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!