Lessons Learned from a Week and a Half of “Writing” #12weekarticle #AcWri

I worked through the first two weeks of Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks in about a week and a half. Here I am at the beginning of her Week 3, and she suggests writing up what you learned and sharing it, so that’s what I’m doing here.

A few reminders about my situation before I begin: I am the mother of an 11-month-old son, a full-time graduate student doing 4 credit hours of coursework and 5 credit hours of dissertation work, a research assistant with a 20 hour a week position, chronically ill with endocrine and autoimmune diseases, and a dilettante who feels all the joy is sucked out of life if I don’t get to spend at least a little time on personal interests.

And yes, all of that is relevant to my writing process.

Challenges

Managing time and attention is my biggest challenge. I have fifteen hours of paid childcare a week, plus whatever gifted childcare I receive from family members including my son’s grandparents and solo time his dad spends with him. It’s not a lot of time, and I don’t even use it that productively. I’m easily distracted and if I can’t focus I can’t write.

Also? It’s hard to work when I’m responsible for supervising a toddler. But there’s definitely more than 15 hours worth of work to do to meet my 56 hour obligation (36 hours coursework/dissertation + 20 assistantship), so I’ve got to figure out how I can get some work done when I’m with him, or start giving up sleep.

If I haven’t sorted out everything I need before a work session I putter and am at a loss. This is a skill I want to get better at: taking a little time at the beginning of a work session to plan, and at the end to wrap up.

If I don’t get writing done early in the day, I don’t get it done at all.

Solutions

One solution that has really been working for me is using the Pomodoro method to churn out four Pomodoros (25 minute blocks of work) in a row. I have four primary areas of work responsibility, each with writing involved: parental leave makeup work, dissertation hours (where I’m using the #12weekarticle techniques), coursework, and my assistantship. I rotate through these areas, doing one Pomodoro in each, and even if that’s all I get done in a day, I have at least knocked out two hours of solid work.

Working in spaces where I can’t hear the baby is huge. I go to a coffee shop or the library or even my back porch and I’m infinitely more productive than I am when I’m within hearing range of him – even two floors away, I can hear my sister nannying him, and it’s a distraction. Especially when he gets upset. So spending more time in those other spaces is totally worth the little bit of time it takes to get set up in them. (This back porch thing has been amazing – sunlight, a cool breeze, and concentration – thanks, autumn!)

Dedicating the time I need to setting up the plan for a work session has been going well, but I’m still working on the wrap-up part of things.

I need to ask for help from my husband at the beginning of a day – have breakfast with him and the baby, then whisk myself away for a couple hours – rather than waiting for him to check in with “Didn’t you need to get some writing done today?” because if it doesn’t happen before noon, I’m already too tired to get started.

Next Steps

1. Spend half an hour at the end of each childcare-protected work session planning both what work I can get done when I’m with the baby and what work I will do in my next protected work session.

2. Spend half an hour at the beginning of each childcare-protected work session planning what I will do for the rest of the work session.

3. Continue to work in spaces away from the baby.

4. Get my work session in first thing after exercise and breakfast.

Also on:

My Upcoming Paper Topic #12weekarticle #AcWri

Hello, The Entire Internet, my writing partner. How’s your writing going?

Today’s assignment from Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks is to get really clear on my paper topic before writing an abstract about it. Again, I’m supposed to call somebody on the phone or meet with them in person and talk about it. Again, I’m not logistically in a situation where that is an option right now (sleeping baby on the bed next to me!), so I’m blogging instead.

Am I afraid of someone scooping me if I blog about my paper topic? A little. But then, I’ve already shared my poster about it on the open web. Anyway, I’m more interested in open scholarship and sharing my process than I am worried about getting scooped. So here we are. I’m going to give you a preview of the article I’m writing.

I’m writing about special education training for preservice school librarians. School librarians, like other educators, are responsible for serving students with disabilities. School libraries are environments that are different from the classroom, and thus, I would argue, serve special education students in unique ways. I suspected that very few school librarians received training in how to do this in their school library education programs, and that even fewer were required to undergo such training. To find out, I performed a content analysis of the websites of all of the American Association of School Librarians-approved school librarian education programs, looking at their program requirements and course offerings. I looked at both course titles and descriptions, when available. I found that most programs don’t provide coursework that is specific to the school library; they outsource it to education programs. Some do require it for anyone who isn’t a teacher, but they assume that if you already have a teaching certificate, you’ve already received sufficient education in this area. A few school library education programs in New York, where there has been a specific initiative targeted at improving this type of education, both require this type of training and offer coursework specific to educators working in school libraries rather than classrooms. I would suggest that more programs should offer and even require this type of training, and that these programs in New York have the potential to serve as models for future coursework to be developed.

