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Archive for March, 2013

Just when things seemed to be looking up – as they were when I wrote my last few blog posts – something major in my personal life came up and, to use sports terminology, sidelined me with an injury. During the three months of downtime I’ve had I’ve mostly done some reading, have started regular yoga practice, have had deep tissue massages, and have worked a bit for a friend’s tech start-up. This has helped take my mind off personal life issues. Because it was winter in Berlin, and the personal issues did not allow a lot of time apart from my spouse, I didn’t even get much running in.

The upside to all this is that I’m now actually glad to be back doing some dissertation work and, assuming it actually stops snowing in Berlin, to get back to longer runs again. With that said, it’s still a goal: these days I’m lucky to get out of the apartment three times per week for 30-40 minutes of running, and I’m having some trouble focusing on the writing (erm, what exactly was I writing about when I stopped in early December?). I’ve signed up for an e-mail list called “the Productive Writer” but like all things one can sign up for online these days, it only really works if one actually puts effort into keeping up with it. So far there have been three e-mails from the head of the list that can be summed up as follows (in my words, not those of the professional e-mailing us):

Advice #1: You should write for 90 minutes each day. But, if this seems too long or arduous, start with 15 minutes, because these days 15 minutes of concentration devoted to one thing is priceless if not also seemingly impossible. Also, the hard part is getting started on writing, and 15 minutes is short enough to convince you that you DO have 15 minutes of writing in you each day. Once you get started, however, 90 minutes can sometimes then seem too short – but really, you should take a break after 90 minutes. And then when you’ve had your break you get to start all over again with that ill feeling of not being able to start.

Advice #2: You should schedule your writing. Try for the same time every day – find out when your brain works best and set aside the time. For me, I actually find it more helpful to just tell myself I’ll get x number of pomodoros done in a day – pomodoros being sessions of approximately 25 minutes of writing/ 5 minutes of break time – and then just giving my full concentration during each pomodoro to the particular task at hand. Initially the pomodoro is easy because you have 5 minutes of break time after each one; in reality it’s frustrating because after you’ve completed 25 minutes you really wish you had a longer session. For example, you wish you had scheduled more time in the day to write, or that the topic at hand didn’t take so much time to write, or that you’d broken down the topic into something manageable, or that you write too sloppy initially and the editing is a complete bitch that takes twice as long. (I’m eternally trying to figure out how to correctly predict how long it takes me to write something.)

Advice #3: Write shitty first drafts, because despite what all your perfectionist colleagues deliver in class or publish the reality is that everyone starts out with shitty first drafts. (Side note: this is actually what I miss about taking graduate seminar. Although there were certain colleagues who consistently turned in terrific reading responses, they were typically those who juggled less than most of us had to, and who clearly had more time to sit around and edit. In fact, I kind of liked those weeks when reading responses reflected the stress and heavy workload of a quarter. Those crappy responses reflected a kind of ‘truthiness’ – as Stephen Colbert would say – that made even the biggest perfectionists look sloppy in their writing and thus seem more human to the rest of us.)

There you have it. Mind you, I’m trying advice #1 this week and only going on to advice #2 and #3 probably next week or the week after. I’ve opened up my self-proclaimed “Dissertation Action Plan” last updated on December 5 and added items to write about in the next few days and yesterday I did a short free-write, so that’s a start. If I get antsy then maybe I’ll even post something worth reading on this blog.

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