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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...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Scheduling Play

It's summer, and I've talked before about how to plan for the unstructured time of the summer months. A scholar needs time to play in two particular senses; time completely away from work, and time for the scholarly imagination itself to run freely, to explore new possibilities unrelated to current projects. Both sorts of play should be actively scheduled in the form of vacations (weeks or months), weekends (days), and particular times of the day.

If you don't actually schedule play, you will sit around the house or let yourself be consumed by household repairs.

For me, going to Spain provides a good opportunity for relaxing. I usually have one or two business things to do there, like the dissertation defense I'm on for my next trip. I also like hitting the bookstores and buying books I want or need. The rest of the time is seeing friends, eating good food and drinking good wine, and traveling. After a trip like this, the work goes much better.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The only things academics produce are publications. Those are the only widgets we make. Productivity in teaching would be what, the number of students taught? Then a large section is always more productive than a small one. Power-point lectures to 400 students are the most productive. Once again, then, teaching and research are defined so differently that the very definition of productivity is wildly different: the graduate prof with a lot of publications is likely to teach fewer courses with fewer students and be less productive, however brilliant her teaching.

Economists talk about productivity as how much work each employee can churn out per hour, so that is a measure of efficiency.
One of my goals this summer is to learn to distinguish, by ear, the various palos of flamenco, because I want to teach a course on this some day. This is productive work but not efficient. All the work on the scholarly base seems highly unproductive, in fact, because it doesn't lead directly to articles and books, and only some of it filters down into classes taught. I could never justify all my work on the scholarly base in the management-speak of "productivity."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trollope's Stupid Motivational Writing Method

Via Clarissa.

Multiple Projects

I have to admit that my main method of dealing with multiple writing projects is not to have multiple writing projects. I am very bad at thinking about more than one thing at a time. Whenever possible, I have a single item on my list of things to write, or I work sequentially on projects, putting one to rest before I start something else. Of course, life sometimes devises other plans for me and I have to think about more than one thing at a time.

So my advice is first: don't do it. Secondly, if you have more than one thing to write, order them sequentially and get the smaller projects out of the way as quickly as possible to get back to the main enchilada. Never spend longer than a week on a book review or a peer review. The main enchilada is always the dissertation or the book project.


One way of looking at the problem of efficiency is to fit the most work into the least amount of time.

This isn't quite right, though. Let's try this again.

There are 168 hours in the week. What you need to do is find between 6 and 15 very good hours of writing somewhere in these 168 total hours, where three two-hour sessions, (MWF say) and five three-hour sessions, (MTWTF) are the minimum and maximum. Looked at in this way, the problem is finding the best 10 hour out of 168. The problem, then, is having too much time, not too little. It's a problem of finitude. Let's cross off 56 hours for sleeping. That leaves 112. Much better. Now you only have to choose the best 10% of your waking hours.

There is no point in writing during the time of day when you are feeling the worst. If you work well in the morning, take advantage of that. Since there are plenty of hours in the week, the problem is not really time at all, but energy. A morning hour might be four times better than a 4 p.m. hour.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Breaking Ground

A new blog here by Matt Mullins, a frequent reader and commenter of this blog. Matt wants to do what Thomas, Tanya, and I are doing, more or less, but more focused on the scholar in early career (grad student and assistant professor).

TB on "The Challenge of Multiple Projects"

The Challenge of Multiple Projects.

Internal and External

You can have an external deadline or an internal one. The external deadline is set by someone else. The advantage is that you have to meet it, more or less. It is beyond your control, so you can tell yourself that you are forced to get your work done by a certain date, the deadline. The disadvantage is that you thus allow someone else to set the schedule of your writing.

An internal deadline is one you set for yourself: "By the end of the year, I will finish the book." The problem here that, since the deadline is under your own control, you can cheat on it without repercussions. "So what if I don't make it, only I will know it." The advantage, though, is that it is under your own control. You can even move it up if you want. If your own internal deadlines come sooner than the external ones, then you will never have to worry about external pressures.


With goals not related to time, the principle is the same. You can have tenure as your goal, which is an external one, or choose an internal one unrelated to tenure. Having tenure as your goal is like saying that you don't want to get cut from the team, that you want to go on. If you express your goal as being a nationally known scholar in your field, you will still get tenure (if you were going to anyway) but you are setting the goalposts in a different way. It's easy to get depressed right after tenure, because achieving a goal like that is unsatisfying. It means you didn't get fired, that you are still on the team, but little else.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

These Tricks Work

Clarissa's experiment shows how the advice I give here can actually work in real life. She decided to begin a conference paper as soon as she knew that she was going, rather than using the conference itself as the deadline, like most people do. 99% of people giving talks at the MLA, for example, start the minute classes are over in December, and barely finish in time.

