A timeline of my dissertation inspiration📓📝

For AcWriMoments Day 8, Margy Thomas and Helen Sword encouraged us to trace a lineage of the ideas we work on. I decided to do this with my dissertation because I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t realize how fun.

1984 Kimberly’s mom makes a gorgeous Blue Fairy (from Pinocchio) costume for Kimberly, launching a lifelong delight in dressing up in exquisite costumes (as opposed to whatever’s lying around) and admiring the exquisite costumes of others. Around the same time, Kimberly’s parents take her to the library often.

1988 Kimberly’s dad starts library school. Kimberly hangs out at the library school, a lot. She loves it there.

1994 A guidance counselor who is completely at a loss for what extracurriculars to recommend when she asks Kimberly what she’s into and Kimberly answers, “Reading,” suggests volunteering at the library, so Kimberly does.

1999 W. (then-boyfriend, now-husband) introduces Kimberly to Final Fantasy, a lovely video game series with gorgeous music. O., the then-boyfriend now-husband of one of W.’s housemates, says to Kimberly while they’re in the middle of playing some board game, “You should be a librarian.”

2007 Completely stressed out by being an early career high school teacher, Kimberly starts researching library schools.

2008 W. comes home from work and tells Kimberly that his current boss has inspired him to go to library school so they’re going to library school together.

2009 Kimberly and W. start library school. Kimberly’s advisor is Sandra. Kimberly loves Sandra. Kimberly gets a job as an RA in an outreach program of the School of Education, providing resources and professional development to K-12 educators. (Resources from this department saved her bacon many times when she was a teacher.)

2011 Kimberly gets a job as a school librarian split between two middle schools.

2012 Kimberly’s supervisor from her RA job tells Kimberly, “I’m taking a different job so they’ll be posting this one eventually if you want it.” Kimberly does. The school librarian situation she’s found herself in isn’t what she dreamed of. Eventually Kimberly gets that job and starts working for that outreach program full-time.

2013 Kimberly starts working on projects where she gets to interview teachers about their work. Her office is down the hall from where the School of Ed hosts all of their brown bags and she goes to a lot of them. She decides she wants to pursue a PhD so she can understand what they’re talking about better and maybe publish research about educators', including school librarians', good work. She figures she’ll do it part time with the tuition remission she gets as a benefit of her job.

2014 The executive director of the outreach program is fired. (Without cause as far as Kimberly knows.) Kimberly decides that instead of doing the PhD part-time, she’d like to do it full-time, since her program is probably going to be dismantled. She talks to Sandra about the PhD program where she got her master’s in library science and says she wants to work on the library as a place for writing and pop culture engagement. Sandra says there’s a model for this and it’s called Connected Learning. Kimberly applies to the PhD.

2015 Sandra invites Crystle Martin, a scholar of connected learning and leader in the Young Adult Library Services Association, to talk to students at the library school and invites Kimberly to come to the talk and then join them for lunch. Kimberly and Crystle talk about spending way too much time playing video games.

2016 - 2017 Kimberly messes around with different dissertation possibilities. She includes a chapter on gaming and libraries in her comps plan.

2017 Kimberly decides to go to Cosplay America, a costuming convention.

2018 Kimberly starts work on the gaming comps chapter. She attends a Final Fantasy orchestral concert. People have dressed up in gorgeous costumes as characters from the games. They’re so great it kind of makes her want to cry. The next day, she reads Crystle’s dissertation about the information literacy practices of World of Warcraft players. In the conclusion, Crystle suggests that people could replicate her methods to help validate her information literacy model. Kimberly thinks, “I could do that, but with cosplayers!” She bangs out a dissertation prospectus in 2 hours after literal years of hemming and hawing.

2019 Kimberly writes her comps, now with a changed set of chapters. She assembles her committee, including Crystle. She writes a blog post about the process and uses a Final Fantasy screenshot in it. She writes and defends her comps. She writes her proposal in November for AcWriMo. She attends a local con and introduces herself to the cosplay guests, telling them she may contact them to participate in her dissertation.

2020 Kimberly defends her proposal. In freaking February. She has this whole plan that involves going to conventions to talk to cosplayers. AHAHAHAHA. There are no conventions. But she interviews the cosplayers over Zoom.

