The academic calendar tells me this is spring break. The all-day snow yesterday suggests that the “spring” modifier is perhaps a little ahead of itself, but the break from my everyday schedule is as advertised.
As is the case with most academics, there’s not much “break” in my break, in the sense of vacation, but it is something different for a few days, and on the heels of a frigid February, that’ll do. My plans for the week involve writing two conference papers and putting together my AWP presentation. Planning and writing new scholarly papers is a task both daunting and refreshing, and when I can put the intimidated feeling on the back-burner, I am reminded of this oft-quoted sentiment from Brenda Ueland:
“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ”
~from If You Want to Write
I feel that way much more with scholarly writing than with my novel. That’s likely because my scholarly writing must start with some defined line of inquiry; the conference abstract has already been submitted, so I’d better go on writing the paper around the idea I submitted. Perhaps it’s my particular area of research—Anglo-Saxon studies, which is well-loved and well-studied, particularly with regard to the texts I love most—but I don’t feel like I’m “discovering” anything. If anything, the bead metaphor is more apt still: I’m sitting beside the same box of beads as everyone else, threading them together in a hopefully pleasing pattern. Hopefully no one else is stringing together the exact same colors in the exact same sequence, but at the end of the day, the beads will be recognizable as beads, even if I’ve managed to find some bits of bone and shell to add, too.
This is not to categorize all scholarly writing in this way—just my own. I know I’ve read scholarship that felt like Byron on the mountaintop, and I’m grateful to it. My own process simply seems quieter than that. Maybe it’s because of the contrast I feel when I shift between genres, from scholarship to novel and back. With the novel, even one with a historical timeline and a significant number of pre-set events, it doesn’t feel like beads most of the time. Sometimes it does, mornings of quiet productivity where the manuscript is somehow two thousand words longer than it was the day before, and the scene has transitioned, and everything proceeds apace.
More often, though, it feels like making the beads—drilling through bone and shell and glass with nothing but a pen-tip—or chasing each glittering seed as it bounces across the floor (right for the dark space under the stove or refrigerator—or stringing them with eyes closed because I’m not sure how it’s all going to look together. I like that feeling, too.
I was smart enough not to plan a slew of grading for the week, but I had to provide another wrinkle: home inspections for a casa we would like to buy. On Thursday afternoon, think good thoughts for me while I’m hanging outside with the home inspector and trying to pretend I’m not freezing to death.
Here are some cool things:
52 Habits: My grad school friend and digital rhetor/Writing Center Director/poet Julie Platt is embarking on a completely ambitious, wholly inspiring, year-long project of cultivating new, positive habits, and her friend Dalyn is also participating. I’ve been leeching motivation and great ideas from this jawn since January. Check it out.
Every Game A Story: A new series from The Classical. I’ve joined the editorial staff at The Classical, and here on the brink of baseball season, we’re looking for some baseball-centric work. Check out the new general guidelines, too. Send us some stuff.