Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Wreckage

April 5, 2013
Car Wreck

(C) 2012 Paula J. Bishop

I am already behind. I could not seem to get any traction on writing a short (250-300 word) description of Chapter 2. I started with 51 words and got to about 84, after adding, deleting, moving, deleting, and adding. So I distracted myself with doing some work on the show I’m music directing and prepping for the classes I teach. At the end of the day, I felt defeated, like the abandoned and burned shell of the car above. I wanted to walk away, just like the owner of this car did.

But Thursday came and I got back on the road again. I slogged through my mess of thoughts and ideas concerning Chapter 2 and finally finished the summary. Now I’m on to Chapter 3. I’m a day behind and today is a short writing day because of rehearsals and other commitments. I’m hoping somewhere along the way I can make up some time.

 

A Baby Step!

March 28, 2013

As I said in my last post, my first order of business is to flesh out the proposal, in particular, expanding each of the chapter descriptions to about a page (approximately 250-300 words). I created a schedule that looks something like this:

  • Write description of chapter 1, 3/28/13
  • Write description of chapter 2, 4/2/13
  • Write description of chapter 3, 4/4/3

And so on.

Being obsessively ordered and rule-bound in the early stages of any project, I nearly stumbled and fell trying to write a description of Chapter 1: Introduction. Faced with the blinking cursor, here’s what I could come up with:

quote-marksChapter 1: Introduction

This chapter will introduce the book.

 

 

Lame.

And that was after “thinking” about it (procrastinating) all day.

With the clock ticking, though, I finally pulled out the first chapter of my dissertation, reverse-engineered its outline (yes, it’s been that long since I wrote it), and mashed all of that down into an acceptable 251 words. The next thing I had to do was convince myself that 251 words is perfectly acceptable for a description of an introductory chapter in a book proposal that hopefully only 1 or 2 people will read. Sadly my type-A personality wants to go for 300 even when it’s unnecessary and meaningless.

A baby step. Busy weekend coming up, but I feel like I can make the next baby step.

The Planning Stage

March 26, 2013

I spent today trying to map out a plan for my writing. Then I distracted myself with searches for project planning software. I am ridiculously attracted to the idea of visualizing my progress (or lack of it) in Gantt charts, as if those horizontal bars represent the work itself. And I know from past experience, that all the pretty charts in the world never reflect reality when it comes to real projects. Sigh.

GanttChart

I have a long range plan for the Everly Brothers book, which is to finish a solid draft by the end of the year. I will devote one month to each chapter. I think this either is wildly optimistic or I’m stretching it out too far, especially considering it’s a repackaging and extension of my dissertation. So I will revisit this plan in a month or two.

The first order of business, though, is to flesh out my book proposal. I have a short introduction and paragraph for each chapter. I need to expand the chapter descriptions to one page. If I can complete a chapter description on each of my days off during the work week (I teach 2.5 days a week), then I can be done with this task by April 18. Again, I may be overestimating.

I am also developing a list of other tasks related to this such as determining if there are any additional research materials I should review. I searched through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Archives online catalog. The material they have only amounts to 1.83 linear feet and only covers the period from 1973-1988, which is not the period I’m focusing on. I’ll have to think about whether I want to incur the expense of traveling or paying to have the materials photocopied. The Southern Folklife Collection at UNC-CH has a few folders that look interesting–not enough to warrant a trip, but the next time I go down to visit the family, I’ll spend a day there.

This train is leaving the station, so hold on!

Time for this train to roll again!

March 19, 2013

I’ve been quiet here for a while. Busy mothering, teaching, directing, and generally trying to keep my head above water. But now it’s time to get this train rolling again. I want to work on two different books (and a third one is swimming around in my grey matter), so I need to get serious about writing again. And two weeks ago, I learned some interesting things that have inspired me to restart this blog as part of my overall writing effort.

I attended the annual conference of the Society for American Music this year (presented a paper, but that’s a different post). Several of us tweeted during the conference, which was both interesting and frustrating (yet another blog post). I eventually met up with one of the tweetsters, academicronin, and had a very interesting talk with her. She blogs about her book progress, reporting on challenges, triumphs, the number of words completed and other details. Brilliant! Set a goal, put it out there in the blogosphere and somehow you now feel accountable for it.

Then I attended a session on music history pedagogy. One of the panelists discussed student writing and brought to our attention a study on binge writing vs. the slow-and-steady approach. The research of Robert Boice* suggests that the latter–regular moderate amounts of writing–produces better results and better rewards (tenure, article acceptances, etc.).