2020-2021 Kimberly conducts research, scales her design way back, conducts more research, writes, defends, and graduates. She applies for a postdoc at the Connected Learning Lab, where Crystle worked when they first met. She gets the job.

2022-present Kimberly hasn’t touched the cosplay work in a long time but has worked on connected learning in libraries for the whole postdoc.

Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsOfSummer starts June 17 and the Slack is hopping right now, in case you want to join in on the fun. 📝

💬📚📝📓

…the operating instructions of scholarly publishing rarely form a part of graduate training…

William Germano, From Dissertation to Book

Turning My Dissertation into a Book in the Open

It’s been almost two years since I defended my doctoral dissertation. Before it was written, an editor had expressed interest in it. After it was written, I was very tired. I just couldn’t touch it. But we are in a critical moment for information literacy, and I think my research has some good contributions to make, so I’m going to start writing a book proposal.

For this project, I will be opening up my process and my reflections but not the content of the book proposal (and, if I get a contract, the book) itself. I’m starting by reading (like I always so). I’m going to read about how to turn a dissertation into a book and I’m also going to get myself up to speed on the FanLIS literature.

Won’t you join me?

A book cover reading "Where'd You get Those Nightcrawler Hands? The Information Literacy Practices of Cosplayers." The author is Kimberly Hirsh. The cover includes a photograph of a cosplayer dressed as She-Hulk flexing her biceps.

How I Begin

In Austin Kleon’s paid newsletter post today, he asked his readers, to share how we begin.

I opened by saying, “I don’t know how I begin.” Then I proceeded to describe how I begin.

Because the biggest projects in my life have been scholarly writing projects, I thought about those. I thought about the most recent one, my dissertation, and the oldest one, my Master’s paper.

I realized that for both of these, I had a sunshine-soaked AHA! moment when I knew: this was the topic I was going to write about, this was the research I was going to do.

But then I thought about it, and that wasn’t the beginning for the dissertation. (It may have been for the Master’s paper. I don’t remember.)

In my PhD program, writing a comprehensive literature review that demonstrated our familiarity with the state of our research area was a major milestone. I went into this process with no clear research question or idea, just a set of topics that interested me. I don’t remember all of them, but they included makerspaces in libraries, gaming in libraries, and connected learning, among other things. I wrote two or three chapters of this lit review (one for each topic), flailing about, no research plan in mind, just getting familiar with the literature.

But this flailing was part of my process! I arrived at my dissertation topic by reading someone else’s dissertation and deciding to answer one of the questions she posed as a possibility for future research!

And yet, I had read her dissertation before that sun-soaked day.

What was different upon this reading?

What was different was that I had been living the night before, not working. (Work is a part of life but you know how it’s easy to forget to do all the parts of life that aren’t work? Or at least to berate yourself for not focusing on work all the time? If you’ve ever been a grad student, you know what I’m talking about.)

The night before my sun-soaked AHA!, I had gone to a concert. A video game concert. Where I saw cosplayers who inspired me. And it was putting together the dissertation I read with the inspiration I felt at that concert that led me to my dissertation topic: how cosplayers find, evaluate, use, and share information.

So these are the ingredients in my process:

  1. Read what other people have written, especially keeping an eye out for interesting questions that I might want to anwer. What do I read? Whatever seems interesting.
  2. Do interesting things that aren’t work.
  3. Sit in the sun and think.

If I skip any of these three steps, I struggle to begin.

🔖📝♿ Read As a Disabled Writer, I Am a Rich Innovator by [Sarah Fawn Montgomery](www.sarahfawnmontgomery.com/l (Catapult).

This is my new favorite essay about being a disabled writer. I love it so much. It reminds me that the way I work is a way that gets work done.

“if you’re looking for a sign from the universe that it’s okay to stop trying to force your work, that it’s not just okay but good to tend to yourself in whatever way that brings you joy and doesn’t hurt yourself or someone else—this is your sign.

📚💬📝 “…the work of critical thinking and theorizing is itself an expression of political praxis that constructs a foundation wherein individual action can be united with collective struggle.” bell hooks, remembered rapture: the writer at work

📚💬📝 “Even in academic circles it has become much more fashionable to do work on gender than work that is distinctly feminist in outlook.” bell hooks, remembered rapture: the writer at work

Deciding when to drop a paper: Rethinking my lit review about tabletop RPGs and identity development

I’ve been sitting on a paper that was “accepted with revisions” for more than 3 years. I have poked at it sometimes and worked hard on it others, sometimes hated the revision process and sometimes enjoyed it.

