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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

End of Vacation

If everything will have gone as planned, today should be the last day of my vacation. I'm hoping the vacation went well, though I don't know yet, because I'm writing this a month early to provide with uninterrupted content.

Friday, July 30, 2010


The vacation kind of broke down. Here I am working on my computer again, doing an unexpected tenure case. I still learned some valuable things from the vacation, and painted a few rooms of my house.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


During a jog a few weeks before my vacation, I realized what the connection was between two chapters, "Lorca's Duende" and "Musical Lorca." I wasn't even intending on working on this problem during my run. The solution just came to me: I can locate performances / musical settings of Lorca in the concentric circles of particularity / universality that I discuss in the previous chapter. Of course, it seems obvious when I say it like this, but the idea had not occurred to me before. All of a sudden I realize why the 'Musical Lorca" chapter *works* in the context of the book--rather than being simply a descriptive survey.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Do I Do It?

I really don't know how "I," the human being Jonathan Mayhew, is able to turn into "I," the scholarly writer of the same name. I really don't know how I do it. I've often gotten into trouble assuming someone else can do what I can. I can easily imagine myself not being able to do it, or losing the ability to do it at some point. When I'm sitting here not writing, the ability to write a book seems almost as improbable as being able to mount a flying trapeze.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A New Technique

Here's a technique I've been using a bit: take the least well developed chapter of your book and work on it until it is the third least well developed chapter. The way I do this is to take a sheet of paper and write out everything I know about what is going to be in the chapter, then sit down at the computer and write.

Now take the new least developed chapter, the one that has been left in the dust, and do the same thing again with that one, and with a third chapter.

This also works with completing chapters. Take the chapter that is closest to being done and bring it to completion.

Since beginning and ending are separate skills, it is refreshing to switch between chapters sometimes. The other main skill is just "going on," working in the middle of a chapter that is neither incipient nor near completion. That is the hardest stage, the one least abundant in satisfaction. What I recommend here is to wage a stealth attack, taking the chapter quickly from its initial stages to its final ones.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Here are some chapter titles for my book:

What Lorca Knew: The Embodiment of Knowledge in Spanish Poetry

SUITE ONE: Fragments of a Late Modernity

1. Fragments of a Late Modernity: Samuel Beckett and José Ángel Valente
2. Poetry and Philosophy: From Zambrano to Valente
3. Antonio Gamoneda and The Persistence of Memory
4. Strange Islands: Late Modernism in Spanish American Poetry

SUITE TWO: What Lorca Knew

5. Lorca’s Duende: Nation and Performance
6. Musical Lorca
7. What Claudio Knew
8. The Verse Paragraph (from Juan Ramón Jiménez to Olvido García Valdés)

I want to make each chapter title distinctive and memorable, which means not too long. A chapter title can be shorter than an article title, because it doesn't have to be quite as self-contained and self-explanatory. Chapters 2 and 8 still need better titles. Those are just stand-in titles.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Modified Stealth

One thing you might want to do is work on all the chapters of your book in one day and try to get a significant portion done on several of them. Just write like crazy and when you get stuck, move on to the next chapter.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Time Design for Fall Semester

Sunday: Drive to Kansas. Planning session for week’s work.

Monday: a.m.: prepare classes. p.m.: teach 12:30 until 5:15.

Tuesday: a.m.: research / writing. p.m.: prepare Wed. classes as needed.

Wed. a.m.: grading / class prep. p.m.: teach.

Thursday: drive to St. Louis. / Reading for class.

Friday: research / writing.

Saturday: day off.


There are two 10+ hour days: Monday and Wed.

Sunday is devoted entirely to planning exactly how the work for Monday-Friday is going to get done. The general "time design" will be a template, not substituting for weekly plans.

Evenings are left free, but can be filled as needed with research / writing tasks that need to be done.

Aside from teaching (10 hour) days, there is a lot of flexibility.

My main tasks are teaching two classes and writing two articles, one due in December and the other in February.

My time management goal is not to have work spill over inappropriately into times reserved for other work or NOT WORK. I don't mind working hard when I'm working but I don't want to have diffuse nervous work all the time. I think I can get the job done in 30-40 good hours a week rather than 50-60 hours of much more variable quality. The highest quality hour might just be the Sunday planning hour.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stealth (second cycle)

I tried to reproduce my "stealth attack" mode of work on Monday, June 28. I decided that week I would write my preface. I had about 700 words and doubled that the first day, working about an hour and a half, from about 9 to 10:30 a.m. The rest of the day I just worked on some blog posts and relaxed. Eventually the metaphor of "stealth" will lose its potency and there will be no difference between a stealth attack and a normal day of work. In the meantime, I will try to exploit the verbal suggestion of the word as much as possible. I began rather late (9 rather than 7), so I lost a bit of momentum.

