Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing in different states of consciousness

No, I am not talking about a 1960s-esq, Hunter S. Thompson gonzo experiment. No Timothy Leary blotter paper or special mushrooms for you today (at least not due to my counsel).

What I am asking you to consider is the assumption that you must be totally "with it" and at your best and to write. I did not sleep very well last night, and woke up, as we say in our house, squishy. I don't feel very bright, and am not sure that I am going to write anything very insightful. Yet, I have some work on a chapter to do, and my calendar said that it was a writing hour. So, write I will (with this as a warm up).

Yet, I also know that I can take advantage of my different states, moods or spaces. Each allows for a different type of writing, and a different way of approaching a problem. While not a specific weakened challenge, I do suggest you learn to write under less than ideal psychic conditions.   Spend some time writing when it seems less than ideal; you may learn something about your own process. You also may feel good about yourself and your fortitude and consistency by pushing through when you may otherwise not have.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Challenge #11

Sometimes, its good to push ourselves to work on our line by line writing, and consider the choices we make. For this weeks's challenge, comb through the last article/paper you were working on. Find a sentence that is poorly written.

Now, rewrite this sentence three different ways. Assess which of your new sentences you think is most effective. 

Post your results here if you dare!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing and Sushi, Revisited

In a post last summer, I waxed ever so poetically and philosophically (cough cough) about the relationship between writing and Sushi.

In the post, I suggested that writing demanded considerable repetition and practice. When we watch a skilled sushi chief, everything seems so smooth and easy. What we do not see are all the hours spent practicing his/her craft. We do not see all the countless hours of mistakes and miscues (yet, the fantasy of being present for those, and being able to eat the mishaps and miscues, is appealing).

It strikes me there are several other ways in in which writing an article are like sushi.

First, there are some things that are mandatory, but some things are based on preferences and who you are. For example, good sushi demands high quality fish. A good article demands a tight structure, and clearly following through on what you propose. However, not everyone likes to use soy sauce with their sushi. Not everyone mixes the same ratio of washabi (horseradish) to soy sauce. Knowing what is essential and what is optional is really important.

Two, being good means relying on your strengths, but also stepping outside the box and taking risks. A good sushi chief will always rely on what he/she does well, but will try combinations that surprise, delight, and sometimes fail. As a scholar, you need to do the same. Stay with your bread and butter, but make sure you don't become stale. Innovation and the creation of new knowledge demand the later.  Being productive demands the former.

Well, I think this is a good start- I will pick up this metaphor soon.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Don't edit while writing? Another perspective

Recently, I did a presentation for faculty at my university on professors' relationship to "the written word." As part of my presentation, I gave a few tips on increasing productivity; really the kind of things that I have been writing about here. One of my tips, which I have written about before, is to not edit while you write.

Well, this tips was challenged by one of my colleagues. He believes that for him, editing while he is writing is a way of sharpening his thinking and his ideas. He believed that for some of the student that he has worked with, their main issues with writing are less technical and more about their ideas and thinking, so spending time crafting a careful sentence can help them develop their capacity for thinking. I may not be doing justice to his ideas fully, and probably am going to sit down for a chat with him to try to understand his process more.

For now at least, I am not sure that I agree, but I did want to share with you this alternative perspective. While it might work for him, he is also an accomplished scholar who has published a great deal. I like to think of it, perhaps, as a master artist who breaks the rules. A master artist has already mastered his or her craft; breaking the rules is a conscious decision for specific reasons.  The great abstract authors where usually classically trained; they broke rules for very specific aesthetic or philosophical reasons.

I think for most people, editing a line while you are still writing, while you still have ideas that need to come out, greatly slows the process. Of course, working on your writing and crafting each idea carefully is an essential part of the process; I just believe that for most people, doing so too early really can be more of a hindrance than a help.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekly Challenge #10

Wow, we have made it to ten challenges now. Has anyone done all ten of them? I wonder if anyone will make it all the way to 100 (including myself)!

For this one, I want you to experiment with the magic sentence (as part of the magic paragraph that I have written about).

Here, you write this: the purpose of this article is to_________.

Simple, right?

Simple, but not easy. Take the article you are currently working on, or one you wish to work on, and really work at crafting that sentence. It is the most important one of your whole article, and is the one that guides you through your whole architecture. If it is flawed, your in deep trouble.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


My friend, co-author and favorite editor today asked me to explore the importance of learning to handle rejection. The topic came up when he asked how many times certain books of mine were rejected before I ultimately found a publisher. The range was from 1 to well over a hundred (and I still have not found an agent for my memoir- but that is a different  story!)

Here's the truth- you are going to be rejected. Or really, you will not be rejected, but your work will be rejected. That is an important distinction. Too often, when scholars have an article or some piece of work rejected, they take it as a sign of personal failure or inadequacy. They become rejection phobic, and start to not produce work, in fear of subjecting themselves to the painful emotions associated with their fear of rejection.

You have to develop thick skin,  and resolve your emotional and cognitive barriers, and realize that your work is going to be rejected. You have to learn to be ok with it.And the more you write, the more rejection you are going to have. If you struggle with feeling rejected and become demoralized when an article gets trashed, you have some work to do. If you don't, you are going to have a painful career, and the pain you feel from perceiving yourself as being rejected is going to get in your way.