The purpose of submitting this paper was not actually to get it published. It was to get it submitted so I met the requirement of having submitted 2 items for peer review before my comps. Also, it’s not original research. It’s a literature review.

My assistantships in my first 4 years of the PhD put me in a situation where my colleagues and I weren’t publishing much in scholarly journals. The first year, I helped with a lit review that I think was for a popular publication. The next three years, I worked on an immense professional development project. I’m very proud of the curriculum we created and did get some trade publication out of that but again, not scholarly publication.

So it wasn’t until my last 2 years of my PhD that I was working with other scholars on papers, most of which are currently in submission or revision. All my work for scholarly publication before that had to be solo-authored and, quite frankly, what I wrote was Not Good. It wasn’t BAD but it needed so much revision.

By the time this accepted-with-revisions lit review came back to me from the journal (it had gone to a third reviewer because one reviewer was like “Accept! Minimal revisions!” and one was like “R&R… Maybe.” Reviewer 3 basically said “Accept but with heavy revision”), I was 3 years out from the original class paper it was based on. I had barely rewritten it from that for submission because, again, I just needed to move past a PhD milestone.

I was very excited when it came back accepted with revisions, but I was also in the middle of a very stressful house-buying process, writing my comps, and only had half-time childcare, so I couldn’t make it a priority.

Also I was, understandably, hurt by some of Reviewer 2’s pointed and accurate statements, so I set it aside for a while.

I picked it back up and made a revision plan, drawing on Wendy Belcher and Raul Pacheco-Vega’s advice on how to deal with revisions but as I sorted through these changes, I began to realize that NONE of them were small. They were all large changes. Here’s the kind of thing I mean:

  • Elaborate on places where I cited multiple sources and be more explicit about what they say and how they’re in conversation with one another. (This is a very reasonable suggestion, and the one I’ve been working on this whole time.)
  • Completely re-organize the literature review based on insights hinted at in the conclusion.
  • VAGUELY CONTRADICTORY SUGGESTIONS FROM THE SAME REVIEWER: broaden the scope to include more scholarly research; narrow the scope to focus on only one of three areas addressed in the lit review.
  • Find criticism that contrasted with the positive sources cited and described in the paper. (There wasn’t enough literature for that to really be a thing.)
  • Completely restructure the paper based on one of the developmental frameworks I drew on.

This is daunting as all get out, especially alone, especially when dissertating AND working (because I didn’t have a dissertation fellowship, I was also conducting research and writing as part of an assistantship my final year), and there’s a pandemic on (that wasn’t until a year after the paper was “accepted” but still) and you’re a parent of a young child and you have limited childcare.

But y’all, the shame I placed on myself for not revising this paper.

I’m absolutely still excited by the central ideas of this paper:

  • Teen library programming should support teens’ identity development.
  • Teen library programming around TRPGs should go beyond the idea of engagement and actually reach a level of impact where teens get to try on new personas, take imaginary risks, and figure out their own moral beliefs through pretending to be other people.

But oh my goodness I do not want to work on this paper anymore. This iteration of this set of ideas does not bring me joy.

And after yesterday’s Connected Learning Summit panel on post-pandemic burnout with multiple panelists talking about the importance of centering work that feeds and serves you, I am ready to let go of tinkering with this six-year-old literature review for publication in a journal that honestly deserves a more insightful set of arguments around these ideas.

On the other hand, I’ve worked hard on this thing for a few years and don’t want it to sit in my Google Drive collecting dust and being of no use to other people. And my colleague Maria Alberto said it was “absolutely interesting and useful.”

So I’m going to read through it one more time and make sure it makes sense, and then I’m going to publish it effectively as a pre-print/author paper here on my website and in a couple of pre-print archives as well, so it can get out there as it is.

THEN I’m going to do two more things with it:

  • Use it as the foundation for some public writing. If you know of an outlet where a paper about how TRPGs support identity development would be a good fit, please let me know.
  • I’m going to pocket it to support some original research, if I end up in a situation to actually collect data on the relationship between TRPGs and identity development.

Huge thanks to Sandra Hughes-Hassell for her feedback on this, the folks at JRLYA who gave me feedback, and Maria for validating me. Also to Katy Rose Guest Pryal for her advice on how to deal with research in The Freelance Academic, and yesterday’s panelists for talking about doing research that resonates with your soul.

