Writing Power Writers’ Circle April Update: Reality Check Edition

In my last Writers’ Circle post, I asked our writers to report on whether they achieved their March writing goals and what they had planned for April. Writers’ Circle member Adam kindly reminded me that I hadn’t updated the group on my own progress.

So here goes. I have met my goal, but that’s not saying much. My goal’s phrasing was way too vague to be helpful: it was “refine my argument.” I will update you on my progress, set a new, more focused goal, and announce some other changes I’ll be making in order to make this goal more of a priority.

As you may remember, I’ve been working on a scholarly article on seventeenth-century English poet John Donne. I have an academic journal in mind, and I have reviewed some of their recent issues to get a sense of the kind of work being published by that venue.

One of the challenges of this article is that I’m applying a particular theological concept to one of Donne’s devotional poems. As you know, I am a literary scholar, not a theologian. Literary studies as an academic discipline regularly pulls theories from other disciplines to inform our readings of literary texts. However, it can be daunting to try to understand another discipline well enough to use a certain theory appropriately.

If you don’t do enough research, you risk misusing your material and constructing a flawed argument. On the other hand, it’s easy to sink months into reading, reading, reading background material until your mind is so filled with other people’s ideas that your own project becomes more conceptually remote than when you had the initial idea. In a strange way, too much research can be an academic’s way of procrastinating.

So, I have boned up on some of the theological material that I didn’t feel comfortable with, and I have copies to refer to and citations to find more detailed information. In short, it’s time to draft. As drafting goes, I’m a potter, so I’ll probably write three times as much text as I’ll need for the final article (which will be 20-25 pages). I draft to discover: it’s just the way I work. So what’s my goal for April?

My goal for April is to write a complete draft of the paper (20 pages). I think getting the piece out to the journal before summer comes is a good idea: academic journal editors typically send submissions out to academics to read the piece and give their opinion as to whether the journal should publish it. Academics have a habit of using their summers to complete research, which means many of them are holed up in libraries for weeks at a time and not checking their office mail. This means that if you want a reasonable turnaround time for your submission, get it to people before they scatter in June.

Of course, academic journal policies vary from journal to journal and discipline to discipline. However, I do think this is a reasonable assumption for me to make based on my experience with academic publishing in English. In addition, thinking of it this way provides a sense of urgency that will encourage me to devote time to this project now rather than later.

The challenge I will have to overcome is finding blocks of time in which to write. This is not a project to complete in 30 minute segments. I will be looking for blocks of 6 to 8 hours. If I find and use two such blocks, I should be able to complete this goal.

This leads me to my announcement: I will be slowing down my posting frequency at Writing Power. I will post about three times per week instead of my customary five. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I feel an obligation to continue providing the highest quality content possible to my Writing Power readers. I don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity. In addition, I have noticed that when I post less frequently, readers have more time to read and respond to posts in the comments, which I think is valuable. Your perspectives make Writing Power what it is.

Second, I started 2008 with a lot of big plans, and a lot of energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. Lately, however, I find myself feeling frantic, frustrated, and hopeless – not the kind of energy that I want or need, and not conducive to fulfilling my vision for an ideal life.

I recently had an eye-opening conversation with my husband, my wisest counselor, consigliere, and reality check specialist. We listed all of the dreams, goals, projects, and intentions that I was working on. After we generated the list, he asked me which ones were really important. And I felt stubbornly attached to all but one. “No wonder you’re stressed,” he said. “No matter what you’re doing at any one time, even if you’re working on something you feel is truly important, you simultaneously feel like you’re failing to work on 90% of your dreams.”

As you can see, some things have to change. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your tips for clarifying your vision for your life, establishing a unified strategic direction toward which to apply your energy, and working with multiple competing priorities.

And of course, if you’d like to join Writing Power’s Writers’ Circle, all you have to do is introduce yourself in the comments. We look forward to meeting you. To meet the Circle’s amazing current members, click here.

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