Self help book, therapist, best friend, journal, or coach: work on that fear of, and over-attachment to, rejection.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Complex Analysis, Simple Words

Don't mess up your sophisticated, wonderful analyses with overusing the most complex, difficult to follow language possible. Using the best word does not always mean the most impressive (notice, I could have used erudite, but.....). Simple language allows us to speak to diverse audiences (notice, not discourse communities).

Of course, using dense, theoretically laden (perhaps better, big :)). words is sometimes essential, but only when they are the best, absolutely necessary words to use.

Manta: complex ideas, simple language.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekly Challenge #9

Being away really reminds me of the importance of place and context for my writing. That is, I always seems to write a bit differently when I am away. Frankly, it is liberating.

For this week's challenge, go someplace you have never written before. A cafe, a dinner, a city a few miles away, your car by the ocean,  a small rural library, wherever. 

Spend at least one hour writing, if you can. 

When you are done, reflect and write about the experience, using the following prompts.

What was this experience like for you? How did this change of location make a difference (if it did)? What can you take from this about your future writing rituals and work?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Not so good advice

Well, I am certain that some of the advice that I have given has not been great for each and every one of  you. Writing is, at its core, a creative process in which we each need to find what works for us, yet be willing to try new methods and ideas.

However, I do think there some pieces of advice that are really just not good. For instance, I recently read an article on academic writing in which the author suggests that we should not send out an article until it has been read by at least ten people.

There are several problems with this feedback. First, ten different people are going to provide t en different types of feedback- how in the world is someone ever going to reconcile all of those disparate ideas?!

Second, at some point, this is what the review process if for! Do a good job, get some feedback, and get it out there!

Lastly, can you imagine the amount of times it would take to actually contend with that much coordination and communication? I think I would never have published anything had I learned, and felt the need to follow, this piece of advice earlier in my career.

So, the point is, be open, but be critical of what you learn about writing. Even (or perhaps especially) from me!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guest Blogger: Dr. Riki Thompson

Today's guest blogger is another groovy faculty member at the University of Washington Tacoma. Riki Thompson teaches writing at UWT, and is known as being one of our best teachers of writing. She is one of the people I go to when I really want to understand writing from the perspective of a composition studies scholar.

I provide you a link to her terrific blog, in which she explores what moves her to write.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Leaving on a jet plane....

Well, I will be traveling for the next few weeks. I am doing research interviews with expatriate men who have retired overseas. This is an ongoing project that explores the intersection between globalization, transnationalism, and the psychosocial health of older, expatriate men. I hope to conduct these interviews in about ten different countries over time. My hope is that it leads to a book, but at least there should be a few articles that I will write from the data.

Have no fear about blog posts; I have made sure that I have gotten a bit ahead, so you will still get at least three posts a week, the weekend challenge, and hopefully even a guest blog post as well. What you may not get is a really fast response if you contact me; although you will hear from me soon! (and while I make that disclaimer, I tend to respond pretty quickly!).

I am also excited to have a good deal of time to write. Away from home, with no responsibilities other than my research and feeding myself, I tend to be as creative and productive as I am capable of being.

Happy writing, time for a really long flight!!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekly Challenge #8

For this week, I want you to come up with a challenge for yourself, and for others on this site! What can you do to push yourself today that might be helpful for others to try? Post your response under the comments, please.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A therapy video with a writer working on his procrastination

I found this video looking for materials for a class I am teaching on cognitive based approaches to change. I thought I would share it with you, as it presents a therapy session with an author who talks about his procrastination problem.  Watch the video and see if you can relate to some of his "process," and see how he creates barriers that inhibit his work. Also, consider how the session can help you think through ways of exploring your own problems with procrastination. The REBT or cognitive-based approach helps you identify the thoughts and behaviors that can inhibit your work.

If you have these issues, see if you can use this material to make some changes. If you can do it yourself, great. If not, seek a mentor, writer/s group, therapist, or writing coach!

See video

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The best writing? When it just does not feel right

When am I proudest of my writing? On days when it just is not going well. Today, I read through and worked on a a co-authored article; I am the second author. I really was not "feeling it," not inspired, and just was not doing great stuff. Yet, after an hour or so, I was able to get out 300 words. I will clear it up tomorrow, to assuage those feelings of "not good enough." I am working with a partner, after all.

But you know what? It are days like these that are the most important, the ones that in the long haul I feel most proud of. Not the days of awe-inspiring inspiration, but those when I am just grinding it out, doing my job. It is days like this that make, for me, the days of inspiration possible.

For me, the key is to not judge myself, but just do the work, the best I can, day after day, year after year. Of course, I need to evaluate the work, but this is different from judging myself, and comes after, not on, days like this.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing across boundaries project

One of the great things about writing this blog is looking up other people who contact me or leave comments, and seeing what their interests are. Through one of you, I found the website for the Writing Across Boundaries Project of the Department of Anthropology at Durham University. They state that they are dedicated to improving qualitative research writing for doctoral students: a worthy project indeed. They also have a page where they have invited some excellent social scientists to write about writing.  Here is that link.

Writing on writing: Writing across boundaries project

I have yet to explore the site a great deal, but plan on doing so myself over the coming days.