These two insights felt like the proverbial slap to the forehead for me. When I was working on my dissertation, I wrote every week day and occasionally on the weekends. Sometimes it was thousands of words and sometimes it was only one or two (regular moderate amounts). And for a number of reasons, I set a clear end date (goal).

I’ll be back soon with a plan.

* Boice, Bob. “Which Is More Productive, Writing in Binge Patterns of Creative Illness or in Moderation?” Written Communication 16 (July, 1999): 354-67.

The Bottomless Pit

January 13, 2009

I have a horoscope gadget on my iGoogle home page, along with the weather report from Maui, my to-do list, the top items on Digg, Things to Ponder, and a set of eyeballs that follows my cursor.

While I don’t put much stock in cosmic star alignments and crystal power, I had to laugh when I saw today’s horoscope:

 

It’s hard to know if you have gone deep enough, for the more you dig, the more you learn. At some point, however, you must finish your research and actually put what you’ve learned to practical use. Once you accept that your investigation has uncovered a bottomless pit, you’ll be more likely to stop spinning your intellectual wheels and get to work, applying your wealth of knowledge.

And there you have it. I have fallen in a bottomless pit and have to claw my way out of it.

Zinsser-ism

December 9, 2008

William Zinsser once wrote that “writing is thinking on paper.” His argument is that once you can organize your thoughts and knowledge well enough to write about them, you will truly understand your material. He advocates writing as part of the learning process rather than just a product of it.

Working on my proposal has certainly clarified my thoughts on my topic. Now that I am writing a chapter, I have identified areas for which I lack clarity and consequently can’t form a coherent sentence, much less a paragraph. I am being forced to step back and look at the big picture then zoom in and ferret out the small details. I need forests and trees, but the result must be as compelling as the Ansel Adams photograph shown here.

If writing is thinking on paper, then creating a website to complement your writing is…well, I’m not sure. Thinking in air? Thinking on screen? I am finding that organizing my information in a thoughtful and useful way makes me, again, look at the trees and then at the forest and then at the trees and so on. Ultimately it’s a different way to organize the information from the way I must approach it for my dissertation. It’s good exercise and I encourage everyone to do it. You can see my effort at people.bu.edu/pjbishop. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ll post updates here.

A new frontier

December 4, 2008

I have been using EndNote for a couple of years now to handle citations in my papers. I have finally hit the wall with the bug and the way that the with every release (which costs another $90-100), the performance degrades. Right now I have a 25-page proposal in Word 2004 for Mac OS X with less than 100 bibliographic references (cited in 24 footnotes and collected in a bibliography at the end) that has bizarre scrolling problems. If I remove the field codes, the document behaves correctly. I always have to remove the field codes at the end anyway in order to change the straight quotes to smart quotes, fix the references EndNote can’t handle, and improve the readability of the footnotes.

Now that I am at a crossroads of sort (proposal hopefully heading towards the approval process, only a portion of one chapter written yet), I am going to try a new citation program. I’m going to start with Sente, but I’m keeping my eye on Bookends, too. If anyone has experience with either of these, let me know.

I’m also going to ponder how to manage the chapters: one giant monolithic document? individual chapter documents? a master document? I tried the latter with my masters thesis and it was a bit of a nightmare. I can’t stand the thought of a 200 or 300 page document so option 1 is out, too. The individual chapter documents will become problematic towards the end when I have to create continuous page numbering. 

Maybe I should think about Pages? Nah. It’s too dangerous to try to many new things at once.

I’m Stuck

September 15, 2008

I am writing my dissertation proposal. I know boat loads about my topic. When I go out for my run every day, I practically write chapters in my head. But I can’t seem to get my proposal done. I have a lot on paper, but I am convinced it’s all in the wrong order or it’s not clever enough or convincing enough or it lacks clarity. I read what I have and think what exquisite crap I have committed to the page. And all of this self-loathing has given me the proverbial writer’s block. I am frozen in place. I’ve tried my usual tricks: do housework, re-organize my office, torture my family with endless moaning about my lack of writing skill, go running, do yoga, listen to loud music, soft music, classical, rap, country, sit in silence. Nothing is working. Lest I spend the remainder of my days searching the internet for funny Sarah Palin videos with glassy eyes and drool leaking out the side of my mouth, I have to find a solution quick.

Then I read this blog by Jonathan Bellman, The Writer in the Mirror and another one by Phil Ford, Adventures in Bad Writing. And I was reminded that, even though I think me and my problems are pretty darn special, I am not unusual. I am not even in an unusual spot. I am not the only with the hair shirt and I won’t be the last. 

So I kind of feel better. Still wish I could make a lit. review flow and that my thoughts would magically reorganize themselves on paper and sound “wicked smaht.” In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing laundry and know that I have company.