So let me open it up to you, Internet. Did I summarize the work clearly? What questions do you have? Engage with me here and in the comments I’ll try to do this again, but more succinctly. And then after that, I’m going to try to get this down to one sentence.

Creating Physical Writing Space as a Grad Student/Parent

I’m cramming all of Week One of Wendy Belcher’s book into one day. I might even start on Week Two. We’ll see.

Anyway. She’s got a part about identifying the physical sites where you’re doing your writing and what you need to do to improve them.

Here are the potential sites I listed:

  • Nursery/playroom
  • Kitchen
  • Public library
  • Basement
  • Coffee shop

I have fifteen hours of childcare a week and fifty-six hours of school-related commitments (including my assistantship), so obviously a lot of work has to happen outside of traditional office spaces. I work on the queen bed or in the glider we have in my son’s nursery/playroom. I work at the kitchen table. I meet a friend for communal writing time at the public library. I work at the dining table we have in our basement. And when I need a treat as motivation, I work at a local coffee shop.

With five “offices,” investing too much time, money, or effort in improving any one of them doesn’t really make a lot of sense. So I keep it all in a go bag or mobile office. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s something I’ve had to get okay with in a new way.

Here’s what has to be in my bag for me to be able to work:

  • laptop
  • charger
  • tablet
  • stylus
  • notebooks
  • pens
  • highlighters
  • readings

And then, in the nursery/playroom, at least, I have to have a lapdesk with me.

I’m a piler, not a filer, so I often have all my work stuff spread out around me and if I believe I will return to it, I just leave it out. (I’m usually wrong. I almost never return to it promptly enough to merit leaving it out.) So another shift to my process thanks to parenthood is that I’ve got to pack it all up every time, or I may find myself in bed next to a sleeping toddler with all my work stuff in a different room.

My Feelings About My Experience of Writing #12weekarticle #AcWri

In my doctoral program, before you can take your comprehensive qualifying exams, you have to submit two journal articles for publication. I’ve submitted exactly zero, in spite of two independent studies in which my plan was to create work. In one of them, I ended up doing a poster presentation instead; I’m still working on the other, as it ended up falling in the semester with my parental leave.

I have a thing about revision. I never revised my Master’s paper. I get paralyzed by it. But I’ve got to revise before I’m ready to submit, so when I wrote my learning contract for my dissertation hours this fall, I included revising one of those independent study papers for submission as one of the deliverables. So here we are.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about academic writing lately, especially academic writing habits and process, and consistently everyone recommends Wendy Belcher’s (2009) book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. I purchased this years ago, when I was first trying to revise my Master’s paper, and I’m pulling it out again.

So here we are. You, Internet, are going to be my writing partner sometimes. I won’t share drafts with you, but I’m going to blog about my process.

Belcher says, “One of the reasons that academics do not talk about writing is that it involves talking about feelings… So, let’s get started with a very broad question. What feelings come up when you think about writing?” (p. 2). Belcher recommends discussing this with a classmate or colleague, or composing an email to a friend or family member. I’m composing this blog post instead.

Here we go.

I’m the type of writer who dreams and plans for weeks, then churns out a draft in a matter of hours. I used to think my writing process was bogus, that I needed to be drafting non-stop. Last semester I realized that this isn’t quite true. As Raul Pacheco-Vega talks about, I need to be moving my writing forward, but that doesn’t mean drafting. Sometimes it means freewriting, memoing, or reading. So this is the kind of writer I am: I read, I think, I plan, I freewrite, I memo, and all of that takes a long time. And when I feel saturated, then I write like the wind. I turn out a paper that I usually think is hot garbage, but which professors often say are just a few revisions away from ready to submit for publication.

And this is where I get paralyzed, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s overwhelm. Overwhelm at the thought of having to figure out the literature. Of the possibility that my data is old and needs to be done again. At the notion of cutting down all the writing I’ve done into something manageable. I am paralyzed by overwhelm and anxiety, and there are just so many other things that need my attention that I give myself a break, and that’s why I’m sitting on five unpublished manuscripts.

I love writing.

I fear revising.

Those are my feelings on the matter.

Guarding My Time and Energy: Going #LessEmail

I don’t feel comfortable going #NoEmail, but I certainly use email for many things for which it is not the right tool and still spend too much time managing it. So beginning August 21, I will be checking my email only twice a day, and replying to emails almost never. My plan is to use email almost exclusively for long-form communication with trusted family, friends, and colleagues.

“But what will you do instead?” you might ask.

For urgent communication, I will be available by text.

