The power of shitty first drafts

I think Anne Lammott gets the credit for establishing the power of “shitty first drafts.”  She says as long as you sit down and write something, anything, you have the chance at editing something terrible, into something good, into something terrific.  But if you have nothing in front of you, you have nothing to cultivate, and that’s not a good feeling. Until the beginning of this summer, I was lost in that uncultivated place.  I had been told so many times, both blatantly and insidiously, that was I stupid, that my values were misplaced, and that my project was unimportant, that I couldn’t hear the voices telling me I was good at my work. As a consequence, I developed a bit of rust.  Not engineless-tractor-in-the-cow-shed kind of rust, but a layer just deep enough to make each attempt to restart my project a slog.  Given my depleted confidence, I interpreted that slog as incompetence. But eventually, with enough distance from

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The bad news is, I’ve not posted here in a while. The good news is, that’s because I overcame demons, broke curses, and wrote a new dissertation chapter. The extra good news is, my advisor loved it.  He said it was well-written important work, even. The terrifying news is, that means my project has taken off at an accelerated pace, with a brand new panel, schedule, and defense date. Why is that so terrifying? Well, there’s the obvious reason: I haven’t been producing at a fast pace in quite a while, nor have I had other people depending on my production. But when I stop and think about that, it’s less scary and more challenging.  I like a good challenge.  I like seeing my word count rise.  Deadlines have always been easiest for me to meet when I have external accountability, people waiting for me. So, is it the pressure to out-perform myself with each new chapter–to write a chapter

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Huzzah, it’s my birthday! The perfect occasion on which to get all introspective.  Or at least more so than other days. I must say, I’m excited to turn 32.  I much prefer even-numbered years, for reasons I can’t quite explain, and since 8 is my lucky number, this year should be especially great, since 32 is divisible by 8 four times. Oh snap. I’m also excited to turn 32 for more “real” reasons, though. Reason 1: My dissertation is in a good place I don’t want to say much more than that.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that if I expend too much energy talking about the intricacies of what engages me, or the excitement of it, I lose the magic.  Sort of like if I let an actual cat out of an actual bag, and the cat turned around and was like, fuck you, man, you put me in a bag!? and

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Rituals for good writing

A lot of writers talk about their muse.  How they can only write when their muse is with them, providing inspiration and excitement.  The sheer thrill of writing in these moments, and the following exhaustion and baited-breath-waiting for the return of the muse. I’m not that writer. I mean, I have plenty of days where I feel excited to write, where the words come freely, and I sit in rapt witness to my characters’ brilliant actions. But I don’t have a muse. Instead, I have drive, sheer stubbornness, and ritual, the latter of which I’d like to discuss briefly, because I think it might be helpful to other writers.  Exportable technique, instead of some intangible, magical writing power. Here’s how my ritual works. STEP 1: Journal. Ritualize positivity I’ve been keeping a bullet journal for two and a half years now, and a habit-tracker/couple-of-lines-a-day journal since January.  And when I was flipping back through these journals, I noticed something rather

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Dissertation voice: curricula

I’ve mentioned in another post that I tend to write in a question-driven manner.  I like to explore issues, controversies, and weirdnesses, and figure out what makes them tick and how they move. But, of course, that raises the problem of shape.  What does a cohesive project look like if it’s not moving from point A to B?   I went back to my method books to look for the answer, and I found it in John Law’s Aircraft Stories. Aircraft Stories is a collection of tightly related stories/essays about a miltary project that was cancelled back in the 60s.  It covers decision-making procedures, the aesthetics of science, the culture of construction, and the way by which a single object, like an aircraft, takes on multiple meanings.  So, it’s a lot of stories grown “alongside one another” as Law says, as though he tacked them all up on a wall, stood back, and wrote about the coolest stuff he saw. In

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Synopsis writing

There is a truism about grant-writing in academia that goes something like this: Sure, applying for grants is exhausting and painful and humbling and almost always fruitless, but you’ll learn so much in the process. I really want to be able to brush this off with a casual “fuck that” but, as is often the case with these things, truisms hold….well, truth.  Every time I’ve applied for a grant, I’ve learned about myself, honed my project, produced useful abstracts, and strengthened the armor that protects me in the face of rejection. So, when it came time to decide whether or not I would apply to Clarion West, I decided to just go ahead and learn from the process. To be fair to myself, I suppose there’s a chance I’ll get in.  But it’s the tiniest snowball’s chance in the deepest layer of Dante’s inferno. More so, I applied because I wanted to see if the application process was as useful

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Out of the gate

Given the political and social stresses of the world around us, and how dead and depressed I felt at the end of 2016, I knew I would be in massive amounts of trouble if I didn’t take a firm hand with 2017.  So, I went back over my planners from the year (I keep one for to-do lists and one for long-term goals), rooted out all of my best days and weeks, and looked for commonalities between them.  Then I made a set of systems based on my “best day habits” and launched them on January 1st. It’s been going pretty well, so far.  As long as I don’t procrastinate what I know works for me, I get stuff done, feel healthy, and make strides toward year end goals.  So I thought I would share some of the habits that are helping me out, in case you’re looking for ideas. Here’s what works for me… A.M. Meditation: I’ve always worked

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Surviving four years of trump

This election cycle was god awful, and somehow the results are worse.  Maybe because they were a surprise?  Or maybe because the man who won is the most hateful, fearful, horrible, erratic person to ooze his way across the political field, at least in my lifetime. He wants to screw with my healthcare.  He wants to suppress my rights as a gender non-conformant person.  He wants to control the female-sexed parts of my body. And beyond me–because I am capable of considering such things–he wants to ruin the lives of people of color.  He wants to deport Muslims.  He wants to deport immigrants and stem the arrival of refugees.  He wants to destroy trade agreements and international diplomacy. He wants to build walls, deny climate change, and demonize legitimate journalism.  He wants to appoint more of his ilk. All in the name of making America great again… I am struggling to process the results of this election not only because

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Central research questions

When most people think of history, they think of a story.  They think of time passing, people acting, events happening, and the record of such things. Certainly, that is part of what history is–the narrative.  And certainly you can write this sort of history, filling in gaps in the timeline, discussing new archival materials, and broadening scope. But, to be perfectly honest, I usually find this kind of history rather boring.  Unless I’m already keenly interested in a time period or a person, reading a basic narrative doesn’t hold my attention.  And it definitely won’t win my attention if the subject is new to me. For that, I have to see that the author is answering a unique question, trying a new method of analysis, or issuing a challenge.  Whether or not it’s narrative doesn’t really matter to me–I like a collection of stories or unexpected asides as much as I can dig on a strong central story. And so,

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