Thursday, February 16, 2012

Strategies: Overcome the "Settling In" Time Warp

It has typically taken me 30-45 minutes to settle in each morning at the beginning of my daily writing session. However, throughout my dissertation writing process I have implemented a bit of advice that changes this aspect of my writing regiment. Thomas has offered this advice in a number of different forms, but I'm passing it along to readers of this blog who may not have heard it:

Plan what you will do in any given writing session the day before you sit down to write.

This strategy means that when I finished writing this morning, I stopped to think for a minute about EXACTLY WHAT I NEED TO DO TOMORROW, and then I wrote these things down. "Write two more paragraphs" or "finish chapter" are bad plans. You need to be specific. I wrote down:

"Write one paragraph close reading of first 'ring' passage"

"Write one paragraph close reading of Dylan's and Mingus's pre-college / pre-prison escapades"

"Write one paragraph that charts the movement of the ring throughout the rest of the novel"

Now when I sit down tomorrow morning to write again, just like I do every morning from 8am-11am Monday through Thursday, I can turn to the first ring passage in the novel I'm analyzing, reread it quickly, and write my analysis of that scene.

This strategy converts a big chunk of nothing-time into actual writing. Now it might take me five minutes to really get in the chair, take a deep breath, resist plugging into the internet, open the document, go directly to where I need to write, and turn to the text I'm working on. WRITE WRITE WRITE!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just Stay in the Chair!

This is not a post about working for an extended period of time. This is not a post about pulling all-nighters. This is not a post about some romanticized vision of the writer bent over his/her typewriter with a cigarette hanging from his/her lips.

This is a post about actually writing when you sit down to write. If you buy into the idea that writing should be a daily activity in which you typically work on any given project for no more than two or so hours (and I do), then the most important thing you can do to make that time successful is to stay in your chair! I can't tell you how often I finish an important thought or difficult paragraph and then get up to go to the bathroom, walk around, or just look out the window. Sometimes I physically fight this urge, saying aloud to myself "just stick with it, just keep gettin' it." That sounds pretty corny now, but when I stay in the chair good things happen!

Invariably! When I stay in the chair, even in the midst of a run of bad or seemingly unproductive days, good things will happen eventually. There's only one way to get through a rough patch of writing...write.

I think we all know that we can produce a lot of material if we sit down for just 30 minutes and type. But we fight with the gap between mere typing and writing. We preach to others that we must write in order to figure out what we think, but then when we sit down to write we realize that we believe we must already know what we want to say. The gap between typing and writing seems to close as we grow in experience, but the purpose of this post is to encourage you to write for an hour or so on your most pressing project today, and to STAY IN THE CHAIR for however long you're devoting to that project.

Just write it!