Old school nostalgia or not

Last night, I found out via twitter that my friend Collin was in town, and so, via twitter, I arranged to meet him for a drink. This is how I roll now. Collin and I go back a pretty long way in Internet time. I don’t know exactly when I first started reading his blog, but it was at least a year or more before we met in person at the MLA in 2006. Collin is a friend from another lifetime for me. He’s in my former field of rhetoric and composition, we used to blog together in the old days of blogging, and we used to play WoW together.

I’m still blogging (though not as much as I used to), but those other things? They’re mostly in the background. When I met some of Collin’s grad students and colleagues, I got a few weird looks, but not many. It does seem incongruous to most people that someone who started in rhet/comp, even getting a PhD in it, would end up teaching computer science in middle and high school. I contend that CS is not that different from rhet/comp, and that I use my skills from my PhD every day. I research. I write. I make my students write. I understand the importance of writing both as a skill in and of itself and as a process for learning a subject.

I’ve said before that I think the logic of writing, especially in the sophisticated argumentative style used in academic papers is similar to the logic of programming. Just think about an if statement. If some condition is true, then execute the code below. In papers, one often sees the forwarding of evidence in similar ways. If this fact or assertion is true, then you must accept the following argument. Now human thought processes aren’t binary the way computer conditions are, but the logical process is still similar.

It’s also true that the ability to communicate in technical fields is hugely important. In most of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve served as translated between techies and non-techies, something that is valued in almost every industry I know. I attribute those skills to my work as a writer.

Collin and I discussed a bit the bubble that academics are often in. They see things according to the logic of academia, unaware sometimes that the world around them functions on a different logic. One of the great things about blogging in the old days was that it brought a community of people together around blogging who might never have met each other. It looked something like this:

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So academics were exposed to regular people and vice versa. As Collin said, the landscape has changed. There’s very little left of that old community. A few individual bloggers are left and some people still congregate around their blogs, but the interlinking, inter commenting atmosphere of the old days is mostly gone. Partly it’s a result of the commercialization of blogging and social media more generally. It’s also in the rise of twitter and Facebook. There’s sort of the same kind of community there, but it’s not quite the same reflective space that blogging was or is.

Another online space that’s changed is WoW. I joined just after the first expansion (after, I should note, I’d finished my PhD). I became part of a community who explored together and had common goals, from which I learned an amazing amount about who I was as part of a group. I learned, for example that I don’t like to lead, a surprise to me, and something I might not have recognized otherwise. I can qualify that a bit, and say that I don’t like to lead when I feel unqualified or unskilled, and I felt that way in game more often than not. In life, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t put myself into a leadership role when I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I should educate myself. That sense of community, and group dynamics is largely gone. It’s both because of people that have left, but also because of the changes made to the game which made casual play less fun, and made the singular goal raiding, requiring a kind of grinding many got tired of (including me).

I do miss playing WoW. There was a wonder and camaraderie about it that’s hard to find. Just writing about it here gives me a sense of nostalgia.

Not all change is bad, of course, but it’s interesting to have been involved in some things since practically their inception and see how they’ve morphed and impacted society. I wonder if people who saw the beginning of the automobile felt that way (feel that way? Are there any living still?). Seeing and talking to Collin reminds me that I value the connections I’ve made, in former fields, former jobs, former virtual spaces, and that I should continue to find ways to maintain them.

Moving on

So, the voices are gone now, hooray!  We spent the morning touring a potential school for Geeky Girl.  It was, I must say, a really nice experience.  And she thought so too.  We shall see what happens.  It’s late in the application period.  We’ve been back and forth on it quite a few times and if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year.

After the tour, I headed over to *$ with my laptop and did some reworking of a couple of sections.  I made it to the end of the 2nd big section.  Hooray!  So that made me feel pretty good.  The next section is messier in parts, so I think it’s going to take more work, but I feel like I’m making actual progress.

I’m feeling much more like life is just going to fall into place however it is, and that I can do what I can, but there’s a lot I don’t have control over.  I can work hard, follow my passions, be honest with myself and others, and that’s really all I can do.  Something will come of it.

The Voices in my Head

My weekend workstation
Image by lorda via Flickr

Yesterday, as I was walking the dog, I started an internal dialogue with myself.  I was debating what to spend my time on.  Just moments before my walk, I’d been writing, mostly revising, and I hit a section that needed a complete overhaul.  And then I glanced down at a page from the previous section and a sentence that needed some major work jumped out at me.  And suddenly, the whole project felt daunting.  And I wanted to continue working on it, but then, I wanted to paint, and I needed to do laundry, and, and, and.  Swirling in my head were various thoughts about money, work, things that pay off and things that don’t.  And by the end, I had put the writing in the things that don’t pay off category.  To be fair, I also put laundry in that category.

