24 June 2011


This is a wonkish, process-oriented blog. No pictures of cute kids or over-the-top statements about anything. No epiphanies. It's all about word counts and making those word counts go up, up, up. 

On Wednesday, I attended the second day of a writer's retreat. The first one was in March and at the time I really dug it. I thought it would be one of these things where you go and bullshit about writing for a couple of hours, do exercises, talk about your writing. No, you went and you wrote. You wrote your goals for the day, you wrote and then you talked a bit about what you wrote and then you went home. I found the whole thing to be quite liberating. There was no Internet, just a bunch of academics sitting around a conference room working on their writing.

Well, Wednesday was the same as in March, except this time I knew what to expect and had made a long list of things to work on. I finished a book chapter that has been on the back burner for a while and worked on an analysis chapter for my PhD, the one on metaphor. One day, about 3,000 words. I also drank a lot of coffee, ate a lot of salad, and avoided eating any cookies.

Yesterday, I had a supervision meeting for June and, in about 5 minutes, talked through my thesis outline: beginning to end. Surprisingly, I could do this, explain exactly how I saw things fitting together in about a 45 piece puzzle, each piece being a subheading. To my shock, my supervision team said (more-or-less), Good, keep writing. My second supervisor said, looking at the outline, 'If this were the table of contents to a book, I would buy it.' This response was much, much different than what I've had up to now which was, Don't think too much about the final product, read more, theorise more. No, this was like, Go ahead: what part of the puzzle will you be putting together next? I went home last night, and after everyone went to bed, I wrote up the whole outline, figuring what I had done already, where I was the weakest, and put together documents for all the parts of the thesis. Two clicks away from any subheading.

Someone said to me on Wednesday, if you want eat an elephant, you have to do it a spoonful at a time. Which apparently is a famous saying.

I got up this morning and came into work to take part in a virtual writer's retreat: apparently a group of people from the Spanish course team do this every week: set aside 4 hours for writing on Friday. I did some 'stub' writing before it started, essentially writing thesis sentences for the first part of the data analysis for my chapter on categories. I wrote about 300 words, but they were all structural sentences that embed in them about 4 additional sentences and some data I need to pull out: probably expandable to ten times the size. Just having the stubs is very important because it gives me the structure I need. And I also saw the makings of another article which will come out of that bit of writing on categories. 

The virtual retreat started and I thought it would be strange, but it wasn't. You signed in, chatted using the OU system for online classes and then started writing. Today, I had to take the comments from my meeting yesterday and add them into my literature review, which became a more complicated process as the bits of writing didn't just go in the literature review, but some needed to go into other chapters. No matter though: as I have it organised at this point with the subheadings, I was able to table what I needed to. I took my supervisors comments on the writing and fixed what I could immediately and the ones that I couldn't, I deleted their comment and replaced it with my own comment that was a command and a task rather than a suggestion.

I did that for an hour, we took 15 minutes off, and then we had another 90 minute session where I kept up my work, moving away from the comments and adding more to the literature review.

At the end of the week, I have written (just as a part of retreats) for about 7 hours. I think my output was probably close to 5,000 words, most of which are good words, particularly as I now know where I need to go with my writing. I perceive a couple of things happening in the next couple of months. Either this keeps up and I continue to be able to see the thesis as a unit that I am just filling in, or I lose the plot and have to rethink it again. If the first option happens, I could have a draft of the thesis several months ahead of time (I'm about 15-20 days ahead of the schedule I made last month at this point). Not that this will mean much: at that point it will go to my supervisors and they will savage it and say, Okay, you have to rework it all. But at that point at least I'll be thinking about a complete document and not bits and pieces.

I'm a bit out of energy at this point: have to add a sentence, a single sentence to the literature review from a book I just went and got in the library. And then maybe I'll take the weekend off, to have a baby.

Every night, I go to bed thinking that around two or three the next morning I will feel that hand I've felt before reach across the bed and say, It's time. It's time now, Stephen, Mia is here. I love birth — can I say that, should I say that? I love watching it. I love how suddenly the body takes over and is possessed by a savage spirit: the baby WILL come, you will not, cannot, should not, could not stop it. And then the quietness afterwards. It comes and goes: a tsunami, a hurricane, a thunderstorm. Here and then done. Hold onto the tree while it passes. 

I also have to think about external examiners and have my first choice, although she's in the States and there isn't funding to bring someone from overseas, unless they are willing to do it electronically, which is definitely a possibility. Things are coming together: let's just hope the government stops all the visa silliness in time for me to make a future here.