Here is how it has worked out:
Since my upcoming talk has to do with different mechanisms of identity formation, I decided to experiment with my identity as an academic and try being a stress-free, well-rested scholar who does things well in advance. I have to confess that I’m kind of enjoying it. The quality of the talk will definitely be better as a result of the writing process not being conducted in high-stress circumstances. And the funniest thing is that it will actually take less time to write the talk than it normally does when I struggle to make the deadline. When you are in a rush, papers keep getting misplaced, books keep closing the second you find the page you need, fingers that shake in panic keep hitting the wrong keys, and all ideas you might have had are getting misplaced by the hysterical, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s that late already.” Believe it or not, writing for two scheduled, leisurely hours in the morning produces more actual usable text than a frantic all-nighter.

I'm very happy about this, because I know the SMT approach works for me, but also need to show it works for other people in the same way.


Once you discover that scholars often disagree with one another, you are liberated, as David Kellogg notes in the interview cited in the post below. I used to be angry that my teachers would be wrong. In 10th grade, for example, an English teacher of mine insisting that saying "nice day" when the weather was foul, sarcastically, was an example of "understatement." I argue with her for several minutes in class.

Later, instead of being angry, I came to see that it was great when someone was wrong. That gave me an opportunity to contribute something by being right where others were wrong. It was also a confidence builder, because I saw things others did not. Now, I think it's great, in general, that scholars cannot agree on very much. Although a total lack of agreement about anything might be a sign that field is bullshit, or might be, a high level of disagreement means that the field is intellectually vibrant.

Since disagreement is a good thing, it follows that you should take issue with others' findings with some degree of respect. The disagreement is point of entry into the conversation.

Doing Things Differently

I took a short trip to N Carolina to bring my daughter to music camp. I was gone three days, which explains my blog silence on Th, Fri, and Sat. When I came back, I wondered why I didn't do things differently. Why don't I write more drafts with pen and ink? Why don't I mount more stealth attacks on my chapters? Why don't I advertise my editing services other places? Why don't I buy a better iron for my clothes? Just a short time away in different scenery allowed me to see things much differently. It is easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if things are working out relatively well. Even small changes can be energizing.

From an Interview With David Kellogg


David believes that the tendency to cite scholarship only in a positive way that most undergraduates have, where the point of quoting sources in any paper is to support one’s argument, is a sign of their misunderstanding of what scholarship does. “My whole approach to academic writing is essentially conflictual,” asserted David. “So if a student writes ‘so and so says this about Galileo, but he misses the point that …’, he or she is already taking a maturing step towards academic development.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I politely turned down a request for a blurb this morning. The book looked like it could have been somewhat interesting, but it was about the alterity of subalternity etc... It had a preface by the most pretentious and arrogant Latin Americanist I know. I guess I could have come up with few lines of insincere praise, "In brilliant and provocative fashion, X interrogates the construction of alterity in ... "

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Write in the Morning, Research in the Afternoon, Plan in the Evening

I often plan in the evening. For example, I might make a list of things to do the next day, or rewrite my plan of action for finishing a project. These planning sessions do not produce any actual writing, but I find they are tremendously productive.

I like writing and rewriting my plan of when I will write what chapters. It keeps me on track and motivated, and allows me to see my weekly, monthly, and yearly goals with great clarity. If you have a very mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, as I do, it can be very reassuring.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Real Reason for Tenure

In my view, the real benefit of tenure is to create a class of faculty members who identify closely with an institution, who feel the department and the university is theirs. The tenured faculty do not own the university in any literal sense, but they are like partners in a law firm in a specific sense: they feel the university is, essentially, the faculty of that university, not a set of buildings. I know that I feel that way, as a tenured faculty member. If you think of the collective expertise of a university faculty amounts to, you will see that is is one of the most impressive phenomena of human culture. This is true even of a mid-level university such as the one I teach at. Of course, those without tenure on the tenure track still want to be promoted, so they also aspire to this sense of identification if they don't feel it yet.

