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.

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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.

This morning as I reached for the box of green tea up in the cabinet, I grabbed my One-a-Day vitamins as well.  There’s no use trying to remember to take one in the afternoon on a full stomach.  I won’t remember.  If I’m going to take one, it has to become an automatic action for my sleepy morning body.  I can put it on the counter until I’ve consumed a piece of toast and take it with my tea.  Done.  I can check “take vitamin” off of my list.

Writing isn’t quite like that because I can’t do it sleepily, but I do want to begin to do it automatically.  I want my body to naturally turn towards the chair, the way the taste of tea or coffee sometimes motivates me to roll out of bed and put my feet on the floor.

So here I am today.  I’ve got one hour until lunch with the girls–a quiet hour in my office.  I’ve got a clear goal and a clear set of instructions.  I simply need to revise my EngEd draft to fit the Extending the Conversation guidelines, taking the reviewers’ comments into consideration.  They asked for “less description and more analysis.”  This tells me that all of my work in the “Findings” section that chronicles the responses of the rest of my class should be another paper.  I only have ten pages to work with, and most of that should be A) summarizing “the conversation” and B) extending this conversation with my own analysis and discussion.  The “data” from my one student case study is the text to be read closely and discussed.  This is where qualitative research and literary analysis share some common ground.

Tasks:

  • Reread drafts
  • Freewrite important elements of “the conversation” to summarize
  • Freewrite the unique contribution that I’m making to this conversation
Off I go…!