So I got home and I called Mr. Geeky to have lunch because damn, I needed to get the voices out of my head.  He had plans.  He offered to cancel and I said, no, that’s okay.  Are you sure? Yes, really, it’s okay.  So I hung up the phone, stared at my computer screen, and little tears started dripping down my face.  Not sobs, just little tears over I didn’t know what.  I cursed the hormones that likely caused this downswing in mood and started contemplating going to Starbucks to write, damnit.  Then I sighed, because the voices started up again about how that would be a waste of time.  And then the phone rang.  It was Mr. Geeky, saying he’d cancelled his lunch plans because his wife sounded sad.

And then we had Thai food and writing went back into the things that might pay off category and right after lunch, a job prospect called me back.  And so the world became somewhat right again.

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Page 200

I’m two hundred pages into my book project.  I think I’m nearing the end, though I’m not sure how many pages that will be.  Could be 10. Could be 50.  We’ll see.  I know there’s a lot of revision ahead of me, but I feel pretty damn good about finishing a project like this.*  I’ve started things and never finished them, put aside because my interest in them could not overcome the obstacles that preventing me from finding the time to work on them.

I’m planning to set up a separate site for the project, building a kind of platform for it, posting some excerpts as I work on them.  So look for more info soon.

*I’m assuming I won’t dump it at this point.

In case you’re wondering

No, I didn’t make it to 50,000. I had absolutely no time to do anything. When we would finally get home from various relatives’ houses, I was too exhausted to think. This week, too, is busy, as I’m hosting a fundraiser tomorrow for my 3-day breast cancer walk. I’m baking dozens of cookies to sell. After my fundraiser, I’m meeting with someone to discuss digital scholarship issues. So, it looks like Thursday before I’ll get back to writing regularly again. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though and, if I had to guess, I’d say I’m a week or so away from having a complete first draft. It’s been a really great process, whatever happens with the product itself.

Writer’s Cramp

Mouse and keyboardImage by lorda via Flickr

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen me deliberating yesterday about whether to write through the pain of the repetitive stress injury I seem to have developed. For the record, I decided to write by hand, which was only slightly less painful than typing. I even went out and got a new mouse and a keyboard pad (which heats up!) to help alleviate the pain. And I topped it off with a massage.

But today, I can still feel the pain, a burning sensation that sits mostly in my wrist and shoulder, though at times, it feels like it’s traveling up my whole arm. I’m typing on my laptop right now, in case you’re wondering, which is definitely more comfortable than my other keyboard. I’m considering sticking to the laptop.

Of course, the other option is to lay off writing completely, but I’m determined to finish this NaNo thing. Mr. Geeky thinks I’m insane and wants me to just take care of myself. I won’t even go into the many times he’s stayed up all night, worked through illness, and even played ultimate frisbee despite an injury.

I’m not a fan of pain, but I’ve been told by doctors that I have an extremely high tolerance for pain. Both times I gave birth, the doctors (different ones) were surprised I wasn’t freaking out. I also slammed my finger in a car door, which yes, hurt like hell, but I remained calmer than Mr. Geeky, who ran around like a crazy man. When I researched this RSI thing, most the info I found suggested learning to live with the pain, which kind of sucks really. So, what I may do is just write for a shorter period of time. Normally, I write for two and a half hours straight (with a break in the middle), but maybe I need to only write for an hour, take a couple of hours off and then go back to it for an hour.

Long term, I’m considering things like acupuncture and more regular massage, but I welcome your suggestions for good short-term solutions.

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More on the writing routine

Peg Single has another column in Inside Higher Ed about establishing a regular writing routine. Her audience consists of grad students writing dissertations and faculty writing books and articles. But writing is writing and doing it regularly every day is good practice. Although blogging is off-the-cuff and informal, I don’t doubt that blogging every day has been useful to me. But I can also let blogging, important as it is to me, suck away time from other kinds of writing. I did that a bit today when I wrote that long post on educational technology (one I’m sure 3 of you will read).

I had basically established a routine this fall, but NaNoWriMo really solidified that routine by putting pressure on to get to a certain word count every day. Single talks about setting time-based vs. task based (word or page count) goals every day. I had been using a time-based goal, but it was getting easy to scale that back or to otherwise waste that time and have little to show for it. Now I use a combination of time and task-based goals, with an emphasis on the time. Blogging generally has to occur before my writing time begins and I will put it off if I don’t get to it before that.