Job security creates longer terms of employment and a sense of identification. It also means people move less often, sometimes creating frustration (for the individual) and stagnation (for the institution). Once you have tenure it is very difficult to move, because departments only want to hire Assistant Professors, administrators, or stars. Although I moved once after tenure, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to again. I pay a heavy price, then, for the security I receive.

To create this feeling of identification, you need a sense of autonomy. This is what we normally call "academic freedom," or the idea that a senior faculty member can be trusted to choose his / her own intellectual path. I could write a book about jazz if I wanted to. I probably won't, but I could, and this feeling of autonomy helps me because even working in a narrow sub-field (as I do). I know my decisions won't be questioned by administrators who have no clue about what a valid intellectual project looks like. Longer terms of employment also take into account the up and downs of scholarship. I could have a relatively less impressive five year span and I think I should be allowed that, frankly.

Administrators come and go. I've seen seven deans in 15 years. The faculty are a stabilizing force counterbalancing whatever the new trends in Higher Education might be.

People hired to teach courses on the adjunct track, payed by the individual course, typically feel little sense of deep identification with the university. The move to abolish tenure aims to make everyone, more or less, an adjunct. Even in fields where tt positions are hard to come by, the existence of some jobs like that offers a powerful incentive. If most or all jobs become contingent, then it is hard to imagine anyone going into academia any more in the first place. Even highschool teachers have tenure, after all.

The List as Organizing Principle

Making a list of three things you are going to do in an article, or part of a chapter, is very helpful. You can tell the reader very explicitly what these three or four things are, and then go on to accomplish these tasks. What I like to do sometimes is do it first with signposting, then rewrite the list without the signposting, making smoother transitions. It's like the scaffolding of a building. You need it during the building of the building, but once the building is complete, you can take it down already.

To make the list work as an organizing principle, the items have to be parallel to one another. Like: "H.D.'s treatment of Norse, Irish, and Egyptian mythology." That's parallel. It doesn't work as well to say "H.D."s analysis by Freud, her prosody, the critical reception of her works." Then the list doesn't really organize the material at all.

One thing that is very irritating is when a writer announces s/he will three things s/he is going to say, and you cannot really tell what those three things are. The first one is obvious, but then the reader loses track, not knowing exactly when two gives way to three or three to four.

Slow Down / Speed Up

If I have fewer ideas about how to organize your scholarly life, it might be because I am having more ideas in my actual scholarly life, ideas which you can find on my other blog. I have had an extraordinarily productive summer so far and am now about a month ahead of schedule. The writing group helps, having to check in every Monday to keep myself honest. I think I'm going to go through my posts for this group and see what I've done since I started, and also analyze how others in the group have done just to see whether it is a method that will help almost everyone. I won't reveal private details about anyone else, of course.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

List of Tasks

When I'm trying to finish one major task, like a chapter, that is the only thing on my agenda. I don't give myself credit for doing other extraneous things. It is a little daunting having a to-do list with a single item, so I make a list of tasks on a separate document like this:
Introduction: June 16.
1 Spain vs. Andalusia. June 18.
2 Spain vs. rest of Europe
3 Performance vs. inspiration
4 A theory of Lorca himself, his own poetics, vs. a theory of artistic creation (or performance) in general.
Barthes comparison
Bibiography and footnotes

I write down the date I finish each task. In this case, my deadline is July 31, and I have six major tasks left. I have several trips before the end of July, so I I need to account for that time, but even so I have ample time to finish.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Scholarly Base is Infinite

The advantage of the concept of the "scholarly base" is that it is, in principle, non-finite. If you think of your ability as a scholar in terms of i.q. (how smart am I? Am I smart enough?) then you are pretty much limiting yourself to a single measure that seems more or less fixed. I know I will never be taller than 5'8", for example, so if I had a similar number assigned to me as a scholar, and was told I could never exceed that number, it would be pretty depressing.

The scholarly base can be expanded as much as you want. It is a "growth" model rather than a "fixed" model, to paraphrase the ideas of the psychologist Carol Dweck, mentioned by Brownen in a comment on a previous post. For example, you can buy a book and increase the size of your personal library, network and increase the size of your scholarly community. You can learn another language, make forays into new fields. You can work on your prose style or your time management skills. All those are aspects of the base and all are, in principle, expandable. I suppose "how smart you are" is also a part of the base, but it is only one variable among many. Anyone with a PhD is smart enough to expand their base in various directions.

There are limits to a scholarly base, because we don't live to be 1,000 years old and thus don't have time to learn everything we should.

