Planning your writing day: the thematic

Set a central question Your work will likely have a big picture idea you’re thinking about as you go.  You might not know exactly what this is immediately, but you must have some idea, or you wouldn’t be writing.  Write down whatever you’ve got—a fully formed idea or a general concept—and then translate it into a question. For example, I spent a couple months scribbling down ideas for my dissertation, and then formed my central research question after I realized what united them all—“What does this have to do with normative masculinity?” The purpose of this question is two-fold. First, it needs to fit on a post-it, short and pithy, so it sharply focuses your thoughts as soon as you see it.  I recommend posting it at your desk so you can refer to it at the start of your writing session or if your focus strays. Second, it needs to relate to every chapter, scene, or conversation you produce,

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Planning your writing day: the practical

Decide on your tracking method I’ve already talked about the pros and cons of word count, which you can take or leave.  But if you decide the cons outweigh the pros, here are some other systems of tracking you might try: Hours worked, of course, is a good one.  I essentially tracked this by noting when I started and stopped working, but you can also make rows of boxes to cross out or lines, or whathaveyou.  The problem with this method is that staring at your computer screen for hours doesn’t really count as hours worked—unless you are actively solving problems, but even then you need to write down your solutions and plans—so it occasionally leads you into spending the time at your desk, but not very wisely. If you’re on outliner, you might track your progress by deciding how many bullet points you want to write in a day, or which scenes, and then cross things off your outline

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The system behind productivity: an overview

It is with an exasperated sigh that I begrudgingly site Cal Newport, and his concept of “deep work,” as the basis for my systematic productivity. [I read his book early on in my process of discovery, and I was as taken with its underlying concepts as I was repelled by its tone.  He is at best a product of his environment—a high pressure, promotion-based, publish or perish, tenure-oriented, win-the-capitalist-game-by-hacking-your-life-until-you-can-squeeze-blood-from-a-carrot kind of guy.  He’s also better than us because he doesn’t use Facebook and goes running in the winter.] But, whatever…he has some good ideas that I used to streamline the habits I was already building, and I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.  Most importantly, while he doesn’t use the terms attunement, engagement, and endorsement, the book still provides no-nonsense tips for turning the Aristotelean tripartite balance into reality. Attunement On episode 65 of Write Now, Sarah Werner talks about the artistic version of the writer that we can

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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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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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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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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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