This Is How I Do It (TL;DR: Piecemeal and Flexibly)

Katy Peplin has a great Twitter thread on the difference between sharing your process with “This is how I do it” and “This is how you should do it.”

I try to write with the former attitude. Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega does this and it’s one of the things I most appreciate his writing.

I thought today I’d share one thing that address how I do it, wherein it = almost anything in life at all.

Piecemeal. In teeny, tiny fragments. I’ve written before about parenthood and kintsugi.

Yesterday, I was thinking about how I want to write more, and I had a thought about writing that was so good, I wanted to capture it. This happened in literally the one minute before M’s swim lesson started, so there I was on a deck chair by the pool with M basically in my lap (and he’s big, y’all, I love having him in my lap but it’s very different now), and took out my phone and typed out these words:

There will never be time to write. This is my life now. Prismatic. Fragmented. The bits inside a kaleidoscope. They make beautiful patterns and they can be arranged in new ways but they aren’t large. So how do I write in the fragments?

“How do I _______ in the fragments?” is the guiding question of my life. There is perpetually a giant pile of laundry at the foot of my bed. I do put the laundry away, but I put it away one item at a time, while I’m getting dressed and in between finding the things I want to wear on a given day.

I’m working on binding a little pamphlet-bound notebook for M. I fold a page here and there when I can.

This is how I get things done. It’s necessitated by two things: parenthood, which carries with it the eternal threat of interruption, and chronic illness, which means that while my mind loves and craves routine, my body disrupts my ability to stick to it.

So I live by this mantra: what I can, when I can.

And that’s how I get stuff done.

🔖 Today’s #1000WordsOfSummer letter is all about letting writing be fun and silly. I needed to read this today. Maybe you do, too. 📝

“…embodied writing is not in opposition to political writing. In fact, it is the kind of political writing that I am most interested in reading.” Melissa Febos, Body Work 💬

Reply to Meg Pillow's This Is Not the Essay I Meant to Write

I saved this and waited 10 days to read it, which meant I read it exactly when I needed it. The phrase “the aesthetic of uncertainty” is something I sorely need. At the beginning of the year, I decided my phrase for at least the quarter would be “Embrace radical uncertainty.”

At the time, I chose this because as a caregiver and person living with chronic illness, it was something I needed to do to not constantly fight life. On 1/18 (my sister’s 36th birthday), my mom went to the ER & they found all her blood counts were low.

They diagnosed her with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and began putting a treatment plan in place. With the treatment plan in place, followed by the chemo putting her into remission, it seemed the path forward was clear.

The day after she was discharged from the initial chemo, she had a cardiac event. Then she suffered from a bout of colitis. Another cardiac event. Then muscle weakness such that she would fall and be unable to get up.

It felt like each week brought a new complication or side effect. This Wednesday, I took my 5 yo son to visit her, and learned that between preexisting spinal problems and chemo side effects, she is now paraplegic.

I live in a constant vacillation between hope and anxiety, optimistic each time a problem is actually identified and an intervention developed, riddled with anxiety each time a new problem appears.

All of this is to say: I really needed this piece. I thank you for writing it. I’m glad I waited to read it. I’m saving it to read again next time I need it. And maybe soon I’ll write something.

Next time I take it into my head that words won’t come out of me in written form, I’m going to re-read this 2018 blog post in which I calculated that I wrote 98,000 words in the first 5 semesters of my doctoral program.

Write Source 2000: The book that started my obsession with writing craft books 📚📝

I own a lot of writing craft books. There’s the obvious, like Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, but I also have more obscure ones like Richard Toscan’s Playwriting Seminars 2.0. I have books about how to write romance, like Gwen Hayes’s book Romancing the Beat and books about how to write science fiction and fantasy, like Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing. I have books about writing for different audiences, like children, and in different formats, like screenwriting. I have purchased many more of these books than I have read. In a sense, I have a whole little antilibrary devoted to writing craft.

As I was doing my morning pages this morning, I thought about my affection for freewriting and realized that it first started in seventh grade, when our teacher assigned us the textbook Write Source 2000. This was 1993, so adding 2000 to the end of things made them seem very futuristic. The cover of the book, which can still be purchased used, was very shiny. It’s got a pencil-shaped space craft on the cover and kids looking up at it through a telescope. The third edition is available via the Open Library. I had the first edition, but I suspect they’re very similar. The cover design is the same.