Swimming Upstream

I didn't have a really good riposte to Clarissa, who the other day in a comment on my post about the threshold theory compared scholarship to rowing up a stream. The current is trying to bring you downstream, so if you don't constantly row, you will get further and further down. My perhaps too optimistic notion was that once you reach a certain threshold, with a solid scholarly base, you can always do scholarship. The base is cumulative, so the older you get the more you know, even if you forget some of what you know. Like the idea that "I've forgotten more about Spanish literature than you've ever even learned."

The field may change, but nobody really keeps up with every development anyway. If you are always reading, you will never be totally out of it. My father abandoned research in sociology and became a university administrator. He was dean of the college, and slightly older than I am now, when he caught a pneumonia that all but killed him. He was in what was essentially a medically induced coma for weeks, and was left almost entirely paralyzed. He had to learn to walk again, tie his shoes and button his shirt, and was disabled, with less than half the lung capacity of a normal adult, the rest of his life. He had to retire from administration, though he had a few year-long posts after he made a partial recovery. He also read up on some social theory, took some courses at UC Berkeley, and wrote a book calledThe New Public, published by Cambridge. Then he died at age 65, twelve years after his initial illness.

The paddling-up-the-creek metaphor is valid for people who never gain an initial foothold, who never quite overcome a weak base.I think I could write nothing for 10 years and still come back strong.

Burn-out is something else entirely. That's when there is an initial burst of energy, some promise, and then a career stalls in the middle. It happened to me, but I recovered fine.


I'm working on the first cluster of three chapters (out of 10 chapters) and making sure i don't have the same quotes or examples in any of them. This section of the book is called "Origins" and will begin with the chapter on Lorca, going on to one on Zambrano and Unamuno, and concluding, with one on Guillén and Cernuda, two models of modernism that, I will argue, are not as influential.
This cluster should be done by the end of July.

The next cluster consists of three chapters on Valente, Gamoneda, and Rodríguez. Two of the three chapters are written, so I have to write one more and then make sure the three chapters put forward a convincing and interrelated set of claims. I also have to come up with a title for this middle cluster.

The final section of the book, "Extensions" will contain four chapters, two of which I've written. In August-Dec. I want to finish three chapters. The ones remaining (after I finish Lorca) are (1) Claudio Rodríguez (2) aphorism (3) female subjectivity and modernism.

Five months for three chapters seems ambitious. What I hope to do is take advantage of the first half of August before classes start and the part of December after classes are over.

I am constantly planning and replanning to see whether I can make this work. The good thing is that Dec. 31 is my own, self-imposed deadline. Nothing bad happens if I fail to meet it. I might not, but if I don't I still have 2012 to work on the project.

Money Back

I feel so strongly about the quality of my editorial work that if a client is not satisfied, I will not accept money from him / her. If I feel I have done my best work and the person says, "Naw, I don't think you helped me very much at all," then I will not go after the person to make him / her pay. Of course, I won't work with the person again either, because obviously this would be a person that I cannot help, by mutual agreement. This is all hypothetical, because I don't think this is going to happen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Handiwork

See here for a recommendation of my work as reader / editor. I can do for you what I am doing for Clarissa.


A paragraph needs a flowing rhythm. This means varying the length and structure of the sentences, but this cannot be done in a mechanical way, arbitrarily inserting a short sentence after every three long sentences, or following any other formula. In fact, each paragraph should have its own unique rhythm.

You can create a nice effect by giving a series of examples without using the exact same syntactical structure for each one. This is what I've tried to do here:
Lorca’s “Play and Theory of the Duende,” while a very well-known text, does not have a secure place in Spanish intellectual history. It is evidently not a part of the “jejune and uninfluential” canon of “Spanish theory.” Philip Silver does not consider Lorca’s duende in La casa de Anteo, a work devoted to the relation between Spanish poetics and the philosophical tradition arising out of German romanticism. Valente, likewise, fails to recognize Lorca as a thinker or a poet of “integration, fusion, union” in the lineage of Saint John of the Cross—even though Lorca was not an erudite “poet-professor” either. Although the duende lecture is densely allusive and metaphorical, critics have been quick to reduce it to a few key ideas rather than acknowledging its depth and complexity, and hence its privileged place among works dealing with “the inner nature and process of poetry itself.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Threshold Theory

Someone going by the initials GMP in a comment on Clarissa's blog mentioned the idea of a "threshold" of intelligence. GMP mentioned getting this concept somewhere else, so it's fourth hand by now.

