Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Writing Process

When I teach writing, I build assignments in such a way so that my students will not become victimized by their own tendencies to procrastinate. The point isn't that they will be able to stop procrastinating completely, but rather that they won't be left entirely to their own devices, which then means that when they procrastinate (because as far as I'm concerned all but the weirdest of people procrastinate at some time or another) it won't put them so far behind that they force themselves into writer's block or panic attacks.

The problem, of course, is that nobody "builds assignments" for professors. Nobody hands us a sheet with relevant deadlines; nobody fleshes out the ideas with us or provides us with sample structures for how we might lay out our ideas. I know what you're thinking: we're professors! We are the experts at this! We should be able to do this for ourselves.

Well, yes, we should. And, we can. The problem, however, is my above assertion that all but weirdos procrastinate. And an additional problem is that in order to be model scholars, we'd need to be perfectly self-motivated at all times, and self-motivation can be mighty hard to come by, even for the most ambitious of us.

I am an ambitious(ish) person. Here is my "process" on this current article. Here is how I've gotten to this point:

September 2003 - Colleague asks me to submit a paper to a panel that she is organizing. I figure, "Why not? Sure I've never written a thing on Author X before, but I've always wanted to! And so what if this is a conference entirely focused on Author X and I'm a novice - I'll also submit a proposal on Author X for another small conference that would give me a chance to do a run-through of some of my ideas without all of the experts on Author X there."

February 2004 - I present my paper on Author X at what was supposed to be my "dry run" attempt at the smaller non-Author-X-focused conference. Problematically, the dry-run turned out to be sort of the real thing, as the president of Author X's society was in the audience. She loved it! Not only did we become friendly, not only did she say how much she looked forward to my paper at the Author X conference, but also she encouraged me to submit a proposal for an MLA panel on Author X. (This is the point at which, if it's possible to pinpoint, I'd say I became a total fraud and misrepresented myself as being an Author X scholar.)

May 2004 - I present my paper on Author X at the Author X conference, and it is a resounding success (even though it was a piece of crap, as I now realize). I am encouraged to submit the paper for potential publication in the Author X mini-journal and/or for a collection of papers to come out of the conference. Of course, I do this. Love the lovely mentors in the Author X society.

February 2005 - I am informed that the conference paper has been accepted for a collection from the conference on Author X, but I will need to expand it to be the standard length for an article now. That means I need to turn my 8 pages of garbage into 20-25 pages of solid, tight prose. Oh criminy. Of course, I don't have time to worry about this now, because after my MLA paper was a hit, an editor from Fancy Journal in my specialty solicited me to turn that into a full-length article. No matter. I have loads of time before I'd need to worry about turning that conference paper from the conference on Author X into an article for the collection. They don't even have a publisher yet.

Fall 2005 - Holy crap. They've got an interested publisher. A pretty good one. But I've got an MLA paper to write, and I don't really have time to worry about the essay on Author X until after that's done. Oh, and also, have I mentioned that I'm a fraud and so I've got a ton of research to do related to this article? But I've got reassigned time in the spring and so I'm sure I'll be able to get everything done in a timely fashion. Sure I will.

The Present Day - The article is due on Mar. 30. I've started making many notes. It's got to be in Chicago Style, to make this even more painful. Oh, and did I mention that I'm a fraud? And that as a fraud I became an officer in the Author X society this year? Love the lovely mentoring of my colleagues, though. That said, to quote my students, "I work best under pressure."

12 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

This cracks me up, because it's so familiar. I feel like every time I venture into new territory it's through this kind of back-door process: Sure, I'll present on X! Who cares that I don't know anything about it! Wait, it turns out that X is really important to my overall research! Eeek, I'm now an X scholar - how did that happen??? I can i.d. two specific subjects that I had no intention of studying that now seem to be a big part of my professional identity.

And people wonder why we feel like frauds all the time...

Cats & Dogma said...

OK. Let's address the core issue here: We all think we're frauds. It's left over from grad school. But you are not a fraud, and here's why.

You clearly have some interesting things to say about Author X (truth be told, since we seem to work in similar areas, I wish I knew more about your work so I could check it out . . .)--The evidence of this is the response you've gotten from people whom you identify as NOT frauds. Second of all, you have a PhD, which tells me that you know how to do the research to adequately flesh out these fascinating ideas.

So...you have the ideas, and you have the skills. What's missing? The time. That's all. And even the least fraudulent people in the world are pressed for time.

Now that you've gotten that out of the way, go write the damn things. There's no reason not to, outside of your continuing doubt inspired by your fallacious sense fraudulence...

Dr. Lisa said...

I hear you, fellow sister of procrastination and self-doubt.

Good luck, though. Deadlines are good.

Jill said...

Wow, cats & dogma has great advice, and he's absolutely right you know.

Though at first I was laughing out of recognition ;)

Scrivener said...

I know you present this as proof of your impostorness, but Cats&Dogma is exactly, exactly right--all you've shown in this post is that you're smart and have things to say. So go say 'em.

Derrick said...

I don't know. I think we are all frauds (in the sense Dr.Crazy is using) when we start to write and only become experts through the writing process itself.

I don't think she is doubting herself. She is just musing over a common dilemma.

amanda said...

ah yes, Imposter Syndrome. I think just about every warm-blooded human being suffers from it (except, maybe, sociopaths). So, you're doing just fine; alarmingly normal, in fact!

(and cats & dogma is right on ;))

Ancarett said...

Were we twins, separated at birth? Except for a few particulars, our stories sound much alike. You have my sympathies, rest assured!

D.B. said...

Chicago style is like kissing your sister.

Cats & Dogma said...

OMG d.b. you're so right! I always knew there was something icky about doing those footnotes . . .

Dr. Crazy said...

C&D - you're so nice to me :) Exactly what I needed to hear. If you want to know what I'm working on just drop me an email.

And yes about the thing about writing oneself into expertness. I think the reason why I continue to feel fraudulent about this particular work is because it is new - still. Also, I think it's a bizarre reaction to the fact that this has been so successful while stuff related to my dissertation just hasn't been. What was all of that work for if not to make me an expert in the things I dissertated on? And how is it that I'm doing so well with something that I'm so novice at? It just isn't how it's supposed to work :)

At any rate, I still haven't written the thing, but I'm going to this afternoon. Really. :P

Ritergal said...

OMG, I was hoping to learn how to keep my students on track, and instead I find a description of my own procrastination process. Too funny! Thanks for livening up my day.