Category Archives: Writing

Number Crunching

Ways to think about my book revisions:

1. 182, 871 words. Response: AAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2. 387 pages. Response: see #1.

3. 22 weeks  (if I am to meet my, admittedly self-imposed, deadline of giving the manuscript to Q. by the middle of June so that he can return it to me by the end of June and I can then resubmit to the press by the end of July). Response: see #1, again.

4. 4,500 words (the number of words that have to be added to the new draft every week in order for me to reach 99,000 by the end of the twenty-second week. 100,000 words would be a very respectable book, and my book in its current state is much too long.). Response: Totally manageable.

5. 15 pages (the number of pages from the first draft I have to edit and place [or discard] in the new draft each week to finish the book by the end of the twenty-second week [this figure ignores the bibliography and the front matter, which is why it adds up to 330 pages rather than 387, in case you did the math]). Response: Totally manageable.

4 and 5 are my weekly targets from now on.

It’s all about how the work is presented.


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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Writing

Progress, Not Perfection

I have been having a difficult time getting back into a good rhythm with my research. Too much time off over the holidays has meant I’ve lost my momentum and my Inner Critic is back up to “shouting so loudly she’s hurting my ears” rather than the “nasty whispers under her breath” I’d beaten her down to by the end of last semester.

I learned last fall that the absolute, most critical key to successful academic writing (for me at least) was consistency. The more I worked on something, the easier it became to keep working on it. My weekly schedule makes this a challenge. Mondays I’m at home with P., and Tuesday nights I teach. This has meant that the work time available on Tuesdays (the morning and the early afternoon), more often than not, has been eaten up by class preparation and marking. I’m hoping this will improve this semester because I’m now into the section of the course that I’ve taught once before, so I already have PowerPoint slides and relevant assessment that can be reused.

The reality is that four days away from my research is too long. Every Wednesday I’d have the same inner battle with myself as I walked to the library:

Inner Critic: “I don’t know why you even bother. It’s never going to get published. No one wants to read your crap.”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’d be so much easier to do something else. So much more fun too. Why not just read your novel? Or go for a long walk? Or answer emails? Or write a blog post? Or we could go eat some cake. Ooh, I love cake. You love cake too! You’ll feel better about yourself then!”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’s so pointless. You’re so pointless. You’re such a fraud. If you actually send this to a publisher everyone will know you’re such a fraud.”
Turia: “SHUT. UP. Just sit down at the desk, Turia.”
*Some time is wasted by going to the washroom, setting up the desk, filling up the water bottle, writing a few emails, checking the phone, etc.*
Inner Critic: “You’re never going to be able to do this, you know.”
Turia: “SHUT! UP! Open the computer, Turia. Open the file. Start writing. Write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. You can do fifteen minutes.”
*Fifteen minutes pass.*
“Ok. This is going well. These are interesting ideas. You can do it, T. Keep writing.”
Inner Critic: “I’ll be back, you know.”

And she is back, every morning. She’s easier to silence on Thursday and easier again on Friday because by then I’ve picked up some momentum and I can remember what I most wanted to start with when I’d finished the day before. But she never, ever, truly goes away, and by the following Wednesday she’s back out in force.

I described this entire process to my friends in my writing accountability group at our meeting in December and they were both horrified. “That sounds terrible!” one of them said.

It is terrible. I guess I’m just so used to it it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I’ve never written anything research-related without also engaging in a fierce internal war.

My work goal for 2018 is to try to break this cycle. The fundamental problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a very fixed mindset. I associate editing with failure- I didn’t get it right the first time. I confuse my work with myself, and feel that a rejection of my work would pass judgment on myself as a person. This leaves me paralyzed with fear whenever I think about submitting my work somewhere.

It’s a really unhealthy way to live, and I don’t want to model it for my children.

E. and I talk all the time about how “practice makes progress” and how we have to be willing to try and make mistakes in order to improve. When he’s worried about his dictée words, and is wailing about how he will “never get anything right” and how he will “make a million mistakes on the dictée”, I point to how much he’s improved every time he practices.

I knew it was sinking in when I heard our nanny say to E. “practice makes perfect” one day and he, rather irritably, corrected her that it was actually “practice makes progress because most things aren’t perfect”.

It needs to sink in for me too.

Walking to the library this morning, with my Inner Critic shrieking in my head, I resolved to make “progress, not perfection” my mantra for my work this year. And by the time I’d reached my second-favourite desk (annoyingly someone had already claimed my favourite desk), I’d realized that it applied to far more than just my writing.

It applied when it came to my photographs.

It applied when it came to my efforts to control my lizard brain when I’m frustrated with my kids.

It applied to anywhere in my life where I felt unsatisfied and wanted to make a change.

