s laundry on the go and I’ve virtually filed away some teaching materials I won’t need in the new year.
When I’m derailed, I’ve learned to accept that this task, whatever it is!, has taken over my life for a short term. I throw myself into doing what has to be done to deal with it, deal with the issue as far as I can at that point (which may, in the case of a semi-distant crisis only be an acknowledgement of the problem), calm down and, only once I’m calm, get myself back on track. Which is where I’ve been for the last hour and where I’m heading back to as soon as I hit post!