Writing


I thought that I would abandon this blog and that it had served its purpose.  But something in me is crying out, crying out loudly, that I have allowed circumstances to run my life and take away from me what is precious: me and my thoughts and all the creative fruits that they could bear.

As the saying goes:  I thought wrong.

And with the DESPERATE need to create and reconnect with my self, I have returned to the home I built years ago, to think a little more.  It’s time to refashion circumstances so they serve my own purpose.  And I wouldn’t mind a little company! 11-12-14 003

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Imagine how much we can accomplish in just fifteen minutes a day...

Years ago I read Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.  I was beginning a Master’s Thesis in 2003 while working full-time.  I struggled for years to bring my thesis to the forefront of my life, but life’s happenings usually beat me.  As my life perspective has changed and continues to change, and as I come to finally seeing my thesis as a final product, I’ve come to the realization on my own how “fifteen minutes a day” really works.

Making time to write is like making time for my new morning meditation ritual.  For weeks and even months I thought about wanting to meditate regularly.  Each day I would put it off until later until the day got away and I would never realize that moment of reflection.  Once I realized that the only feasible time to meditate was when I was the only one stirring in the house, I began waking up earlier.  I consciously carved a time out in my day to meditate.  And each time I meditate, I reinforce how powerful the act is, making me more and more committed to seeing through the next morning’s meditation.  Meditating in the wee early morning while the house is still silent has replaced my caffeine intake.  I have cut coffee and black tea completely and drink green tea as a treat.  I now look to meditation to get my brain going in the morning so that I am alert to the subtleties in the data I’m studying.  I feel prepared to deal with the challenges of the day and to recognize each moment, and challenge, as precious.  There is a level of commitment to this act, and even reliance on it. 

Writing “fifteen minutes a day” has taken on a similar role.  There are days where I literally only get fifteen minutes to write.  After getting ready in the morning, the short meditation of 8-12 minutes, making my tea and writing in my production journal, I may be working for only 15 minutes when my son has unexpectedly started his day before 7:30 a.m.  The teaser sample makes me want more.  I can’t wait, I look forward to, I rely on being able to write again.  But when I’m not writing, I don’t need to think about how I’m not getting anything done (though I do have those moments, they are not pervasive), because I trust that all the other moments of joy will only help me the next day when I write again. 

It is the simple act of carving out 15 minutes of my time daily to something I love that makes the 15 minutes so potent.  Making the time, the act itself, is how 15 minutes really works.  It’s like growing a plant.  When you give yourself to those things you love, they grow.  And the relationship is circular.  When I give time to my writing, I am giving time to myself, and we grow together.  If my goal is growth, how could I stop protecting this ritual that gives me fifteen minutes to two hours a day if I’m so lucky?  The real progress that is happening, even when one writing session is only filled with thinking, is too powerful to ignore.  Yet with the other elements that make up my life, this level of committment can be fragile.  And this is another way that “fifteen minutes a day” works.  “Fifteen minutes a day,” that’s all it takes to show your love, and it will grow all on its own.

I’d like to know: What makes you committed to your passion?  What are your daily rituals that help you stay connected to the different elements in your life? 

For the last two weeks, I’ve been focusing on my research, unpaid research but research it still is.  I’ve been telling myself that since I only had two hours of attention span and energy to spend at the coffee shop, I should not blog on my breaks.  There are no breaks!

  <cracking stick on my fingers>

And why, now that I’m at the part that needs the most focus, have I been struggling for the last couple of sessions?  I blame the self-imposed stick I’ve been using.

<staring the stick down>

The stick was beating the wisdom and creativity out of me.  So rather than try to deal with the stick, I’m tossing it out. 

<and breaking it in half>

In this new regime, I am allowed to take creative breaks again with time limits. 

And more productive than that, I can smile while I work.

<smiling at the broken stick, now just twigs in a pile, ready to feed a fire>

       This is me, writing a postcard to my sister when I was in Spain over 10 years ago.    Writing may not LOOK so romantic these days, unless you’re like me and think that one of the best things in the world is sitting in a coffee shop for hours, working hard because what else would you do in a coffee shop?, and then coming home with the aroma of coffee clinging to every inch of the fibers that make your clothes.  It sounds like I’m having an affair with a coffee shop.  (Ew, what?) 

        It also may not LOOK that romantic if you saw my screen because I’m not sitting here writing poetry a book of fiction, but I’m coding qualitative research and making notes.  Working the data is hard and soon I’ll need more concrete categories that fit together like my son’s 3 piece Elmo puzzle.  I need THREE, three, 3, good categories that make a good thesis/project/whatever it’s called that could one day be published in a journal and that I could present verbally to people in my field.  But why?  What happens next?  Especially since I’m not planning on going Doctoral.  WHO KNOWS, I say, and WHO CARES.

I’m just happy that I have the chance to sit in a coffee shop alone for 2 to 4 hours at a time, with my computer, a chai latte, and a whole lot of stuff to do.  This is my coffee shop romance.

Sisters on the Atlantic

I listen to National Public Radio, not for the news coverage, but for inspiration.  Shows like “This American Life” or “Fresh Air” and even sometimes “The Diane Rehm Show,” have a quality of amazing documentary even with their simplicity.  In today’s rebroadcast of “The Diane Rehm Show,” Diane interviewed Helen Simonson who wrote her first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.”  Helen gave advice to a caller who is struggling to get published.  She suggested joining a writer’s workshop or finding someone who could give her blunt advice about her work to point out if there is a hook needed, for example. 

Coming from a social science background, I thought about this idea of a hook.  Do I know what it is?  I wasn’t sure, but I was sure my English Professor sister would.  So I e-mailed her and was delighted with her advice on hooks:

 I do not have any simple tips about “hooking” your reader like a fish from the very first sentences, except to say that it works the same way in fiction and creative non-fiction as it does for essays!