When you practice, you see, you have to make the time for something. You have to engage in it. And maybe the progress you make is incremental. Maybe it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable at first. Maybe baby steps even seem like big steps at first. But eventually, if you give it enough time, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I wrote on here that I hadn’t been able to come up with a good word to represent my goals for 2018.

It turns out I needed three words, not one.

Progress, not perfection.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, Choose Happiness, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

This week

Some thoughts on my work in December

  • It is exam season here, which means that Q. is refusing to have library dates with me (even though we’re now both free of teaching so we could work together) because if he goes to his office he can work in blissful silence as opposed to the “silence” of many undergraduates “studying” with their closest friends.
  • The library where I work in the mornings most days is still very quiet. The big library is not. I’ve had to shush people on a daily basis (and I am sitting in the SILENT ZONE where no talking of any kind, ever, is permitted, so I have no problem with shushing). The main irritation with exam season for me is that someone else gets the little room I like to think of as my own because they all start studying before 9:30, even on Fridays, and that’s the earliest I can get to a desk.
  • I can accept this, with some bad grace, if the people who take ‘my’ room use it wisely. Today it is occupied by a pair of love-struck undergraduates. They have been cuddling and whispering throughout the morning (I am far enough away not to hear them, but I notice this when I walk past), and are currently both asleep with their heads on the desk.
  • I am looking forward to around the third week of January when all the good intentions for the new semester have worn off and exams seem a lifetime away and the only people left in the libraries are those who are very serious.
  • When I arrived at the little library on Tuesday, one of the librarians was busily taking the ornaments off the Christmas tree at the main entrance. I walked past and then doubled back to confirm that, yes, she was taking them off and not putting them on. The tree went up in the third week of November. Confusing, but when I walked out of the library at the end of the day, the tree was fully decorated again, only now it was much bigger and bushier and it smelt divine. They’d obviously decided that a real tree couldn’t be trusted to survive if displayed any earlier, so they’d set up the fake tree first, even though that made extra work.
  • The tree smells amazing. I love walking past it.
  • I have spent the bulk of my workweek cutting words out of my chapter for our edited volume. It feels weird to consider a day productive when the end result is fewer words on the page, but the chapter was significantly over length, so it had to be done. I’ve cut 2,457 words out in the last three days. Progress, to be sure, but there is more that must be destined for the trash.
  • I have started my book revisions. This should be accompanied by several (nay, copious) exclamation marks, given this is the albatross that has hung around my neck for the past two years (moaned about most recently here and here). What forced me to get started was, I think, a combination of personal loathing (I am so sick of not having finished the book that I think the idea of continuing to not finish the book is now worse than the process of finishing it), the lack of alternatives for procrastination (chapter draft finished- all the tinkering in the world can’t eat up every day of every week), and my newly-formed writing accountability group. At the first meeting, three of my four goals for December were book related. I wanted to work on the book revisions at least an hour a day once my seminar paper was over, I wanted to have completed all the “easy” revisions my readers recommended, and I wanted to have started a new file on my computer for the second draft (which ought to be the most absurdly simple goal to meet, but the very act of starting a new file and thus BEGINNING the revisions was something which had become a huge mental block). I am motivated to not embarrass myself, and so stating these goals to the other members has meant that now I am on track to meet all three goals.
  • Before starting the revisions, I forced myself to read the readers’ reports again. For two years now I have operated under the knowledge that there was a good review and a bad review. Reviewer B really quite liked the book and thought I should be offered a contract once I had completed the (relatively minor) revisions. Reviewer A didn’t like the book all that much and had doubts about whether it ought to be published, even with significant revisions. The funny thing is that once I read them again, I realized this wasn’t quite true. Both readers had similar criticisms about the book overall: they both felt the middle four chapters were the strongest, and they both, quite rightly, felt that I suffered too much from the dissertation anxiety of “must include everything!” and used too many examples and discussed those examples at far too great a length. Reviewer A’s most serious criticism largely stems from (I think) a misunderstanding of my argument, which itself stems from the way I did (or did not) define my terms and organize my ideas. Two years of ignoring the reports has meant that I’ve created enough distance between myself and my dissertation that consigning large sections of it to the trash now seems like the obvious right thing to do instead of an unimaginable horror. I don’t think I could have made the revisions in late 2015 and early 2016 even if my life had not been derailed by pregnancy/father’s accident/stepfather’s terminal cancer; I think I would have still been too close to it. But now I have another project which I’m enjoying, and the dissertation is no longer sacrosanct. Between the two reports, the report from my external examiner (who also felt the middle four chapters were the strongest), and my own sense of what needs to be changed, I think I have a strong (and not too contradictory) framework for going forward. It will still be a lot of work, of course, especially once the easy revisions are complete and I have to get down to the business of editing, but it now seems manageable, and provided I keep telling my accountability group what I intend to do, I will have no choice but to do it.
  • And now I must go and open that new file and complete a few more revisions. To close, a different kind of Christmas tree (spotted in the big library, along with a sign explaining the history of the books used, because of course):

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Strength in Numbers?