Once you are over the threshold, have the basic equipment and intelligence to do research in your chosen field, then you can do it. You don't have to worry about exactly how smart you are. This is liberating because worrying about your exact iq, if such a thing is even meaningful, is pointless. As long as you are over the threshold, you will be ok. Your success will depend not on some abstract quality, intelligence, that you either have or don't, but on your management of your resources. For example, you might have a talent for writing prose that Dr. Theoretical Smartypants who intimidates you so much doesn't have. I am not as smart as Alberto Moreiras or Jo Labanyi, but it doesn't really matter all that much.

The first day of graduate school I realized that the other student accepted into the program the same year (there were only two of use) was much smarter than I was, and really, there will always be someone smarter than you wherever you go. I'm not being humble here, because I'm not a humble person, but it is pretty much a fact of life that there will be people smarter and dumber than you almost anywhere you go, in academia or elsewhere. When I was in high school there were about seven or eight kids smarter than me, and there are probably dozens smarter than me in my own university. Academics are used to being the smart guy in the room, but I can look around a room and see talents I could never dream of having, like Ken Irby's ear for verse. It is a waste of time to have doubts about yourself after a while.

(By the way, I am a much more eminent scholar than the other guy who was (is) smarter than me in grad school. Whatever happened to that guy?)

So how do you know you are over the threshold? What if you are actually not even above this imaginary line that lets you do scholarship at all? I'd say if you have a PhD from a respectable school, if you've published an article or two, if you've been engaging in the actual work in a way that's intrinsically satisfying to yourself, then you are over the threshold. In a way, blaming your lack of success after this point on intelligence is a cop-out, because it's like saying you can't get it done because of some inborn quality over which you have no control.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I'm addicted to seeing my name in print, to the intoxication of the ideas themselves. Like a true addict, I cannot just rely on past thrills, but need to reproduce the experience all of over again every time. If it has been too long since I've published anything, I get withdrawal symptoms.

Well, the analogy can only be pushed so far.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Keeping Track

I'm running out of ideas (temporarily of course), so I thought I'd borrow one from Matt.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Good Writing

This article is an example of some first-rate writing. It is an article about the eminent Hispanist John Kronik, written by his son. Since I knew Kronik well, I especially appreciated it.
We use defensive euphemisms when someone else dies, but when our own time comes, no one says “I’m afraid to pass away.” We become blunt under the threat of mortality: we do not want to die, period. Meanwhile, loss is only permanent when identified as such, but after the fact, no one told me, “I’m sorry for the permanent loss of your father.” Death’s foreverness is the intolerable part, hence language that resists it and religions that reject it. But if an agnostic says we live on in memory, this sounds no less wishful to me than claiming someone is in “a better place.” Without messages from our senses, there is nothing left that we can accurately call life.


I've completed my June goal, a first draft of the Zambrano chapter. I deliberately keep my goals very manageable so I am always ahead of the game. I could actually finish this book by the end of 2011. Every day I write out a plan for completing the book, even if it is an exact reputation of the plan of the day before. That way I always keep my eye on the goal.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Peer Review and Hypocrisy

Since I don't subject myself to peer review that much, there is a certain hypocrisy in [people like me] advocating it. Once I got to the point where I could publish enough by invitation, and promotion was not an issue, I didn't do nearly as much submission where I would be read blindly. Even when I publish in peer-review journals, it is still by invitation. I get suggestions, but am never rejected, and generally I am able to circumvent the worst aspects of the system. Yet I still want my junior colleagues to go through this process. Fish infamously argued that senior people should be able to enjoy the benefits of their stature to publish more easily, and in fact we do, simply because any senior person with a substantial rep can simply not go through blind peer review any more.

The PMLA was the worst, in that I got a good but not thrilling article published there, but they would reject all the much more brilliant work I submitted. It seemed a system geared toward the canonical and boring or the politically edgy, with not as much room for the stuff in the middle. I got my PMLA on my cv, so I can't complain, but why couldn't it have been something better?

5-paragraph essay

I was never taught the 5-paragraph essay as a form. I think the rigidity of the form is overemphasized in basic instruction, because many young students think essays have to have 5 paragraphs. That's really the shortest a complete well-organized essay can be, with an intro, conclusion, and three paragraphs in the body. With four paragraphs, the two interior paragraphs are just as long as the intro and conclusion put together, so that doesn't quite work out.