For less urgent, short-form, private, and near-synchronous communication, I will be available via Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM, Skype, and LinkedIn.

For to-do management and note-taking, I will use Google Keep; my structure and methods for using it will be Bullet Journal-inspired. (Expect a future blog post about this.)

For tracking appointments, library book due dates, and event invitations, I will use Google Calendar.

For sharing files and collaborating on documents, I will use Google Drive or Dropbox.

For getting news from organizations, I will use social media and RSS.

For getting news from artists, I will use Patreon.

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Breaking the compulsion to check for notifications

I have turned off push notifications for most apps on my phone and tablet, so that I won’t constantly be disrupted. But I, like many of us I suspect, still compulsively check apps for notifications: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram. I’m trying to wean myself away from this behavior, as it eats up a lot of time when I could be reading, writing, watching, listening to, or playing other things. Just today I remembered the simplest way to handle this: turn on email notifications.

I have WordPress set up to scrape my posts elsewhere and import replies as comments, but that doesn’t handle tags/mentions and event invitations. From now on, all that stuff will pour into my email inbox, giving me only one place to check compulsively. I find little value in scrolling my feeds these days, but am unmotivated to prune them. This will allow me to get the interactions I’m most excited about while cutting down on time spent checking in, I hope.

Also on:

Doing my part to fix the internet

I happened upon this tweet from my friend Whitney the other day:

It links to Vicki Boykis’s post, Fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people. Boykis articulates a problem that I’ve been chafing against recently, that I had chalked up to nostalgia. In the early days of the web, and even as the web came into what I consider its adolescence, she writes:

People used to write blogs. Long blogs. Rambling blogs. Blogs they weren’t sure anyone was reading. There was a LOT of noise. But there were also blogs that had fun stories, long posts about how to do something, analyses of government issues, of cooking techniques, of the Civil War. People used to write stuff other people wanted to read.

And then traces the process of consolidation of content and the move of the web from a medium where content was the product to a medium where content is the wrapper and eyes on ads are the product:

Whereas before content used to be spread out on numerous domains in numerous ways, content now mostly makes its home on the three domains that are most hostile to thoughtful human discussion: Twitter, Medium, and Facebook.

Now, she says, those of us who use these services are generating content that they are leveraging to make money off of us. Theoretically, we’re getting their services in trade for this content, but we aren’t where they make their money. We trade our content to them, and they trade our attention to advertisers.

The internet is broken; this is how it is broken. And, she insists, it is in our power to fix it. She identifies five steps we can take to do so:

  1. Write your own blog on your own platform.
  2. Share good content.
  3. Acknowledge creators by paying them.
  4. Use adblockers.
  5. Engage in dialogue with people who are different from you.

In the comments on the post, Chris Aldrich mentions that this advice aligns well with the IndieWeb movement. Well, I fell down that rabbit hole, and here we are: I have put all the tech in place that I need to, I think, for my publishing to happen here at kimberlyhirsh.com, go out to my various social places, and then have responses come back here. This post will serve as sort of a test to find out.

So tell me: are you seeing this post somewhere in the world? Where? 

Of course, that process really only addresses Boykis’s first step. I took a social media hiatus recently and tried to remember how I used to use the internet. And it really was blogs, forums, and LiveJournal. I’m certainly not going back to LJ, and so far I haven’t found forums that satisfy me, but good blogging is still happening, so I loaded a bunch into Feedly. Then I returned to social media a bit more consciously, and I do think I’ve been sharing good content then. But – you guessed it – now, I’m going to share that good content here.

As for the third step, I do this a little bit already, via Patreon. There I support Kim Werker, Emm Roy, and Kate Allan. I keep an eye out for other creators I like to support directly. Serendipitously enough, two posts came across my radar on Feedly from Geek and Sundry introducing their new partnership with Nerdist, Project Alpha. It’s a subscription platform providing exclusive content and other content in advance, and I think I’m going to try it out. I’m also probably going to try Seeso, too.

I have been taking a break from adblockers, but I definitely feel it’s time to get them back into my life.

As for number five, here’s where things get tricky. I can track down good blogs and engage in conversations there. But some of the most important conversations in my life are happening in proprietary spaces: Facebook Groups, Twitter, and Tumblr. As a new mom, Facebook Groups are an invaluable resource. As an academic and professional, Twitter is where many of the important conversations in my areas of interest happen. And fandom, well – it kind of lives on Tumblr these days, doesn’t it? If you have managed to move to engaging these platforms almost exclusively via your own hosted platform, how are you doing that? And are you doing it on mobile devices? Because that’s where a lot of my internetting needs to happen.

