My day today

My day today is catching up on reading in the morning, alongside two meetings in the afternoon.

I have just finished my morning writing, and I'm very excited. For the first time since finishing a draft of the book in March, I've been able to focus on one writing project in my morning sessions for ten days straight. I'm making steady progress, according to the brilliant Timing app: an hour and 44 minutes today, and 10 hours and 45 minutes over the last ten days. Best of all, I'm stopping while the going is good, and I feel energized for the next task. It helps that I sit outside, at a table, in my small garden.

The contrast with what I did in most of June and July is striking. I was having trouble with Jessica Abel's one goal to rule them all, and instead was picking away at an article under revise and resubmit, the new book idea about Colombia, one of two grant applications, and a new book idea about New Brunswick. I've picked the first, and in a few weeks should have the article revised and resubmitted.

In the meantime, I'm going to the office to read.

Timing App

Over the years, I've tried various ways to keep track of my writing. Last year, I logged my daily words counts for my dissertation to monograph writing for about ten months, until being a new professor meant I stopped keeping the log. I kept writing, mind, but ran out of steam in tracking my word counts. However, since I submitted my manuscript a few months ago, I've not been writing productively nor been diligent about tracking where my writing time goes. I've started three or four projects and made little progress on what I need to be doing.

Advice from sources as diverse as Jessica Abel and Paul Silvia suggest keeping track of where your time goes as one step towards being more productive. When I relaized I spend an hour a day reading the newspaper, the excuse I have no time begins to make no sense.

A few days ago, I started to use Timing an app for MacOS X. I've not purchased the app yet, but I plan to because it solves two issues with using a Google Sheet or a custom Tinderbox file to track word counts.

First, the friction of making an entry is almost nill: Click a menu icon, name the item, assign the project, and you're done.

Second, unlike my Google Sheet or Tinderbox, the focus here is not word count, but time. I find writing words easy enough. 99% of my writing is revision. As such, many of my words count entries last year were estimates, a rough guess at how many words I had revised.

I've come to think it more important to account for time spent writing, not words revised. There are other similar apps out there, but I like Timing because it does not sync to a cloud server and therefore there are no privacy issues, because it is not subscription based, and because there is no iPhone app.

The lack of an iPhone app might seem a weakness, but I find it useful to account for what I do on the computer, not everything I do.

A few days into using Timing, and I'm happy. If I am still using the app by the time the free trial runs out, I will purhcase it.

On handwriting

I spent yesterday drafting, longhand, an idea. Sheila Lamb likes to write by hand, too.

The first draft always begins on paper with ink. Sometimes, the first handwritten words are a line, a sentence, a phrase. Sometimes, a scene. Usually, these words will not be in the final story. But they mark the magical moment where the story began.

I spent almost all of yesterday writing. I woke up at 6:30 am, and other than taking my son to school and a little bit of procrastination in the early afternoon, I wrote by hand with a fountain pen in a spiral bound notebook. 34 pages, mostly single spaced.

I agree with Lamb:

I find ideas flow better from paper to pen. When I handwrite, I write fast. Inspiration can be elusive and I want to get the words on paper without disruption. There is a smooth connection from pen to hand, something that, for me, pencils don’t give. Computers certainly don’t. The pen is, literally, a fluid implement. I favor gel pens (a Pilot G-2).

My drug of choice is not a gel pen, although in grad school I used to go through dozens. Instead, it is a Lamy fountain pen. I have three: black, white, and red. I've had the red one since 2013. I probably picked up the habit before that doing ethnographic research in northern Colombia while writing field notes in small notebooks.

Sheila Lamb is a fiction writer; I'm not. But, like her, I like my pens. Her description of transcription as the first edit, and then restructuring and revising on a laptop match what I do. I've used Scrivener, but I prefer Tinderbox. I go back and forth from screen to the printed page often.

What I wrote out longhand might become an article on New Brunswick one day.

Today, I had meetings all day. In the moments I could find, I edited an article that has been under a revise and resubmit for far too long.

Writing on Schedule

Today's trick from Dorothea Brande to get back into writing: Schedule a time to write, and, come what may, make sure to be writing at that time. Today, I my time was 4:00 pm. I failed, because I took a nap instead. Later, at 6:00 I went to a coffee shop and did my quota for the day. The result? Starting was harder than usual, and I used a pencil and paper, but for the first time in a year, I have a draft of a conclusion. There is so much left to do: edit, revise, rewrite, read aloud, send to my copy editor, etc. But, even on busy day a little progress feels good.

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To get back into regular writing

Dorothea Brande offers some advice on Becoming a Writer. There is much wisdom in the book, but one of the most helpful pieces of advice she offers is on page 74. How to learn to write with more ease.

The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can—and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before—begin to write.

Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before, a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all who are not pure nonsense.

I followed her advice yesterday morning (and this morning). I wrote for twenty minutes as I boiled tea in the early hours. When I got to editing my own book, I worked for two pleasant hours.

The advice to write first thing is given elsewhere, but Brande offers self-help for writers finding it hard to write.

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Guilty won't help me write more

Jessica Abel writes about self-forgiveness when missing a scheduled time to write: “Water under the bridge,” she calls it. Good advice, which hit home over the last two days.

Monday night I made a commitment to write every morning. Something I often do anyway, albeit not as much as I would like. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in bed with a bout of food poisoning. Today, I slept late. The last thing I wanted to do was write. By noon, I managed-two hours of revising. Should I try to make up for the time lost day yesterday? Or, should I feel guilty for missing my public commitment to write first thing? No. Writing is a long game. There have been days and weeks when I’ve had to stop writing. The trick? Get back and keep at it. My hope is that tomorrow I will be able to write firs thing. But, if not, I won't feel guilty. Guilty won't help me write more. A little self-forgiveness is a good idea.

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My 2017 Writing Challenge

Jessica Abel, the fantastic cartoonist, author, and teacher, is going to finish her book in three months. To make it happen, she's issued a public writing challenge to the Internet. I accept her challenge.

Finishing is hard, and I have a book due in a month. With Trump, a new semester, pesky grant applications, and life, my manuscript has stalled for a week or so and I’m behind schedule! Since I started out the book with a public writing commitment on January 1, 2016 #DiMoWriMo it seems appropriate to end where I began: With another public writing commitment.

Here goes: I commit to writing between 6:00 an 8:15 each morning, and whenever else I can fit in. My deadline: February 17, 2017. Expect daily Facebook and Twitter updates on my progress.

Follow along here, I'll post updates as I'm going along.

Want to join in? Add your name to Jessica’s FB post

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Writing Tip 11: Write short

Blaise Pascal, apparently, wrote in a letter in 1657: “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte,” or "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” The expressions, often misattributed to Mark Twain, means it is harder to write in a few words what could be written in a few pages.

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Writing Tip 10: When you think a text is ready, read it out loud to someone else

Many of these Writing Tips have been about how to get the energy and motivation to make writing a habit. I’ve had less to say on how to write well. I have some tips for that, too. 

One challenge that I have in revising is that when I read my words on a screen, my mind fills in the blanks: I read what should be there and not what is there. I skip words that don’t fit, and I add words that are missing. 

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