I've decided after my vacation (ending July 31) I will work on my courses and my sabbatical application. I have to figure out a way of making a course as good as an article. This is hard for me, because it means sustaining attention from August to December, preparing about 30 separate class meetings. I have a hard time keeping my intensity and organization for that long a stretch.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Underestimating Myself

Ego adjustments have to go in both directions. Being too arrogant is a flaw, but I've found that I also tend to underestimate my accomplishments. I might look at someone's cv, for example, and see it as wholly respectable, even though mine is three times more impressive. In other words, if I just look at my cv as though it were someone else's, I am really impressed by myself. Looking from inside my own head, however, I am not all that impressed. In real life I'm just a schmuck.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Tweaking means making fine adjustments. In order to tweak your paper you already have something there, to tweak. At the same time, a lot of the real work is in that final stage of making something as close to perfect as possible.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Extending the Stealth Technique

A few weeks before my vacation I tried to extend the "stealth" technique to another project, intensely working on the preface to my book. I'll let you know how that turned out. I discovered that the hours between 7 and 9 are very charmed ones. Since 9 is the traditional start of the work day, getting all your work done before 9 allows you the rest of the day to do anything else you want.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Digital Vacation

I'm also going to make this a digital vacation, checking email only once a day and not surfing the web at all.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vacation (cont.)

I wrote this post in June, but scheduled it to be published on the first day of my vacation. I'm going to try as hard as I can to do as little work as possible for two weeks. After I'm done I'll report back.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I love having lots of calendars and planners. Some paper, some computerized. The ability to visualize time in such a graphic way is a wonderful tool to have at your disposal. I'm going to be in the market for a very nice 2010-2011 academic planner, then a few wall calendars for the 2011 calendar year.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Old Posts

I was reading some old "Stupid Motivational Tricks" from December of last year and earlier this year. I was surprised that I came off as someone who knows what he's doing, can write pretty decent prose in casual, rapid-fire situations, and has potentially useful advice for others. I don't think I seem quite so arrogant as I thought I would, though maybe that's for others to judge.

The blog as a whole is pretty interesting (to me) diary of my research efforts over a seven-month period. My methods, my attitudes fluctuate but within certain limits. Moods alternate between anger and equanimity. My interests range from prose style and academic politics to the organization of everyday life.

I don't feel the work put into the blog has hurt my scholarship in the least. It is complementary, a way of working on the meta-problems of scholarship like time and space management. I could probably spend even more time in such "meta" activities and improve my working habits more.

I do recommend keeping a diary of your thinking about your own work. It has been helpful to me, certainly. It doesn't have to be in a public forum.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stealth (day 4)

(June 24). Another 800 words, mostly just adding some quotes. The stealth attack is complete. I turned a half-hearted beginning of a chapter I had not looked at in several years into 18 pages that is about half-way to being a finished chapter. All on four successive days before nine in the morning.

I really don't know how I do it. How could a simple metaphor like "stealth" give me permission to get so much work done so easily? It sounds incredibly stupid, but somehow it worked.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Work as Work Avoidance

What is certain kind of work were a way of avoiding other kinds of work (I know this to be the case, in fact). In other words, work itself can be a strategy for procrastination. Imagine you have two tasks, one is dreaded and somewhat difficult, and the other is fun and easy. You might work at the latter task in order just in order to avoid the former. (The good news is you're getting work done, but you might be making things too hard on yourself, working more to get less done.)

But what if what defines something as difficult is simply the label you put on it? In other words, if I have two things to write, and they are equally fun/difficult, the most fun thing to write will be the project which seems less urgent and necessary, the one that feels like less "work" and more play. So in order to trick myself into writing the one I ought to be writing, I might switch the labels around.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Management of Everyday Life

Everyday life means laundry, groceries, driving your kids places, interacting with family members, conducting personal business, eating, shaving, and sleeping. The management of everyday life has an impact on your scholarship because everyday life can easily take over all of your time. For me, during the summer, I find that not being in my office very much allows everyday life to encroach on more and more hours of the day. Compared to work, everyday life often seems rather difficult to me, because I am very bad at a lot of it.

If I were going to do a scholarly "check-up" on you (which I will be happy to do for a modest fee of $500), I would look at your scholarly base, your management of everyday life, the design of your work time and space, your mental attitudes toward work, and, finally, what it is you want to accomplish in very concrete terms: write 3 articles in the next 2 years, finish the book or dissertation.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stealth (day 3)

The third day (June 23) I got up around 7 and finished work by 9. I "only" wrote 800 words--about twice what I would normally write though less than I accomplished on other days. Even if I don't do anything more during this particular stealth attack on my chapter, I will have accomplished what I wanted to, which is to get a substantial chunk of something written and to initiate a new "stupid" trick: the stealth attack.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Perfection and Perfectibility

Perfection is unattainable, but you can always tweak things to make them a little bit better. In other words, "nobody is perfect" is a lame excuse. It's about making changes to make things better, not about attaining some impossible standard.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stealth (cont.)

The second day of stealth (june 22) went very well. I got up at 6:45, showered, brewed espresso and drank it, added eleven-hundred words to my document by 9 am. I am about half-way done, with the completed portions all in more or less "antepenultimate" prose. Most of that was copying and pasting salvageable material from a separate but messier document, but still, it needed to be done.