For the time being, I think my long form writing will happen exclusively here, but it will probably be a process to move short-form here.

Also on:

Self-Care in Difficult Times

We live in a scary time. Many of us have been living in a scary time for hundreds of years. Some of us are only recently becoming aware of how scary life can be. And some of us always knew, but were able to set it aside. There are valuable discussions in the world about privilege and how it enables you to act like the world isn’t as scary as it is, but this isn’t one of those. This is about, wherever you are in realizing the world is scary, how you might handle it to keep yourself sane and whole in mind. I will acknowledge up front that some self-care techniques involve material goods. Please know that I’m keenly aware that all of my ideas are not accessible for all people. I don’t believe that makes them worthless. Do what you can, when you can.

Lately, I feel my resilience is strained. I imagine it as a wide rubber band. As it gets stretched, it gets thinner and thinner. It threatens to snap, and if I don’t deliberately create some slack, it will snap. Here are things going on with me that make self-care both difficult to achieve and especially necessary:

1. I am a graduate student. And being a graduate student is hard. It’s not intense physical labor, but it is intense mental labor. It is time consuming. It is never off in the way that some jobs are. There is always more work to do, and in my case much work leftover from the past. I am constantly filled with a sense that I am not being productive enough. Even as I write this post, I’m thinking about other things I could be reading and writing.

2. I am a new mom. I’m so lucky to be a new mom; it is a blessing that came as a happy accident after I had basically given up on getting to be a mom. I struggled with polycystic ovary syndrome for years before falling pregnant; I so appreciate this gift. AND YET. Being a new mom means my body belongs to someone else in a very real way. It means that at almost any point in time, I might need to stop any activity I’m doing – and this activity is usually schoolwork, food prep, or laundry – to attend to a tiny, helpless human’s needs.

3. I am a research assistant on a project focused on equity. My work that’s not for class is focused entirely on promoting cultural competence and culturally sustaining pedagogy, ensuring equity in schools, especially as it relates to race.

4. I deliberately chose my coursework this semester to require me to encounter issues of equity. Because I know that this is an area where I need to grow, I registered for a course called Decolonizing Methodologies and am serving as teaching assistant for a course called Information Services in a Diverse Society. These courses require me to grapple with issues of colonization, inequity, and intersectionality.

5. My usual take-a-break spaces – social media – are (rightly) full of news and protest. I’m a cat videos, cute doodles, and friends’ jokes girl. I would not suggest that we should remove the politics from our social media feeds, but I am not used to the current ratio of news to cat videos. I think it’s excellent that people are using these tools for resistance, and I myself have followed many organizations and people of late to increase my awareness. So I have deliberately transformed the ratio in these spaces for me. BUT it means that what used to consist of taking a break is now more getting aware. So I need to take a break in different ways.

So. Now that I’ve explained what’s straining at my resilience rubber band, let me share what I’m doing to give it some slack.

First, I’m staying engaged so that I feel in touch with the world. I have followed the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue on Twitter. While the combination of new motherhood and chronic illness keeps me from feeling confident in my ability to physically show up for protests, I am engaging in craftivism; I crocheted a pussy hat for a friend who was going to the Women’s March. I am going to make one for myself, as well; I’m also planning to contribute to the beanies for this Black Lives Matter march in Seattle and the crafted hats for the March for Science. I signed up for Kim Werker’s Craft + Activism newsletter, which sends me things to read and do. I sent emails and postcards to my senators; I used the Ink Cards app so that I could send the Women’s March postcards while nursing my baby.

Second, I’m escaping as I need to. This looks different for everybody, but for me it has meant watching old seasons of Project Runway, trying out the new CW series Riverdale (it’s not good and yet I’m enjoying it anyway), listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour episodes both old and new, reading Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie reboot, and reading Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. (I’m just sort of generally fueling a new crush on @glenweldon. My husband was all “But he’s gay so don’t expect it to be requited” and I was all “That really doesn’t matter because a crush is not a thing that needs to be requited anyway what with me being happily married to you and all. And him being married too. And famous.”) Check your library for access to escapist reading material, y’all.

Third, I’m trying… a little… to take care of my body. I’ve gone for a few walks. I’ve cooked my own meals. I’ve delighted in warm beverages. I’m still not showering often enough (#thanksbaby) and I haven’t gone for a swim since probably September, both of which would make me feel immensely better, but still. I brush my hair most days. I live in my body so I should really care for it, and I’m making at least some effort. For a person with clinical depression (even in remission), this is an achievement.

Anyway. These are the things I’m doing to care for myself. Self-care can be an act of resistance, so please don’t tell yourself that it is unimportant, that you are unworthy, that there are more important things in the world. If we’re going to have the stamina to fight the good fight, we need to give ourselves a break from time to time.