A lot of my initial affection for this book was because of its quality as a material object. The shininess of the cover. The fact that it was a trade paperback, unlike most of our textbooks. The page layouts inside were attractive. And the authorial voice was conspiratiorial:

We’re in this together. You and I. We’re members of an important club - maybe the most important club ever.

The book focuses on learning across settings, writing as a tool for learning, and metacognition (though it just calls it “learning to learn”). I did not realize that this had been my jam for almost 30 years, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’m pretty sure I still have my copy somewhere. If not, I definitely carried it around with me at least through college. I thought about buying it again but now that I know I can read it on Open Library, I feel okay holding off.

This book was the first book I read that talked about how to write, and I loved it for that. I’m pretty sure I was the only kid excited by this textbook. (It also had new-book-smell, which for my money is equal in joy to old-book-smell. Really, if it’s a book in pretty good condition, I probably like how it smells.)

I can’t find the source right now because I’ve read so much of her stuff, but sometime Kelly J. Baker wrote about the idea of writing as a career never occurring to her. It didn’t occur to me, either, though I did it constantly: in my diary, in journals, at school. In fifth grade I wrote a series of stories using the vocabulary list words, and it was all extremely thinly veiled autofiction where the characters names were just my classmates’ names backward. They ate it up.

I started and left unfinished tens of science fiction stories about my own anxieties as a middle schooler, and in high school I wrote a silly children’s book (I think it was called The Hog Prince), Sailor Moon and Star Wars fanfic, and short plays (the plays were in Latin). In college, I wrote more fanfic, all of the school writing assignments, and blog posts.

As a teacher I wrote lesson plans and assessments. As a librarian I participated alongside my students in NaNoWriMo. Working in higher ed K-12 outreach, I wrote blog posts and newsletters.

Writing is, it turns out, a potential career, but it’s also just part of life.

During the next couple of years as I work as a Postdoctoral Scholar, I’m thinking about what I’d like to work on next. I’m pretty sure it will involve reading and writing, because those activities are almost autonomic for me. I don’t know beyond that.

But maybe it’ll involve actually reading more of those craft books.

Essays on essays on essays

I’m still thinking about essays after reading Jackson Arn’s “Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot​ | Against the Contemporary American Essay. Arn references other people’s writing about the essay without actually linking to that writing, but I have managed to track them down.

The essay, James Wood wrote in The New Yorker, “has for some time now been gaining energy as an escape from, or rival to, the perceived conservatism of much mainstream fiction.”

This refers to James Wood’s Reality Effects, which discusses John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essays.

For Brian Dillon, such an authority on the essay that he authored a book called Essayism, it’s “unbounded and mobile, a form with ambitions to be unformed.”

The full title of Dillon’s book is Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction.

Mary Cappello, one of the most respected essayists around, claims the essay is actually a “non-genre,” mutating too fast for diagnosis.

This is a reference to Mary Cappello’s book Lecture. You can read the relevant excerpt at Literary Hub. I prefer Cappello’s full description:

Midway between a sermon and a bedtime story, the lecture is knowledge’s dramatic form. Nonfiction’s lost performative: the lecture. Cousin to the essay, or its precursor: that non-genre that allows for untoward movement, apposition, and assemblage, that is one part conundrum, one part accident, and that fosters a taste for discontinuity.

Assemblage and discontinuity seem key to the essays I enjoy reading, so I appreciate Cappello pointing them out here.

Arn turns to the personal essay boom of the 2000s, especially the 2010s, and mentions other writers’ explanations for the personal essay’s popularity.

Vivian Gornick, writing in The Yale Review, traces it all the way back to her youth, via the waning of modernism and the rise of the Holocaust memoir; Jia Tolentino, writing in The New Yorker, suspects the feminism-inflected internet economies that helped make her a star.

Arn refers to Gornick’s The Power of Testimony and Tolentino’s The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over. Tolentino then cites Laura Bennett’s Slate piece, The First-Person Industrial Complex.

Bennett mentions “personal essay habitats” like “Gawker, Jezebel, xoJane, Salon, BuzzFeed Ideas.” Bennett says

First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting.