Yet in a longer essay it is often helpful to write shorter sections of 4-7 paragraphs, each developing a separate sub-point. If you had five such sections, you would be essentially reproducing that structure on a larger scale: an introduction (3 - 4 paragraphs), three interior sections of 6 to 7 paragraphs a piece, and then a conclusion of a few more paragraphs.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Peer Review and Blindness

Increasingly, it's been hard for me to review articles anonymously because I often know or suspect the identity of the author. In one case, the author had sent me the unpublished ms. a few months before. In another, I recognized the distinctive style and approach. In another, the author had not sufficiently anonymized his article. I was looking for an excuse not to do it anyway so I saw how the writer referred to his own article as his own. In yet another, I recognized the same style and some of the same quotes from another article I had reviewed recently for another journal. I didn't recuse myself because I didn't know the actual name, just that it was the same author. If you used google and really tried to find out who wrote something, you probably could in a lot of cases.

So in smallish subfields anonymity is really hard to maintain. I'd have to really write an article in a diligent way to make it truly anonymous at this point in my own project, so it's not really worth it. I get enough invitations that I have no room in my schedule to send out any other articles. Also, I'd rather only publish in special, monographic issues of journals that are likely to be read.

So basically I know or could find out the identities of many I'm asked to review, and I don't need to go through the process on the other side either.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


One journal I review for uses a variation on a quote from Larra: La indulgencia mal entendida es la muerte de la inteligencia." The original is "La indulgencia mal entendida es la muerte del arte." (A badly understood indulgence is the death of intelligence / art.).

In other words, you can't be too complacent, too generous. The journal is telling its reviewers to be tough, not to be too nice just for the sake of being a good guy or gal.

Peer Review Regrets

I've never regretted accepting an article I've accepted. I've never gone back and said I should have rejected that article.

I've never regretted a revise-and-resubmit. in almost all cases, the author has taken my suggestions and published the article. In almost all cases the author has seemed grateful or at least graceful.

The only question, then, is whether I have regretted an outright rejection, a case where the article might have been more easily fixable than I gave it credit for. There is no way to really make this judgment, because it's a subjective measure of where the threshold lies. I've come to realize the system of peer review is rather flawed, and that I've thought of it as fine simply because I assume everyone does it like I do, with prompt, fair, helpful, and thorough reviews. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

A Suggestion for Peer Review

From John Holbo. I think it has some merit, but would be impractical for the reasons I point out in my comment to his post.

Blogging for an Hour

I'm blogging for an hour now. The posts are scheduled to appear on different days, but the point is to do one thing for an hour and thus free up time for other things.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The House

The house really eats up a lot of time during the summer. Today I was on the phone for over an hour trying to order a part for something. The refrigerator's ice-maker gave out too, so the repair guy came for that. There is a list of other things that must be addressed this summer.

The key for me is to be able to write in the morning for at least an hour. Then I can calmly deal with everything else. If a wanted to I could do only house related tasks all summer and never work on my writing at all. For me though, an hour spent with a difficult academic problem is much more enjoyable than 8 hours spent trying to figure out what garage door to buy.

It's About the Ideas

My research is mostly about the ideas, the arguments, and not the information. I see this as a weakness, sometimes, in that I am not doing a lot of archival discoveries. Isn't that cheating? Maybe that's why I have published so much. I was always rebelling against people who found wonderful stuff but didn't have anything to say about it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Approach to Note Taking

I take my notes directly in the text of the article I am writing, rather than taking notes on my reading before I begin writing. I will often read without taking notes at all, because it is time-consuming. Later I can go back and remember what the really significant points were, or find the relevant quotations. A lot of reading, unfortunately, is defensive. You might be going through a book just to make sure it's not relevant. You pick up extra knowledge that way, but really it's rapid reading designed to cover your bases.

Since I work on poetry, mostly, I know the poems I'm going to use pretty much by memory. I'm sure if I worked on the novel I would have to take notes on plots and characters in a more systematic way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Write in the Morning, Research in the Afternoon

I've argued here before that you should begin writing as soon as you begin researching. There should never be a blank page. At the very minimum, you should write for yourself some kind of proposal about what you are looking for. Never just wait to write until you have enough materials gathered, enough books and articles read. What I like to do is to write in the morning, every morning, since I am always working on something, and do the reading and researching in the afternoon, when I am not as alert. For a project that's advanced, this research will involve tracking down stray references. For example I might have claimed that "many critics have argued that..." but I need to find out what critics these are in order to back up my more general impression that this is what the critics think.