While I may come back to this blog site in the future, for now, I will be posting in a site specifically focused on my upcoming year of sabbatical.  Yes, I crossed the finish line of tenure and now am looking ahead a year for reading and writing, free from teaching responsibilities (and joys).  We’ll see how it goes.  I have set up a site specifically to focus on the sabbatical year, so if by chance anyone came here to check up on me, you can read more at


All best,



This morning I tried to synthesize what I have read and experienced as a writer thinking about AUDIENCE.  When I write, I am writing for someone.  One of the foundational truths about effective communication is this:  Know Thy Audience.  In one of the earliest texts about effective communication, On Rhetoric, Aristotle offers an analysis of different kinds of audiences.  His point is this.  If you are trying to persuade a group of elderly men, remember that they are nostalgic for the past.  You will persuasively communicate with this audience if you ” “.   If you are trying to persuade a group of young men, remember that they are hot-headed and full of vigor.  You will communicate effectively with them if you ” .”

Aristotle does what we now see advertising agencies do as the first step in their work.  They analyze their demographic.  They get to know their audience.  Once they know their audience, authors can effectively persuade that audience.  Knowing is the first step.

Sometimes, when I write, I write for myself.  However, I am not a journal-keeper.  I know that I don’t want to read a daily record of what I did every day.  I know myself.  I do, however, like to write to myself to deepen a fleeting insight and to synthesize disparate insights–like I am doing right now with my ideas about audience.  I like to write to myself to remember some events, some things others said.  This is particularly true now that I have children.  I want to remember them at 3 and 6.  Even for myself, I am only motivated to write if I have a purpose.

As our classmates each filled sticky-notes with possible audiences for our writing this summer, I saw a lot of family members on those colored bits.  We also write willingly for those we know and love.  We write to create shared memories of our times together.  We write to communicate love.  We write to say, “I notice you.”

Writing for an audience of our family members is made easier because we know them (through writing well is never easy).  Not only do we know what our family members sound like when they use language, we know what they know and don’t know, like and don’t like.  We can address them specifically, making reference to shared memories, in a style that they will “get.”  My husband, for one, loves it when I talk to him as him.  He likes it when I anticipate his sense of humor, when I make inside jokes, when I don’t tell him something he already knows.  My kids are the same way.  Even my three year old likes it when I talk to her in ways that address how old she perceives herself to be.  With some regularity she turns a corner, and ways of addressing her that were ok yesterday become “too babyish,” like counting to five when I brush each side of her teeth.  “Mom, don’t do that.  That’s for babies,” she tells me.  Know Thy Audience.

There are two things that make knowing your audience difficult for our students.  First, teachers know more than their students by definition.  The student doesn’t really know everything that the teacher knows, what the teacher likes.  They only know what we reveal.

I’ve written previously about one of the many dilemmas I face as a writer: not being good at every necessary step.  I can’t “synergize” with my teammates and their unique strengths when I write.  I’m a team of one, and I’m stuck with the skills and abilities that I have, which do not offer comprehensive coverage.  I can think, imagine, and draft an outline.  I can revise sentences and wordsmith a final draft.  I am not a strong writer when it comes to the middle part: the writing of a good enough draft, sentence by sentence.  It feels so tedious after the expansive work of outlining.

Well that’s a recap of prior posts.  In order to get the middle part done, the actual drafting of linear sentences, I’ve been trying to do several things.  1)  Review my outline and notes.  2) Imagine my audience carefully, emphasizing or fictionalizing how nice they are.  3) Begin speaking to this audience, imagining myself on the stage or over a cup of coffee with a smart friend, and 4) typing with my eyes closed what I would say to this friend over coffee about my topic.  I try to write without getting bogged down in revision (I have my eyes closed so I never go back to edit–yes it’s messy), but to follow my logical outline, imagining the connections among ideas and paragraphs that I need to spell out if my audience members are going to follow my ideas.  I make so many connections; I need to slow down and make the case for these connections implicitly or explicitly  in my article.

This visioning-writing is key for me.  I hope to find out soon how hard it is to revise this form of freewriting into conference-worthy prose.

The sun is shining. The grass is green. The leaves are letting in dappled light.  The kids are playing.  “Mommy, let’s play family. You be the Mommy.”

OK, done.

“I’ll be the baby.”  She starts this whining cry that is her imitation of a newborn.  Ah, sigh.  Here we go.