Think like a fisherwoman.  You have to cast a line—say this is your opening sentence!—and if it’s too long, the fishing line will sag in the water and probably get caught in some seaweed or rocks or an old boot, and with your line snagged, you’ll likely not even feel the tugging at the end of the line, and that’s only if you get a fish to bite, but you probably won’t because the line’s too long… and see?  This was such a boring sentence!  It was too long!!

Now, you cast your line again.  This time you throw the fishing pole behind you and cast a short line.  The hook is so short it’s still on the shore. Right next to your feet.  That’s no good.  It’ll never reach the fish.

OK: Cast again! This time, it’s in the water, not too deep and not too shallow, the line is not too long and not too short.  The fishes are swimming!  Did you bait the hook?  If there’s something glittery and striking and doesn’t look like all the other junk under the sea, then the fishie will look and wonder how this pretty bobbing thing will taste.  And then… the fishie gets hooked!   It can’t get away and it doesn’t even want to!  The hook is just as well-crafted as the bait!  (luckily for your readers,  your hook is metaphorical).

 AAAAAnnnd…… So my dear sister, start with a line that catches one’s attention, that says:  this is a bright thing that will strike you as different from all the other junk under the sea.  In a blog, that can be the image you choose, combined with an intriguing title, and an opening sentence.  You might even think about it like a drama exercise:  imagine what would be a good opening line for a monologue.  That’s usually where hooks come in most clearly for personal writing– there has to be a line that establishes someone’s voice and personality and experience as interesting and distinctive.

Who needs Google when you have an English Professor sister?  Now, I will try to live up to this advice and practice and practice.  But please excuse me if I get it wrong, catching seaweed or my own big toe.  Ouch!

What Thesis?

After weeks of trying to coordinate schedules, I finally met with my thesis advisor.  The university’s campus has been turned upside down since I was here last in 2008.  Old spaces were remodeled, departments were moved to different buildings, and the GRADUATE SCHOOL ITSELF had been relocated.  It looks nice but I needed to grab a map to navigate this place.  Yes, I’m still here as I type, still in shock.  I needed a cup of soup and a cozy new mod chair to sit in and feel like a student in my 20’s again.  Yes, that reminds me, I just turned 31 last week.

Anyway, to the main point.  After looking at the way I’ve begun to approach the data analysis on my qualitative study, my advisor looked at me and said, “Well if you’re going to do it this way you will have to change the methodology section in your proposal, because THIS is NOT grounded theory.”  Grounded Theory, did I ever tell you how much you annoy me?  And after I expressed to her that just weeks ago I was thinking about scrapping the whole thesis and doing a silly project just so I can graduate, she asked, “Why don’t you?”  WHAT?  WHY DON’T I?  Is all this hard work PURE CRAPOLA? 

My tears were going to explode out of my eye sockets.  She presented her case.  I listened, spoke, and CRIED.  I am not one to hold in my tears.  Eventually I told her that the reason I chose to do a thesis in the first place, as opposed to a project, is because it is much more well-regarded.  The thesis has status.  “Regarded by whom?”  she said.  Well, I THOUGHT back then that maybe ONE DAY I would go Doctoral, you know, a PhD, and isn’t that what THEY want?  “This is not going to be your last piece of work.  Plus,” she explained “I knew this project was very ambitious from the beginning.  Qualitative studies usually take 2 years at the very least with continuous work and it usually happens in research TEAMS.  You are all alone!”  Yes I am, Lady, yes I am. 

We discussed the differences and the rationale and I agreed.  She has assured me that switching to a project is not a step down, which is what I was afraid of.   We will still create a quality product in the form of a thesis but without the BS of a thesis committee.  We will still aim towards publication and a presentation of the project to Women’s & Gender Studies faculty.  The goal is to finish in 5 months, rather than another year. 

So, things have changed, but I will have more freedom on this project than I might had on the thesis.  More importantly, I will graduate sooner and isn’t this the whole point?  So, yah, who needs a thesis anyway?  Me and my project will be just fine.  I meant to say “my project and I.”

One of the most difficult things about doing a project like an essay, a paper, thesis or dissertation,  is when you return to it after a day, a week, or maybe even a year of rest.  How do you remember where you left off?

I have tested this simple method over the last 5 years and I am thankful that I stuck to it, or I may have given up years ago.  Life interruption after interruption, and I always knew where I left off.  So I thought I’d offer it to you.  I don’t remember how I learned about the method otherwise I would give credit to the source.

THE STEPS

Step 1:  Buy a Journal for this purpose and this purpose only.

Step 2:  Everytime you work, make your journal entry before you begin and after you are finished for that period of work.

Step 3:  You should notice an increase in productivity with this method which will inspire you to stick to it!

THE PROGRESS JOURNAL (EXAMPLE FROM TODAY’S ENTRY)

Today’s Date:  11/8/10

Thought for the Day:  Rest is important, so i took the day yesterday from working and blogging, but i became restLESS today because it took so long before I could begin my work again!

Personal Goals:  Now that we’ve redone the study room, I should think about getting my paints out and making a place for them.

Professional Goals:  Begin organizng F4 data

Reflection & Review:  Ended off at line 100.  Not so bad since there are just over 400 lines.  If I look at it this way, I can break down each interview into quarters based on the number of lines.

THAT’S IT!  Of course, I have had very reflective entries and very down-to-business kind of entries.  I pump up the music while I write the date, thought, personal & professional goals and it’s like a ritual everytime before I get my work started.  At the end, I log in the Reflection & Review so I know where I left off next time.  I’ve used this to help develop my ideas for a class paper, an independent project, and especially a master’s thesis. 

I couldn’t have done it without my journal.