The process of writing…

…is like getting sweat from a stone.

I’ve recently read a number of posts about the process of writing and it’s made me think a bit about my own “process” (I don’t remember where, exactly, but if I find the posts, I’ll put up the links). Actually, “process” is rather a polite term for the caffeine-induced, anxiety-wracked haze that drives most of my writing. I have a confession to make: I am a binge writer. I have tried to work in a more methodical way, hammering out a bit at a time, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried outlines, pages of notes, anything to prevent me from writing everything in a mad dash at the end of the semester (ok, not everything–for example, I don’t actively sit my butt down in my chair and write every day, which I really need to start doing). But luckily for me, I am just starting my the next stage of my graduate work, so there is time to improve. I need to rethink and retool my process. It really is quite pathetic that I am 31, have been in grad school far longer than I care to remember, and still write like I did when I was 21.

So, here are the promises I’m making to myself for next semester. It may not work perfectly, and I’m sure I will still struggle, but it’s a start.

FIRST: I will try to write every day. My current schedule for research papers looks a bit like this: 1) think of topic. 2) Check out every single book I can find that pertains to said topic. Download and print out articles. 3) Start a binder dedicated just to the materials I have on this topic (I include printouts of the books I’ve looked up at the library so that I don’t repeat myself and I write notes about whether the books are applicable or not–at least, I do this in an ideal sense. It doesn’t always work out that way). 4) Read/skim the pertinent materials. 5) Get wrapped up in the everyday work of the semester and forget everything I’ve just read/skimmed. Not such a good method. Thus, promise number two.

SECOND: I will try and be more methodical about my reading. I will read Inter-Library Loan books first and take notes. That way, I can order them again near the end of the semester if necessary, but will not find myself clutching the book feverishly as the librarian on duty tries to wrestle it from my anxious grasp.

THIRD: I will accept the fact that I am a binge writer and plan accordingly. In other words, I will try to stage/induce the binge a bit earlier in the semester. In order to do this I have a rather devious plan. I am always on the ball in the beginning of a semester and I have little trouble completing the reading ahead of time. But, like the silly person I am, when this happens I sit back and twiddle my thumbs instead of reading ahead. Because really, why would I do that? So, new goal: when I’ve finished ahead of time, I will immediately pick up (and read) the books from the end of the semester. Sneaky, eh? That way, in the last month of the semester I can schedule a writing binge, skim over the books I’ve already read so I’m ready for class, and not be up at four in the morning the day before a paper is due, dashing off gobbledy-gook that only faintly resembles complete sentences.

If I can keep these promises, there is a chance that I will find myself in a wholly new frame of mind at the end of my semester. Will I still be stressed out? Of course! If I wasn’t the people who know and love me might think I had a lobotomy (I prefer to think that my neuroses make me lovable. Did I mention that I am borderline delusional as well?). But I will hopefully not be in the state I’m in right now. When I emerge from the dungeon of my office (I have to use my imagination here as my office doesn’t actually have doors, and it’s aboveground, and freshly painted) …as I was saying, when I emerge from the door-free and quite lovely dungeon that is my office, I often feel like a younger, female, beardless, and not-politically-oppressed version of Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. Except that I can’t make shoes. But who knows? Check back on Friday and I just might have figured out how to get sweat from a stone.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, the researching and thinking part of writing counts as writing too! I think you’re being a wee bit hard on yourself — you _do_ work regularly, even if the final drafting part is coming out in a binge.

    Good luck Dr. Mannette! Don’t forget that showers and hygiene are useful too!


  2. An interesting assessment. Having watched you work, I’d agree you’re being a little hard on yourself. You have a process, it’s just not linear, but working with that, if you can stick to your plan. will be much better than trying to carve a straight line out of Lombard St. Good luck!


  3. Wow, I wish I’d adopted this nicely planned process when I was in grad school. Well, I did it at first, but you know how those things wear off after a while. lol


  4. Sisyphus: I’m so proud–I only missed one shower! This is a complete turnaround from last semester when I don’t think I moved for four days straight. And I agree the early notes/research counts as writing, but I’m not as organized about it as I should be.

    Clair: Thanks! Man, I never thought I’d say it, but we are missing the Bay Area like crazy! How I wish I could see Lombard Street!

    Andi: The binder was incredibly helpful this time around. It kept me from reinventing the wheel when it came to looking up books, and I knew where to find copies of the articles I needed, but yeah, we’ll see how long it lasts next semester!


  5. “binge writer.” That’s it! That’s what I am, too. Actually, I’m a “binge and purge” writer. Sounds like you’ve got a good plan. Maybe I need to adopt it.


  6. Posted by Peter on May 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Sounds like you have a good plan. I like the point about the inter-library loan books too (they always seem fairly stingy with how long you can keep those checked out too.) Anyway, good luck with the new approach!


  7. Emily: I think I might be better off purging as well. Hence the need to start the binge early. Then I can follow with a purge of the pages that really, really, really need to go…

    Peter: Aren’t ILL books a pain? We get them for a total of 6 weeks IF they’re renewable. That would be great for a quarter, but it sucks rocks for a semester. So annoying!


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