A few weeks ago, after I’d taken the quiz to find out my BASE in terms of my writing (the link to the quiz is in my other post and I’ll wait while you go and take it because it’s really neat), I sent an email out to two of my female colleagues/almost friends to ask if they wanted to join a writing accountability group.

I sent the email partly because I was experimenting with improving my social skills for my writing, but also because I’d come to realize in the first month of my postdoc that I needed to be accountable to someone other than myself if I was going to make any progress on my book.

I was a model of productivity for my postdoc…right up until the point where I largely finished the first draft of the chapter I’ve been writing for the edited volume and needed to turn my attention to my book revisions.

And then I stalled.

I tinkered.

I read books related to both projects.

I decided to try to post 30 times in 30 days on this blog, which counted as writing time, but not the writing that would help get the book revisions finished.

I did not want to get started on the book revisions, the revisions I’ve needed to do since August 2015.

And it was too easy to refuse to start them (again) because if I didn’t start them, the only person I was letting down was myself.

If I didn’t write the chapter for the edited volume, I was hurting my co-contributors, but I was also hurting my co-editors, one of whom is Q.

I’m not going to disappoint Q. if he’s counting on my work for his own project.

Plus, the first draft of something is what I like to write the best, so it was easy to sit down at the keyboard and let all the ideas that had been burbling around inside of me come flowing out.

I already did that with my book. The result was my PhD dissertation.

I hate editing my work. HATE. IT.

And I hate being rejected by people. HATE. IT.

So it’s been unbelievably easy for me to just not do the revisions because they combine two of my least favourite things.

If I don’t take the risk to put myself out there, I don’t have to face the consequences of being rejected.

Somewhere in late October I realized that this situation was never going to change if I didn’t change the circumstances under which I was operating, because although I occasionally lay awake at night wondering if the editor at Esteemed University Press ever wondered where my book was (answer: no, because said editor has many other books to deal with and many, many other academics who haven’t done their revisions either), and I knew I would disappoint my supervisor (and, let’s face it, Q.) if I never published the book, ultimately it just wasn’t a strong enough motivating factor.

I’d hit the point with that research where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was convinced that everything I had to say was bleedingly obvious and that any attempt on my part to publish said research would expose me for the fraud I am (see earlier post on imposter syndrome). The idea that if I published the book people might read and disagree with the book (or, worse, think the book was pointless) was paralyzing.

So I emailed two other women whom I knew were in the same boat (actual sentence from our meeting: “I invited both of you to join because we all have the same albatross around our neck.”).

Last Friday we had our first meeting.

We talked a bit about why we were there. One of us has trouble writing but loves to edit. One of us has no trouble writing but hates to edit (that’s me). And one of us has trouble with both.

We talked about the emotional, physical, and psychological toll NOT HAVING A BOOK in a monograph-centric field has taken.

We talked about how our colleagues would never take us seriously (even the one of us who is tenured) without a book.

We talked about how much we hated our research, how fear and shame were the only forces that drove us forward, how we were paralyzed by our own self-doubt.

“This is a very surreal experience,” one of them said after I’d spent several minutes explaining how I felt like I had to finish the book even though I didn’t want to finish the book because I didn’t want the people who knew me to stand around talking about me in five years saying how it was such a shame I’d never produced a book. “It’s like I’m hearing my own voice come out of someone else’s mouth.”

We’re going to try to help each other get through this and get our books done.

We set short-term goals for our next meeting (late December) and medium-term goals for where we wanted to be by the end of July 2018.

If we don’t do what we’ve said we’re going to do, we have to turn up to the next meeting and tell the others why we didn’t.

Shame and fear, yes.

But support and camaraderie too.

It might just work.



Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Microblog Mondays: What’s Your FOMO?

I have been reading (and enjoying) Morra Aarons-Mele’s Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), which I heard about from Mel (thanks, Mel!); it’s given me a lot to think about, and helped me understand why I find it so difficult to think about leaving academia (spoiler alert: I’m not only an introvert but also a hermit and academia, at least in the humanities, is great for hermits).

Early in the book, she writes about the positive side of FOMO (pages 29-31), writing that “once you get in touch with your FOMO, it can be a powerful diagnostic tool” and “like a sore muscle or overused tendon, excessive FOMO is also a sign that a behavior has to change”. If you are always feeling FOMO about the same things, that can be a signal about what you feel is lacking in your own life.