For NaNo, I’ve been trying to write 3000 words a day because I’m behind and I do so during one set period of time. My basic rule now is 3000 words in two hours. I will go over that time if I’m close to meeting the 3000 word goal. Realistically, I can hit 1500 easy in that time. Getting to 3k is always a challenge, but a good one. I will quit at the two-hour mark if I am struggling to get the words out. No sense banging my head against the keyboard. Today I got to 2k instead of 3 and I think that’s okay.

Single also mentions stopping when you’ve reached your goal, even you feel like you want to write all day. Other responsibilities will pile up if you take the day to write and you’ll just have to put off writing to get those things done (laundry, anyone?). I don’t think I’ve felt like going on and on ever in my writing life. There’s always a point where I know I need a break. For years, I’ve been doing exactly what Single suggests below, and it’s been extremely helpful:

Before closing down your document, write a few notes to yourself, notes that will jog your memory at the beginning of your next writing session and will help to get those creative juices flowing. Also make sure to type in your placeholder, such as the three asterisks I mentioned earlier, so you know where to start at your next writing session.

I finished a section today and so tomorrow will start the next section. I spent the last 15 minutes of my writing session jotting down an outline and some key phrases that will help me begin writing the next section. I also keep a notebook by my keyboard where I jot down things that come to me throughout the day. Just because you quit typing at the keyboard doesn’t mean that your brain doesn’t keep working on your writing project. I also jot things down that I want to include (or think I want to include) but haven’t written in the current draft yet. These are sometimes scenes, sometimes just concepts, like emotions I need to get across or descriptions I need to include. That, too, can provide fodder for the next writing session.

I’m behind on word count because I decided to take the weekend off. That had been my routine before NaNo, to only write during the week. I like treating writing like work where the weekends are time off, because it is work and while Dan Brown and Stephen King might work 365 days/year, we don’t all have to.

When Writing is Hard

My weekend workstationImage by lorda via Flickr

The reason I joined the NaNoWriMo activities even though I’m not writing a novel (which means I can’t officially win) is because having specific numeric goals is quite helpful. There’s also the group accountability of posting one’s numbers every day, comparing them to your buddies and to others.

I’m still behind a bit. I’ve set a goal of 3,000 words a day instead of the 1500 or so they recommend in order to catch up. I think that means I’ll be caught up by this weekend.

After having spent a lot of time not writing, the last two days, I found I had a lot to say and getting to 3000 seemed pretty easy, but then today, getting there was like pulling teeth. I posted to Twitter that “a watched pot won’t boil and a watched word count won’t increase.” I’d write a couple of sentences and then check my word count and see that it had inched up only by 100 words, not like when I’d check after a couple of pages in previous days.

Without NaNoWriMo, I might have simply quit when I found myself doing that and come back to the work tomorrow. But then there would be the chance that tomorrow I’d feel the same way. You don’t get to choose whether to go to work or not, so why should writing (if it’s your work) be any different. So despite the slowness of the words coming and despite my feeling that what was getting on the page was utter crap, I kept writing anyway. This is what we writing teachers have always told our students. It’s a common strategy to have them free write without editing to get them past the usual excuse of saying they have nothing to say. We give them prompts. We brainstorm. And yet, we often forget those same techniques when we ourselves are struggling.

After I write, I take a shower. While in the shower, I can’t help but think about the things I’ve just written. Quite often, I’ve gotten out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and run into the office to jot down ideas before I forget them. These become prompts for the next writing session. NaNo pushes me to keep writing no matter what and as I keep writing, a momentum builds so that the writing starts to perpetuate itself some days. For most of us, writing is something we do occasionally, not every day and so it is like cleaning out the garage instead of doing the laundry, a project not a process. To really write, though, it needs to become a process.

I am 120 pages into this project, 40 of which I’ve written through NaNo. I’m starting to piece things together, starting to see more threads and connections than I thought were there. I know much of what’s actually on the page will be completely transformed, but having a kernel to work with in the first place is truly helpful. And maybe this gives me a way to continue writing instead of postponing it like it’s a garage that needs to be cleaned out.

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The Children Have Taken Over

They do have their own blogs, I promise. But for some reason, it’s more fun for them to blog here. I think they like the audience. You can see the challenges I face: the sarcasm, the way-too-smart-for-their-own-good attitude. That comes from Mr. Geeky’s side of the family, I promise.

At any rate, expect another post from Geeky Boy later today, who will be blogging about virtual economies. I swear he has a future on Wall Street. He regularly discusses cornering the market on things. Yesterday, he discussed some kind of 6-point connection thing for how he determines what to corner. It scares me.

And I have a couple of posts brewing myself: on the pitfalls of attending academic conferences, on why we feel guilty about creating art, and WoW Wednesday on my new love of PvP. So the joint’s gonna be hopping around here. And now I have to go try to catch up on NaNoWriMo. Cue the music.