Arn also mentions this, that the lack of money for publishing outlets to spend on funding writers’ experiences as fuel for writing makes the personal essay more appealing because everyone is an expert on their own experiences. Bennett goes on to discuss publications’ and editors’ potential exploitation of new writers who think they’re ready for a sensational personal essay to go public and only learn after the fact that they were not. These point to a more structural concern than much of Arn’s discussion of The Contemporary American Essay, which tends to focus on the ways individual writers engage in navel-gazing, write disconnected from broad sociopolitical issues like climate change and the impact of the Internet, and work so hard to be likable.

Bennett points to a gendered element to the personal essay boom, as well:

On its face, the personal-essay economy prizes inclusivity and openness; it often privileges the kinds of voices that don’t get mainstream attention. But it can be a dangerous force for the people who participate in it. And though the risks and exploitations of the first-person Internet are not gender-specific, many of these problems feel more acute for women. The reason—aside from the fact that the “confessional” essay as a form has historically attracted more women than men—is that so many of the outlets that are most hungry for quick freelancer copy, and have the lowest barriers to entry for publication, are still women’s interest sites.

While Tolentino asserted that the personal essay boom was over in 2017, Arn points out that most of the essays in The Contemporary American Essay are personal, constantly making “I” statements. They are also ambivalent, not just about the form of the essay itself, but about whatever they’re writing about. Arn catalogs several times the essayists use “perhaps” or “maybe,” seeming to hedge their bets in fear of upsetting anyone with a firm, declarative statement.

Reading all of the examples Arn pulls out from The Contemporary American Essay, I got the distinct feeling that these essayists were all just reading each others’ writing, going “AHA so THAT’s what an editor wants,” and then putting their own spin on it. It feels like they read the first few pages of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist but never got to the remixing part. The frequent use of etymology as an in-road to an essay, the perhapses and maybes - I haven’t read the book, but based on Arn’s description there is a sameness to the essays in it.

In the middle of the piece, Arn says

The Contemporary American Essay (let’s call it TCAE) is not the contemporary American essay. I hope not, anyway.

As I was sharing some of the most hilarious-to-me essay quotes with W., I realized that I read essays and most of them don’t make these moves. Yes, there are a fair number of Steven Hotdog essays in my reading, but each of them seems to make the Steven Hotdog format fresh. Why am I getting essays that don’t read this way?

I realized that it’s probably about my genre of choice. TCAE is all about literary nonfiction. This can be treated as a synonym for creative nonfiction, but I prefer to think of it as a subgenre, or a mode of writing. The writers are deliberately Writing Literature. The essays I read tend to be cultural criticism, usually about pop culture, or deft at connecting personal experience with shared experience. They are published in venues that have a specific focus rather than in general interest publications like Harper’s or The New Yorker. Instead, they’re in Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Catapult, Tor.com, StarTrek.com. My favorites are often public writing by PhDs. These are the kind of things I want to write, too.

As often happens, I’ve come to the end of this blog post and am a bit deflated and lacking in a conclusion, so I’ll just point you to one of my favorite essays:

You’ve Reached the Winter of Our Discontent by Rebecca Schuman

In which Dr. Schuman ruminates on the cool Gen X guy as he enters middle age, and how cool isn’t even a thing anymore.

What even is my writing voice, anyway?

That critique of the essay piece I read and linked yesterday has sent me down a rabbit hole of other writing about essays. I’ll put together a list of links soon; for reasons I don’t know the original piece at The Drift didn’t contain links or citations for the other pieces it references, but I have used my librarian skills to track them down.

This has me thinking about my own writing voice and what it is. I think it varies. Of course I have a standard academic writing voice, but I’m thinking for more personal writing. Mostly blogging.

I think I have two voices.

One is my Big Sister voice. This is vaguely didactic but not moralizing. It’s an attempt to be helpful. This is the voice I use when I write about my experiences as a doctoral student and tips for doing research.

The other voice is more lyrical, vaguely witchy even, and also fragmented. This is the stream-of-consciousness voice, the more vulnerable voice. This is the voice I use when I’m writing about my feelings.

These two voices add up to a fairly accurate representation of my headspace. Big Sister is when my mind is sharp, I’m feeling good about myself, and I believe I’ve got help to give. Fragmented dream voice is when I’ve got brain fog, when I’m feeling weak, or when I’m feeling woo woo.