This point really struck home with me, because I know exactly where I experience FOMO. I might get a twinge of it now and again if someone has gone on a particularly exotic vacation or spent a lot of time at a cottage or gone out for a weekend of eating at nice restaurants and watching live theatre, but those moments of FOMO are fleeting: I don’t really want to be that person doing those things. I wish I could do those things too, but I’m content with the current phase of my life and I can see that those things don’t easily align with that phase (read: raising small children). I’m even less likely to experience FOMO with career-related news (which is the kind of FOMO Aarons-Mele is discussing) because I’m not ambitious in that regard (even though I often feel guilty that this is true).

When does my FOMO strike?

  1. When people take better photographs than I do (especially of their kids and/or landscapes)
  2. When people announce they’re publishing a book (especially bloggers who started blogging after I did [not that I ever thought this blog would lead to a book- it’s more that they were able to find a blogging niche that eventually opened the door to a book]).

It’s not rocket science to see the changes I need to make to triumph over my FOMO.

For photography:

  1. Take more pictures
  2. Switch from AV to Manual mode and start shooting in RAW
  3. Read my camera’s manual to figure out what I don’t yet know how to do
  4. Learn how to edit my pictures using Lightroom
  5. Possibly take some sort of online course if I’m still not seeing the results I want

For writing:

  1. Write more
  2. Set aside dedicated time for writing each day/week
  3. Edit my work if I finish something
  4. Actually submit my work somewhere so it might have the opportunity to see the light of day

Seeing the steps forward is always easy for me. Actually taking those steps is often another story.

Do you experience FOMO? Is it fleeting or is your mind trying to tell you something?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Microblog Mondays, Writing

NaBloPoMo (ish) 2017

I’m in a rut with my non-research related writing (in that I’m not doing any of it).

I have a Google Doc called “Future Blog Posts” that keeps getting longer because I add new ideas to it but never actually write any of the old ones.

So I’ve decided to shamelessly adopt Ana’s idea to post 30 times in November. Not a true NaBloPoMo because I’m not going to post every day (not least because today is the 2nd and I didn’t write anything yesterday), but a similar end result if I stick with it.

It’s a tall order, but we’ll see how we go.


Filed under Blogging, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Writing

What’s your BASE?

A post came through my Feedly today from The Thesis Whisperer reviewing Helen Sword’s new book on academic writing (Air and Light and Time and Space: How Successful Academics Write). The review started by asking how my writing was going and then asked if I wanted to reflect on my behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional writing habits. To do so only required me to answer four questions to discover my profile.

I feel extremely time-poor at the moment but I was reading the post on my phone while waiting for the temperamental photocopier in my department, so I needed no time at all to decide to click on the link and take the quiz. (Do you want to take it too? It’s here and it’s really cool. I’ll wait!)

My first result was The Axe Head. Then I decided to take the quiz again, giving myself a lower score for the B (behavioral habits) because while my writing habits have been fairly good for the last six weeks, before that they were dreadful, and they’re still pretty dreadful for any writing that isn’t related to my research.

Changing that one variable gave me The Mountain instead.

The really interesting thing was when I looked up the other profiles. That page also lists the relative frequency of each profile. It turns out that The Mountain is the second most common (after The Pebble, which is the profile where you identify as unhappy with every single one of your writing habits, which says something about how academics tend to feel about their writing).

The Axe Head was one of the rarest.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out why that probably is- to get the Axe Head you have to score yourself highly in artisanal and behavioural habits, but low in social and emotional habits. Leaving aside the social habits variable, this profile means that you think you are a good writer, and you are a productive writer, but you feel stressed and anxious when you write rather than joyful. It strikes me that it must be hard to feel consistently negative about your writing if you are doing a lot of it and you think you are good at it. Writing begets more writing, and the more you write the easier it becomes to write. That has to improve your emotional outlook.

I’m also not remotely surprised that The Mountain is so common. That’s the profile of people who give themselves a high score in the artisanal category but low scores everywhere else (i.e., people who believe they are good writers but don’t make the time to write, don’t have support, and associate negative emotions with their writing). Knowing that you are a good writer but not writing definitely brings on negative emotions, at least in my experience.

The site also points out that “your Writing BASE may change its dimensions from day to day, from project to project, and even from one type of writing to another”, which aligns with my current profile- an Axe Head for my academic writing and a Mountain for everything else.

For me the next step is obvious: more writing, both academic and otherwise. I know from experience that when I am writing regularly and fluently I do experience enormous joy.

Next up- The Lone Wolf!

Did you discover your BASE too? Tell me your profile in the comments, and whether or not you found this as interesting as I did.


Filed under Books, Life after the PhD, Writing