“Oh, come here baby, and I will hold you and keep you safe.” I think I’ve lived this scene fifty times this past month.  Playing make-believe can get old.  I start making grocery lists and work schedules in my mind.  I pick up a kids book and begin to be “the teacher” who wants to read to her.

I’ve learned a strategy to extend my patience–imagine loss.  I imagine that my kids are all grown up and don’t live here anymore.  I imagine missing them terribly, wishing I could remember what they were like at 2 and 6.  And bingo, here they are!  I get to remember vividly right in front of myself.  If I’m feeling a bit morbid, I might even imagine that one of them has gotten hurt, and I long to see them whole and unencumbered.  And presto, here they are!  Perhaps growling like angry werewolves at each other, or crying, but here and whole nonetheless.  I savor the look of their arms and legs, the dimple on their chin and cheeks, the way they approach me expecting a hug.

I even do this with my spouse when he’s annoying me.  I imagine him gone and starting to miss him.  The imagined loss makes me wonder at the present moment.

So, I write all of this in order to ease me into academic writing.  How can I take this strategy-for-living-thankfully and apply it to my writing?  First, I can imagine the loss of time.  We know that procrastinators avoid the task because making the choices required by the task is unpleasant because one fears one might make the wrong choice, i.e.procrastination is related to a fear of failure.  Procrastinators write only when the time limitations make failure more certain if one puts the task off longer.  So, when faced with an unpleasant writing task, I might take a moment to imagine the loss of time, the deadline approaching with nothing completed.  Even though my deadline is fluid–have something published in 16 months–I need to face it squarely in order to be thankful for the opportunity to write today.

On a more immediate scale, I need to realize how quickly my time today will fly by.  If I make a schedule for all that I want to get done today and take a minute to imagine the kids needing to be picked up at school at 3:00, I can remember to be thankful for this time to write and, hopefully, actually do that writing. What other loss can I imagine?  The loss of intellectual community.  Really, this is something I’m just starting to have, so I have to both imagine having it as well as imagine losing what little bit of it I have.  The more I write academically, the more I “join the conversation” among colleagues about issues that really do interest and energize me. First task today:  making the schedule for the next five hours that includes writing, filing papers in my office, biking for 20 minutes, and writing some more.

I didn’t work on the article yesterday.  In the morning, I went for a 4 mile run with Rachel.  All day I worked on my syllabus and reading for ENG 495.  I could read all year and still feel unprepared.  The course covers EVERYTHING, it seems.

So this morning, I am reluctant to read the article again, reluctant to work on it.  I feel discouraged.  I feel like it must be no go, never going to get finished, embarrassing if anyone else reads it.  They would just tell me it isn’t finished yet; I have more thinking to do, more reading to do, more “analysis of my data” to do.  All of this makes me feel, why bother?

I know these feelings are normal.  I’ve read dozens of writers testify to the same.  I know the task is just to name them and move on, to even find joy in the writing, putting one’s critics on silence.  Telling them off even.  Anne Lamott recommends a visualization: dropping people saying critical things into a glass jar and screwing down the lid.  Maybe I’ll try that rather than believing these discouraging ideas and letting them keep me from writing.

Fall semester begins in less than a week.  The campus is busy with kick-off celebrations and faculty meetings.  This year, I’m up for it.  We had a lovely summer, even while I taught a lot.  Unlike the previous three years, this August I’m not longing for a vacation just as school gets underway.

I could say that it’s because I chose to vacation in Montana rather than attend the NWPM Portfolio Workshop, which I was sad to miss but duty to family called.  Maybe that did play a role in my feeling rested.  I think the real cause of my newfound energy is that my children are sleeping through the night AND I’m getting exercise on a daily basis.  Pregnant and/or nursing a baby wore me out for the last three summers.  Worth it, but exhausting.

I’ve made a commitment to try to wake early to write.  I thus went to bed at 9:45 with an alarm set for 5:45.  I couldn’t fall asleep for a while, wasn’t that tired.  I woke up at 1 am, not that tired.  Steve (lovingly) kicked me in his sleep at 5:00, and I wasn’t that tired, though I had been deep in the middle of a dream about a virgin wilderness and a gaggle of geese lowering themselves into a lake.  I got up.  Time for coffee, Cheerios, banana, and writing.

I feel some fear as I turn to writing this morning, but I hope that this time and space becomes a familiar friend to me.  Don Murray wrote of writing as a lover, always exciting, always teaching him things, always waiting for him.  I hope to get to know my own writing with so much familiarity over this next year, as my life as a mother has changed and given me this early morning hour.

Next Page »