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’ve had my fair share of legitimate excuses these past four years–new job to learn, pregnancy, baby to care for–but I don’t have them anymore.  Sure Caroline still woke up cold with a tummy ache in the night last night, but just once.  That doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse for not making progress on my article this morning.  This phase of writing is just plain hard, no getting around it.  I’m both a visionary and a wordsmith.  The launch of an article, when all of the ideas are flying and coming into some sort of visual (for me) relationship to one another, is engaging and pleasurable.  I enter the “flow” zone.  The wordsmithing of a paragraph is also gripping for me.  Tedious when I stop and see how few lines I’ve completed, but still, I enjoy it and experience flow.

The middle steps of the writing process are another story.  I lag.  I procrastinate.  I abandon projects.  I’ve dreamed them, but they don’t exist yet.  The middle section is what Peter Elbow suggests that writers freewrite, but I find the distance between freewriting and wordsmithing a final draft to be too great to be of much value.  I can freewrite.  Making the freewritten draft into something usable is very difficult.  Elbow actually suggests freewriting the same section three times as a way of improving it, getting it closer to final draft, while never getting stuck.  Perhaps that’s a solution.  It seems that the third draft can’t really be called freewriting anymore, then, since the mind isn’t free but trying to stay loyal to the preconceived–and improving–argument.  Well, it’s nice to have that technique in my toolbox in case I get stuck this morning.  40 minutes of drafting, here I come.

It’s Tuesday morning, the first week of university classes.  I felt prepared to teach yesterday, and I’m almost ready to go today as well.  My article revisions have not progressed much in the last week, however, but here I am, slowly getting down to it.  I’ve gotten up at 5 a.m. to create writing time.  I’ve pressed “start” on the coffee pot I prepped last night.  I’ve fed the fish.  I’ve put of a sweatshirt. I’ve opened this blog.  I’m moving slowly at this hour of the morning.  But I’m here and it’s time to get to work.  I hope that I can make enough progress this morning to feel enticed to get up tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

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.

As a writer, it’s tempting to yearn for a large span of time and to delay writing until one appears–which is infrequently.  Research on productivity suggests writing in shorter sessions every day.  How short is short?  I don’t rightly know yet.  This weekend I had success with 90 and 40 minute sessions.  I accomplished tasks I had projected would take much longer, which is rare for me.  Today I have only 20 minutes until I want to head home to see my children, achingly cute as they are.  Here I go.  I’ll let you know what I got done in 20 minutes…

Well, I wrote an insightful, but very messy, couple of paragraphs on the effect of standardization on democratic pedagogies.  The thinking and drafting felt very rich.  It does seem possible to “get into” the ideas of my project sufficiently in 20 minutes to take it one small step forward.  20 minutes.  I can find that on the busiest of days sometime between 8:30 and 4:30, no?

I had an excellent writing session yesterday.  I’m a house guest at a lovely cottage on Lake Michigan for the weekend, which might have helped.  The children are playing with other children, running and laughing outside.  I can hear them enjoying the unstructured free time that child development experts say is vital (and diminishing) for kids.  This feels like summer.  I worked for 90 minutes, made two outlines, and began reorganizing my prior draft into these two outlines.  I saw the path forward from here to completed draft.  I felt motivated to continue.

In his teacher research work last year, Jeff Large discovered the power of success as a motivator for students’ persistence.  If students didn’t believe that they could be successful at a school task, they didn’t try.  If they had a taste of success–working a math problem through to the correct answer–then they did persist in trying.

Yesterday was a good writing day.  Here I am, back at my computer again for more.