I think they’re both valuable, though Big Sister voice is probably preferable for more audience-focused writing and fragmented dream voice for when I’m writing primarily for myself. For a while, I thought I should pick one and go all in on it, but now I’m happy to have these two different voices. They are both me, both verbal representations of my vibe.

What about you? Or your favorite writers? What kind of voices do they have?

Right now, I’m in awe of writers who can write something that feels scholarly and beautiful at the same time. Sarah Kendzior is great at this. Hiding in Plain Sight is a terrifying book, an important book, and a gorgeously written book. I don’t think I knew those could all line up before reading that. I think that’s the kind of voice I would like to develop. Maybe if I can get my two voices to play together I’ll be able to make it happen.

How to write an essay (buyer beware, I don’t have the answer)

How does a person write an essay? I’ve been trying to figure out. The thing is, it’s a versatile form. So versatile, I can’t pin it down.

There are the essays they teach in grade school.

My eighth grade Language Arts teacher called the five paragraph essay a cheeseburger essay. I think she really liked Jimmy Buffett. This pop culture reference was not as hot in 1994 as you might imagine.

So there’s a basic format, cool cool cool. The cheeseburger essay is best for persuasive or argumentative writing, I think. In tenth grade, we had to write narrative essays. I wrote mine about the day I almost had to go on stage as Fern in a production of Charlotte’s Web where I had originally been cast as an Owl. I was really proud of this piece of writing. I included a ton of sensory detail. I probably have a copy of it in one of my juvenilia boxes. (Yes, of course I have juvenilia boxes, plural, for when I donate my papers somewhere. If you know me, you are not surprised by this at all. I am exactly the kind of person who would label the boxes full of her childhood writing “juvenilia” and move them from house to house rather than throwing them away.)

My tenth grade English teacher praised my essay but gave it something less than a perfect grade. When I asked her what was wrong with it, she said, “I just would have written it differently.”

I was incensed. She couldn’t have written it at all. She didn’t have the personal experience. This was, to my mind, extremely unhelpful feedback. How could I improve my writing if the problem was simply that I wrote it like myself?

In college, we wrote papers. These were mostly persuasive/argumentative or research-based. (Pssst, all great research-based writing has an argument. Wendy Laura Belcher’s book _Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks can help you figure out yours.)

I wrote about Furor and Pietas in the Aeneid. I wrote about the extended wine metaphor in Horace’s Ode 1.11, the source of the aphorism “Seize the day.” (The actual translation is “pluck the day.” Plucking the grapes is the first step in winemaking, but Horace uses it at the end of the poem. He begins the metaphor by saying we should strain the wine of life, arguably the end of the process, and works backward from there. I was really proud of this paper. It’s the result of my only all-nighter.) I wrote about the validity or lack thereof of AP testing. I wrote about the Takarazuka Revue.

Most of these papers got good grades but when I read them now, I cringe. Their arguments are weak. Their evidence is thin. But they were good enough for class.

But good enough for class isn’t the kind of essay I want to write anymore. I want to write essays that mean things. Preferably that connect pop culture with life in significant ways. Like my essay about the Star Trek episode “Peak Performance” and impostor syndrome.

The thing is, I really thrive with a model. So I’m looking at models for essays. And I’m reading excellent essays, by Sarah Ruhl, by Kelly J. Baker, by Jess Zimmerman. (Jess Zimmerman’s Women and Other Monsters is probably the closest to the kind of writing I want to do.) By tons of other authors on Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Catapult.

They’re all different, which is fine. It means, though, that I have to build my own model by combining these, rather than just following one.

I need to Steal Like an Artist.

I love my job and some yammering about writing

How are you doing, Internet? I’m obviously Not Okay, with my mom having leukemia and all, but I’m trying to do things besides worry about her anyway. I’m doing pretty well at that.

Have we talked about how much I love working for the Connected Learning Lab? Maybe we have. I’ll say a little more about it anyway. I styled myself for this type of position throughout my PhD program, in spite of having no expectation that such a position would be available. I always live a better life when I just do whatever is interesting or exciting to me and let professional opportunities arise as they may. (Woo-woo types would say this is because my Human Design type is Projector and I would not argue with them.)

