So the semester is done, I am back to my Happy Place of Summertime Happiness, and all is well. Of course, this also means that I am committed to getting back to the Writing Place of Summertime Writing, which is, in a word, exhausting. And scary. And maybe not quite so simple as “oh, I’ve got all this time! Of course I shall meet my goals!”
But so I had an epiphany in the shower today. (See title of post.) There are many things about myself as a writer, and as a person who is able to motivate herself to write, that are great. I am content to draft and to revise. I outline. I am good about editing to others’ specifications in order to get a piece out for publication. In other words, I’m not especially a perfectionist, and I’m pretty content to put the “good” (or “good enough”) before the “perfect” (as if such a thing exists!). I don’t labor over sentences, nor do I hold tight to sentences, or paragraphs, or even whole pieces of writing, as if they are brilliant jewels to be honored and cherished.
But what I discovered this morning, mid-shampoo, was that in spite of all of these admirable writer-qualities, I do have a problem, and it’s a problem that’s really reared its ugly head since the advent of The Dude. The problem is that while I’m very good at all of the above, I’m not very good at keeping going even in the midst of… complications.
Here is what I do. I come up with a plan for writing, a schedule for accomplishing things. (This is good.) I make deadlines for myself, and then I make a set of “real” deadlines as a back-up. (This is also good.) But what I also do is I try to hold myself to working from beginning to end – ish. It’s not that I always work in a totally linear way, I don’t, but whatever the “big chunk” is – a conference paper, a chapter, an article – well, I can’t really move on from it to another piece, or into revision of it, unless I feel like it has a beginning, middle, and an end. Or I don’t. So the result is this, it seems: I am that person who is constantly revising her schedule when shit doesn’t get done. And then I feel overwhelmed by the revised schedule and then I don’t write at all. And then I have to revise the schedule again. This hasn’t happened to me for some time, but it is the writer that I am.
Long story short: I had a schedule for getting a chapter of the book done by April (this was a third or fourth round revised schedule, let’s note). That didn’t happen. So rather than move on to the next thing on the “Master Schedule,” I was all, “well, I can’t do anything until I get that done! I’ll just make an even stricter schedule for myself in order to do things in a linear-ish way!” Needless to say, I just didn’t make any progress for the past couple of months. (And then, as I confessed to you all, I directly blamed this on The Dude, though that wasn’t fair.)
If we put this in Freshmen Comp terms, I am the student who can’t write the paper because she didn’t already write the introduction. And it’s worth noting, I was that Freshmen Comp student, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m in this predicament right now.
Except I am surprised. Because historically, when I’ve run into this problem since those long ago days of Freshmen Comp, I’ve assumed the problem wasn’t “me” but rather that it was whatever the complication was.
So, for example, once upon a time, during the one time in my life when I have described myself as having writer’s block, while I was writing my dissertation, I really thought it was “writer’s block” – that I was “blocked” by some mystical force, and that suddenly the “block” lifted by an equally mystical force. Except that wasn’t really what happened.
What really was going on (as my epiphany revealed) was that I was preoccupied with my personal life (not in the way I am now, which is happily, but still, preoccupied, if unhappily). And how I got out of that was by moving 600 miles away from my preoccupation, and then, voila! I could write! I never changed my writing process: I just changed my circumstances. And that is what I’ve always done since, when I felt like I wasn’t writing: changed my circumstances. Which works great if you want to be alone, if that’s what you prefer. But it seems those things aren’t what I want, what I prefer. But I need to find a way to write in spite of those personal desires, if I’m going to be a full and whole and happy person. So.
What I realized today was I needed to try to do this a new way. I can’t just shut down my personal life when my writing life isn’t going according to plan, even though, frankly, doing that is easier. And I can’t just shut down writing when I’ve got a personal life, because NO. (I know, you all think I’m an idiot, because, WOW, isn’t this so obvious?)
So my experiment for the summer is this: I’m going to do as much work as I can according to my pre-ordained summer schedule, but I will not revise the schedule. So, for example, let’s say that I don’t get as far as I wanted on the chapter on which I’d wanted to have a complete draft done by Saturday (SATURDAY! Of Memorial Day Weekend when I’ve got a boyfriend who works a regular job and for whom this is a three-day weekend! A fact you’d think I would have considered when I made this schedule, but no, I only consider my own weirdo schedule in which long weekends don’t matter!). I move on regardless of how far I’ve gotten. I move on to the next item on the agenda, even if I didn’t complete the earlier agenda item.
Will this work? Who knows. But the theory is that more will get done this way than by me constantly revising the schedule. And at the very least I’ll have more complete bits and pieces on the book than I’ve got now, at summer’s beginning, even if none of them are actually complete.
The thing is, I can’t just keep waiting for perfect conditions for scholarship. Particularly when those perfect conditions depend on being without a personal life. Maybe it’s not about fitting a personal life in so much as adapting to a personal life, if that makes sense. No, this might not work. But what I’ve been doing? Totally not working either.
Also, I really need to accomplish things because what with my non-academic Dude, I feel incredibly guilty about the freedom that I have during the Happy Place of Summertime Happiness. I need to use that freedom to do awesome things, and not just to be an asshole academic who relaxes, ya know? (Even if I do still intend to do my reading at the pool.)