You would have thought that my chapter would have prepared its defenses a little better and been ready to put up a fight, but it did not. The aim of the "stealth attack" is to get a surprising amount of work done in a short period and thus gain leverage on a project. I recommend doing this on a chapter than is not very well developed yet and has been nagging at the back of your mind for a while. The next stealth attack will be on the chapter that I have least idea about right now.

The stealth attack is not incompatible with the idea that you should work regularly and slowly, producing scholarship by gradual accretion of days worked. I still do that too. It is simply a cognitive adjustment in which I reserve a few days for specially intense work and substantial, efficient progress. Perhaps I feel I simply cannot write the book without a few of these ambushes.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Anti-leverage, then, would consist of seemingly minor factors that put you at a disproportionate disadvantage. Maybe it's an excessive sensitivity to noise that makes it impossible to work except in the quietest of circumstances. Maybe a basic organizational skill you never quite mastered.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Leverage, as I define it, is a way of getting a disproportionate advantage. If you had a place to stand and the right lever, you could move the world, thought Archimedes. Your leverage might be your ability to get up earlier in the morning than most people, your superiority in one particular aspect of research and writing, your superior time management or space management skills.

Simply being smarter or more knowledgeable than others is not leverage, in this sense. To be leverage, the advantage has to yield results that are in some sense out of proportion to this advantage.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stealth (cont.)

My first stealth attack worked very well. I got up at 6, took a shower and brewed myself an espresso, opened up a new document on the computer, and completed a nice section of a chapter using material I had in another, messier document. My chapter never expected me to get up that early so it had no time at all to prepare its defenses. I ended up with 1,400 words in less than two hours, thanks to the elements of surprise.

A few hours later, I attacked again. In its weakened condition the chapter had no resistance. It certainly did not expect me to go at it again, when I had already done so much. It expected me to be complacently self-satisfied.

I didn't even have a desk or chair in my apartment where I was working. I just leaned up against the wall and wrote with my laptop on my ... lap.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Clean Copy

I've decided to make an adjustment in how I work. I've had the lazy habit of writing a lot of rough notes in microsoft word documents. My new approach is going to be to write only complete sentences and keep each document more or less "clean." I dislike going back to something I've been working on and finding a lot of messy notes that I will just have to throw out anyway. It makes it harder to go back to a document, because of the fear of the mess I might find.

I don't know if this change will be permanent or not. The point here is not that one way is better than another, or that you have to work as I do, but that it is good to reevaluate work habits that aren't "working" for you, making large and small adjustments as needed.

Monday, July 5, 2010


We don't have a lot of fancy gear as scholars. Some pens and pads, a laptop, books. When a lot of energy goes into the gear itself it probably means either an evasion or displacement of work or a focus on work in particular way.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

When Does a Scholar Peak?

Let's say 30 is too young. That's when you're likely to finish your PhD and be relatively inexperienced. I was probably smarter at 30 than I am now, but I didn't know a lot. Let's say 60 is too old for the "peak." You can still do good work and you're going to know a heck of a lot if you've been a scholar your whole life, but the ideas are not likely to be as fresh and original. You're likely to be repeating yourself a bit.

So the peak years are probably between 35-55. I personally feel I'm peaking now, but I don't actually know if I'll ever do anything as good as Apocryphal Lorca again. Even if I do a few more books on the level of my least accomplished book, I'll be happy.

The other theory is that it really doesn't matter how old you are. You could be Rimbaud or Sophocles. I'm still exploring ideas I had when I was 24. We're not tennis players who are old at 30.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Page

Here's a technique I'm trying out. Take a single page from a notebook and try to see how much information about a book project or article you can fit in it, writing in pen. Then use that page as a reference: this is what the book / article is really about. I did this with a very small piece of paper from a Moleskin notebook. You can have one page for the book and then other pages for separate chapters.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Penultimate Draft

One you reach 6,000 words, most of the writing of the article will be revision. Your word count might actually decrease and increase by turns rather than continuing to grow.

I mark where I am in the text with three marks like this: •••. Once I eliminate all of these marks then I am basically done with the article, and revision can take place. At this point I am trying to get from the "antepenultimate draft" to the "penultimate draft," where I would be comfortable showing my work to someone else. There really is no "rough draft" because once I get rid of the ••• the article should be far beyond rough.

The final draft is the one that is submitted for publication after editorial comments. There can be no final draft until another set of eyes has looked at it. The best I can do is the penultimate draft.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pads and Notebooks

I often have one notebook that is devoted entirely to a project or part of a project. The project develops there in pen and ink; bibliography takes shape there. Right now I have one notebook that is devoted only to planning the summer's work and another devoted to planning the "year of reading Latin American poetry."

I wish that I could redevelop the ability to write actual prose by longhand rather than typing. I cannot shape whole paragraphs in handwriting any longer. I'm sure my writing would improve if I had that extra method.