My job is to read about what’s making it hard for teen librarians to support connected learning in their libraries, interview them about it, analyze a bunch of data from my reading and interviews, and work with a team to develop tools to help teen librarians with this. It is dreamy as can be. Teen librarians (and librarians who serve teens and others as well) tend to be pretty awesome, based on my encounters with them. On their best days, they want to make space for what lights teens up. (On their worst days, I would guess they probably just want to go home. Being a school or public librarian is really hard as well as being rewarding.)

I do feel a need to figure out what’s next, which is why I’m doing Jen Polk’s PhD Career Clarity program. I wouldn’t have been able to pay for this as a student, but my consulting/content development work with Quirkos paid enough that I could actually afford it. Yay!

My previous explorations with ImaginePhD have indicated that writing, publishing, and editing is a good career family given my skills and interests, and I don’t disagree. I still find myself attracted to the idea of being a freelancer, so I’m doing some thinking and planning and learning about what that would look like. The ideal situation for me would either be enough consulting to cover the bills paired with writing as a creative outlet, or some sort of dream job instead of the consulting. I don’t think I want to depend on freelance writing for my income, but I do think I want to get words out of me and in front of human people.

Blogging even on days when I don’t have A Topic in mind is a gesture toward that. So is doing Morning Pages, and the Artist’s Way more broadly. (I’m still doing that at my very glacial pace.)

I’m reading through Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint and the posts and books she mentions in it. I’ll probably pick Bird by Bird up soon. I thought I’d read it before, but it’s not on my list of books I’ve read. I know I have a paperback copy somewhere but I think it’s lost in a pile of stuff in the attic, so I’m going to buy the ebook for my Kobo, too.

I definitely idealize writing as an art form. I don’t know a way around that, and I’m not sure I want to. I don’t have this idea of a person who spends all their time sitting in a garret writing, because as I learned when I was doing improv, you have to go experience life if you want to make art about it. (You could make art about sitting in a garret, I suppose.) When I watched Hamilton, the thing that stood out for me that for some reason had eluded me in listening was writing as a throughline in the whole story. The lyrics “I wrote my way out” and “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” had made an impression, of course, but something about seeing it brought it out as bigger than a leitmotif. What’s bigger than a leitmotif? I don’t know. Something really big.

There was some other art that I was thinking about that has contributed to this idealization, but I don’t know what it is. Definitely the story of Donna Tartt spending so much time on her writing at Bennington College was part of it.

Anyway. I am unapologetically romantic about writing as art and craft, but very realistic about the ways in which it can be a career.

How are things going for you?

🔖"Nobody cares if you're a writer except you." Kate Baer on being a writer who mothers. 📝

I highly recommend Sara Fredman’s Write Like A Mother newsletter, in which Sara interviews writers who are also mothers. Some bits from the recent issue with Kate Baer resonated especially with me, so I thought I’d share them here.

Mothers were so punished in this pandemic.

This. I’m playing the pandemic on easy mode - working part-time from home - and I still feel this. The social costs and lack of a village are what’s hurting me most. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, I hung out for a long time with other parents while our kids were at the park and it was huge. Pre-pandemic, M & I spent every weekday morning at a co-working space with a Montessori school on-site. My co-workers were almost exclusively fellow parents of young children, mostly moms and non-binary primary caregivers, and at the time I didn’t really appreciate how special it was.

…nobody cares if you’re a writer. Nobody, nobody cares if you’re a writer, except you. If you want to be a writer, then you have to take control of the situation. You have to think of yourself as a writer, you have to treat yourself as a writer. You have to treat this like this is a job… I have to be the one who cares so much about being a writer. And so I think part of that is just filtering out that noise and just taking yourself super seriously, taking the work super seriously.

I have only recently claimed the title of writer for myself, despite having written all my life and having my first paid byline 10 years ago, and I feel this so hard. I’m still working on taking myself and the work seriously.

Thanks to Jennifer Polk’s co-working session, I made big progress on a paper revision today. 📝

Extemely chuffed to announce that my first blog post written for @QuirkosSoftware, “A priori coding is A-OK!", has gone live!

there is no separation between mother and writer, nor can I tease apart the time I spend tending to my child from the time I spend thinking about my writing, or actually doing it.

Finding Literary Spaces Amid the Intensity of New Motherhood 🔖📚💬

🔖📚 Sara Fredman’s How Motherhood Helped Me Reject the ‘Father Tongue’ of Academia is both about writing the kind of thing I want to write and is itself the kind of thing I want to write.