To Schedule

This isn't going to work.  Yes it is.  Everything that I've ever written has been accomplished to a schedule: the diaries that I kept growing up, a page of handwritten angst every evening, for the better part of six years; my dissertation, six hours a day for a year to draft, each workday carefully recorded on "time cards" to keep me honest; my first (and, as yet, only) book, a page a day (about 500 words), every weekday including holidays (yes, even holidays, if they fell on a weekday), for two years.  Even this blog, maintained against all blogging averages for nearly three years, with the promise to myself to post at least 14 times per month, ideally every other day.   I know how to write to a schedule.  What I don't know is how to write without deadline.

What am I doing?  I have job applications still to read, a class to prep for tomorrow, chapters of dissertations to comment on, an article that needs to be reviewed for the board that I am on.  What business do I have spending this morning, any morning, simply working on stuff that I want to?  Worse, stuff that has no prospect of being published in the near or even semi-distant future?  Deadlines--deadlines I know how to cope with.  What I don't know is how to write just because I'm interested.  Okay, that's not entirely true.  It's in large part one of the reasons that I started this blog: to give myself a frame in which to muse about things that I simply want to think about, without worrying what my colleagues might think.  Except that I do.  I wish that they would validate the writing that I've done here.  I'm not saying that I deserve to be promoted or anything.  Except that I am.  Except that this writing doesn't count because it's not serious enough.  Or something.  Why can't I just write what I want and have that count?  Why does writing something that matters have to be painful?

Prof. Silvia would say that I'm just making excuses, and he's right.  Except that he didn't quite cover this one.  He talks about not writing because you claim you can't stick to a schedule (even when, ironically, you manage to teach your classes or exercise according to one).  And he talks about not writing because you think that you need to do more research (a.k.a. in psychology, "more analyses").  And he talks about not writing because your space isn't quite right, you need different furniture or equipment.  And he talks about not writing because you don't feel like it yet and are waiting to be inspired.  I know that all of these barriers are, as he says, specious.  I've battled and prevailed against them over and over.  I know that I write best when I am writing every day, not just when I feel like it.  I know that I can obsess over my space, my desk, the lighting, the keyboard, but I've taken care of all of those things; my space(s) and equipment are fine.  Plus, in college, one of my favorite things to do was to take my pen and paper (gasp!) and sit somewhere outside on campus (this was in Houston).  There are lots of perfect spaces, lots of settings in which I can write.  Well, sort of: I do have a hard time convincing myself I can do serious scholarly work without a nest of books.  But let's keep going here.  Thanks to Matt Groening, I have always known the way to avoid "the stomach churning agony of having to finish your thesis" ("Read another book").   And I know--and have proven to myself time and again--that I can keep to a schedule.  So what's stopping me now?

Fear.  As always, fear.  It is hard getting yourself to sit down every day, rain or shine, whether you feel like it or not, to face the page.  Much easier to claim that there are other things more pressing on your time, other things that need to be finished now while the writing can wait.  What happened summer before last?  I lost my nerve.  I couldn't face going into work anymore and staring at the page, wrestling with the prose that just wouldn't come clean.  But why?  I'd been there before, I knew what the process was like.  Ah.  But only under deadline.  Only with the threat of not graduating, not getting tenure, not getting a fellowship to go on leave, letting my colleagues down because I was late with an article for a collection.  Terrified as I was of facing the page, I was more terrified of losing my job, losing face, not honoring my obligations.  But when it's just myself that I need to please?  Well, much easier to make an excuse for why I don't feel like writing today.  Like sticking to another deadline, something that my colleagues or students expect me to do now.  How dare I think that it is more important to spend two hours this morning simply noodling around with my research when there are chapters to read, meetings to attend?

Oh, it is tempting to keep going here, but look, it's 8:32.  Time to start working on something that counts.  No, I'm sure there's a fallacy there, but I've promised myself to let myself work.  Enough barriers.  Enough.  Right.  As Bilbo said, "I am going.  I am leaving NOW."  Maybe I need a magic ring.... It's now 8:40 and I'm still here, tinkering, proof-reading, adding links. Sigh. Maybe if I make myself another cup of tea.

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