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.