The best I can do is not a fixed point.

Still reading the advanced reading copy of the @unfuckyourhabitat book. There’s a whole section called “The Perfection Paradox,” about letting go of your perfectionism, and not using perfectionism as an excuse to not get started on something. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist; I, in fact, chafe when other people do. I’m a graduate student and my advisor called me a perfectionist once and I was all, “No, that’s not the problem!”

And it’s true: I don’t mind things being imperfect. (A Latin teacher maxim: “Perfect means finished,” because perfect tense is the tense we use for completed action. We don’t want to be perfect, because then there’s nothing left to do, and what a sad state that would be!)

So I’m not a perfectionist. But I’m a do-my-bestist, or some more elegant way of expressing that idea. I feel like if I’m going to bother doing something, I don’t want to half-ass it. I want to give it my very best, or why bother. But if it’s not perfect even after I’ve given it my best, that’s fine.

The problem is, I conceive of “my best” as a fixed point, my best ever, not the best I can do right now. I struggle with chronic illness and right now I’m 38 weeks pregnant. One of the lessons that pregnancy has taught me that chronic illness never did is that my-best-right-now sometimes needs to be good enough; my-best-ever is not always attainable. I am only really internalizing the lesson here at the end, though, and I have this section of the #ufyh book to thank for that, partly.

My best at a given moment is defined by a number of factors. How much sleep have I gotten? How much physical pain am I in? Is there anything going on in my social or emotional world that is eating a lot of my attention? My best is variable. I can only do the best I can do right now, and I need to not compare the best I can do right now to the best I could have done at some other time. Before I got pregnant, I was doing really well healing my chronic illness; it wasn’t gone, but I was barely symptomatic. I had plenty of energy and almost no pain. I could churn out a solid, well-written ten-page paper in two days, no problem. I would just sit down and write for six hours, go to bed, then get up and finish it the next day.

Once I got pregnant, things shifted. I often had to choose: is this reading for class going to be done thoroughly, or am I going to skim it and then take a nap? Or take a nap and then skim it on the bus on the way to class, even?

I wish I had learned to be this gentle with myself when I was ill; in the long run I would’ve gotten more done. When I was at my most symptomatic and working as a librarian at two different middle schools, and was supposed to give each of them 50% of my working time but desperately wanted to give each of them 100% of my energy, as soon as I realized that what I wanted was unattainable, I shut down. If I couldn’t do my best, I would do only what had to be done. Because, inexplicably, I would rather do simply what is sufficient than something beyond sufficient but not my best. I guess because I think that people can tell when you’re doing the bare minimum, and somehow it’s less upsetting for people to think you’re just getting by, than for people to think you’re trying hard and you’re not getting it done? I don’t know. Brains are weird.

Regardless of what was going through my head at the height of my illness five years ago, I’m realizing that now, as I embark upon motherhood at the same time as I am pursuing a graduate degree, I’ve got to learn to settle for my-best-in-this-moment. It is actually the literal best I can do, and it’s better to do that than to shut down or, alternately, to be very unkind to myself and rail at myself for not doing as well as I would have liked.

Let’s all care about things!

I was a teenager in the 90s, so I’m used to everybody else having this constant air of detached irony, but I’ve never really been into that. Often friends tell me they are impressed by how when I pursue a passion, I go full-tilt. 

You guys, don’t worry about whether caring about something looks cool. Because you know what? Caring about something feels awesome.

I firmly believe that the act of caring is the most important part, much more important than what you care about. I have cared about books, musical theater, the environment, middle school feminism, more musical theater, Latin, the humanities, basically any kind of theater really, teaching, kids, Joss Whedon both as a person and an artist, fantasy novels, crafting, having a baby, getting healthy, loving my family, improv comedy, school and school and school… Sometimes I get down on myself for not caring enough about the “right” things, but I think my caring about stuff that seems frivolous sort of bleeds out into the world and makes a difference even if the stuff I’m caring about isn’t, you know, IMPORTANT…

Am I giving you permission to be deeply interested in some sphere of activity aimed at harming other people?

NOPE. I wouldn’t call that caring.

Multiple meanings are fun, right? There’s another thing I care about: puns.

Care. Love. Passion. Giving a shit. I really think it’s the best thing you can do, and there are so many different ways to do it. If it seems overwhelming, just pick one thing, and DECIDE to care about it. Try it out. If it isn’t the right thing, there are basically an infinite number of things you might care about, so try a different one.

SHOW UP, YOU GUYS. I promise it’s worth it.