Writing Tips from Someone Who Knows, I Guess

I’ve mentioned before that I’m becoming obsessed with figuring out how to write.  There’s a ton of material on “how to write” (oh, the irony of so much to read when you’re trying to write), and I’ve recently come across a series of articles by Peg Boyle Single on Inside Higher Ed.  She’s in the middle of her series, but here’s what I’ve culled so far:

  • If full-time graduate student, regular writing routine 5-6 days/week; if working full-time, 4 days/week.  That means weekend work.
  • At least 45-minutes to keep momentum going and minimize warm-up time for weekend writing sessions.
  • Start with 20-minute sessions, then increase by 20-minute sessions up to no more than 4 hours of focused writing/day.
  • Why it’s important: “something happens when you engage in a regular writing routine — more than linearly building skills and investing time in writing. Along the way, you develop habits that allow you to see patterns in your writing, patterns where you focus on the meaning and the intent rather than on word recall and word order.”
  • Write while doing research–don’t compartmentalize.
  • During revision, focus on “global problems” re: meaning and intent rather than “local problems” re: sentence structure.
  • Stuck on a word?  Just stop.  With pen, answer “What am I trying to say here?” focusing on meaning.  Type answer into document and move on.
  • Turn off your internal critic.
  • Stop and prepare for next session.  Leave notes for yourself on where you’re going.

Outside of that, some of my tactics:

  • Use a full-screen word processor like WriteRoom.  No clocks, widgets, etc.–just you and the text.
  • Don’t stop at the end of a section; stop in the middle of something.  That will get you going the next day.

Learning to Nag

Okay, I’ve got to get this off of my chest.  At the end of a very nice conversation the other day, one of my advisers said, “Oh, by the way.  That recommendation letter that you asked me to write?  Yeah, I didn’t get that sent until two days after the deadline.  I included an apologetic note, and in my experience these things aren’t a problem.  But you really have to stay on be about this sort of thing.”

what the fuck.

I had sent this person three separate e-mails as reminders about the letter, including one five days before it was due.  The first e-mail contained not only my request, but also the due dates, in bold.  To which the professor responded, “Happy to write the letters.  Send me the due dates so I can put them in my calendar.”  Okay, maybe she missed that in the original e-mail, so I sent the info again.  And then once more, along with a draft of my proposal, which I assume she didn’t read.  And still that wasn’t enough.  Apparently I need to call her the day before the letter is due and the due date itself.

So I’m learning to be a nag, which comes with its own perils (“Jeeze, that student sure is a pain in my ass.”).  But, c’mon, get your shit together.  I know $7,000 may not be a lot when you’re making six figures, but that’s a lot of coin to me.

Money Troubles

My spouse and I are staring down the barrel of an ugly budget situation.  I’m teaching now, but come 2010, I got nothin’, and that’s putting us through a bit of stress.   There’s about a $500/month gap between our current expenses and our 2010 monthly income, and I’m entirely sure how we’re going to close that gap.  I’m not freaking out…yet.

This is part of being a graduate student, of course.  I remember a former adviser warning me that  graduate school is an exercise in well-read pauperism, or something to that effect.  It hasn’t been that bad for me, mostly because my spouse has been pulling the load.  But I’ve also had pretty steady work as a TA and now as an adjunct, so I’ve been chipping in to the family budget.  That stops in January.  Originally, the idea was that we would save up while I did the adjunct thing, and then I’d stop teaching and dissertate full-time.  That didn’t go quite according to plan, so now I find myself in a position very similar to that of other graduate students, I imagine.  I’m firing away fellowship applications, hoping that they come in so that I can pay for research and life expenses.  I’m hoping that  promised summer and fall teaching jobs come together, so we’ll have that income.  And I’m toying around with getting a proper job, at least enough to cover the expense/income gap.

For the next couple of years, this will probably be my life.  There will be times when the cash is flush (while I’m teaching or when a fellowship comes in), and there will be times when we’re leaning pretty hard on my spouse’s salary.  It’s not a condition unique to graduate students–migrant workers, seasonal labor, or start-up/slow-down factory workers all have to deal with this shit.  And hell, that’s real work, so I really shouldn’t be complaining.  I just wish I had learned this particular lesson earlier.