Sunday, November 6, 2011

You’ve got to have grist before you can grind.

My writing has recently stalled. The problem is this: nearly all of it has been in 30-60-minute chunks at the ends of long tiring days. These writing sessions have been conducted entirely without a plan and their only purpose has been to sustain my writing streak.

Prior to the current rut, I used a combination of short sessions and all-day and all-night writing binges to edit/polish a couple major projects and send them off to their respective judges. I do not yet know the fate of my papers, but they are out of my hands and there is no reason to edit them any more at this time. So, my writing efforts must return to longer-term projects, particularly the first three chapters of my dissertation.

The problem is that in order to write anything more on these chapters, I need to invest significant time in library research and puzzling through confusing statistical concepts. This cannot be done in half an hour. Even 2 hours is really not enough—it takes me that long just to figure out what books I should look at!

It’s a bit like when Saruman’s emissaries tore down the old mill in Hobbiton and replaced it with a bigger, louder, more modern mill, “full o’wheels and outlandish contraptions”. As Farmer Cotton explained to Merry Brandybuck, “you’ve got to have grist before you can grind, and there was no more for the new mill to do than the old”. I have a great new writing habit (amazingly, it really has become a habit!), but it doesn’t do me any good unless I have something to write about.

I need to dedicate some long sessions, 4+ hours, to non-writing research activity, something I have so far rarely done in a normal work week. I have done it (and liked it!) during breaks between semesters, when I don’t have work responsibilities and know I can catch up on sleep afterwards. So, I need to either trick myself into thinking I’m on vacation, or figure out a way to fit it into my normal schedule (using the words “normal” and “schedule” rather loosely).

So, next weekend must include several hours of deciphering statistics books and working problems. If I don’t find some grist soon, I might as well tear down my wonderful new writing model and replace it with a garden, as the hobbits did with the smoking new mill. Hmmmm…..a peaceful garden sounds rather nice. No, don’t even think about it—in this case, the new model really is better than the old. This hobbit just needs to get to work!