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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...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's Easy to be Self-Critical, but Hard to Turn Self-Critiicism to Advantage

Anyone can beat themselves up with a long list deficiencies. I do it all the time. Self-criticism is actually a powerful tool, if used right. The problem is that negativity is typically de-motivating, since it's hard to enjoy something that you know you are doing badly. If you aren't self-critical, though, it is hard to improve to the point that you can enjoy your writing. Complacency doesn't really get you anywhere either.

The trick is to develop self-criticism itself, the ability to evaluate your own writing and see where it needs to be changed,for example, as one of your special talents. To see that a sentence I've written is a piece of shit might be disappointing, but I can move from "this sentence is crappy, therefore I am a crappy writer" to "Boy, I am really good at finding these sentences in my own writing and fixing them before anyone else sees them." Or "I am really good at anticipating possible objections to my arguments."

As I've pointed out before, there is really no point in singling yourself out as particularly bad at things that almost nobody else is good at either. That is also a form of egoism.

Further Steps to Happiness / The Network

Another barrier to happiness is the absence, or weakness, of a scholarly network. Working in isolation, thinking that nobody cares about your work, can easily make you unhappy. The way I've solved this problem for myself is through blogging. Honestly, I cannot get enough prolonged contact with good minds through teaching, interacting with colleagues at the office, occasionally seeing people I know at academic conferences, and the odd citation to my work here or there. It's just not enough, even when it's all added up.

I see no problem with blogging, even for people in early stages of a scholarly career, as long as you don't see it as substitute for the sustained attentions of scholarship. You can use twitter, facebook, or linkedin too. The point is to diminish the solitary nature of writing by writing directly for a more immediate audience. Once you have academic publications, make sure they are available online as much as possible. Do what you can to increase your network in RL too, but networking possibilities are greatly expanded through the internet.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of an Almost Finished Project

My book feels unbearably lightweight to me tonight. I worry that it simply does not have enough substance to be a real book. Maybe because I've been able to write most of it fairly easily, without strain or anguish? I'm hoping that finishing the last two chapters will give me the sense of solidity that I am missing. It is very strange. Maybe I just need to add a bit to a few key chapters. Maybe I'm worrying for nothing. I will have nine chapters, and each one should be solid on its own terms. Together, they should add up to something significant... I hope... but I will remain in doubt for a few more months.

Next Steps to Happiness / Believe that your Work is Valuable

If you believe that your work is esoteric, overspecialized, trivial, useless, of interest to nobody else, then it will be difficult to develop a happy relationship to it. In the humanities we often refer to our own work in these disparaging terms, thus internalizing what we think of as the larger society's vision of our work, and alienating ourselves from our sources of strength. We only do this work to get a line on our cv, for promotion, tenure, to get the next degree, etc... Right?

The "the humanities will save civilization" rhetoric does not really help, either. If only people studied humanities, then they would be great critical thinkers and citizens, and would never vote for Republicans. I'm sure you've all heard those arguments.

No. The answer is to remember that the exercise of the human intelligence is the greatest thing ever. Work that employs and expands the human intelligence can never be without value. In my case, I know for a fact that poetry is the greatest and most complex art form possible. The study of poetry is a marvelous thing, because it is one kind of intelligence applied to another. I get to match myself against Lorca every day and find myself wanting.

(When I meet people and they see the attitude I have to my work, they don't think it's useless any more. Usually it's more like "Hey, that's pretty interesting.")

You don't have to agree with me about my particular reasons for valuing my own work. I don't really care. I know my work is valuable, but what about yours? At some core level, don't you think that what you are doing is the most important thing that anyone can do? Or at least the thing that you ought to be doing?

Then you can be happily engaged in your research and writing, deriving satisfaction from it. Knowing you can do it well is just one component: you also have to believe it is worth doing.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Search keywords of the day

stupid motivational tricks

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how to teach cultural literacy

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the threshold theory

First Steps Toward Happiness / It Must Give Pleasure

The first step toward a felicitous relation to your own writing is to do it on a regular schedule. You can't be a happy writer by avoiding writing. You will not enjoy the avoidance any more than you will enjoy the unpleasantness of the writing itself. Either way you are screwed without a schedule to anchor you.

Next, I want you to take pleasure in good prose, first by reading appropriate models. Find writers whose prose you actively enjoy and admire. For some, like me, it might be Guy Davenport, or John Kronik, or Ricardo Gullón. A model whose prose you could realistically emulate in your own lifetime is probably better than, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Francisco de Quevedo. Then take pleasure in a well-formed paragraph of your own making. Don't be satisfied with bad or mediocre writing, because it is hard to derive pleasure from it. If you are a scholar of literature you have a certain advantage, in that the very objects of study are masterpieces of writing.

Discard unhelpful myths. Don't believe that it has to be unpleasant in order for you know you are doing it right. Don't feel guilty if particular parts of the process come to seem almost effortless. That just means you've achieved some level of skill after a lot of effort.

Derive power from your existing strengths, whatever those are. A good working memory that allows you to keep track of complex materials? A keen philosophical mind at ease with abstract concepts? An innate sense of rhythm and balance? A training in another, unrelated discipline? A metaphorical imagination that makes you adept with analogies and comparisons? Synaesthesia? An ability to concentrate on a single problem for hours on end? Good problem-solving abilities or mental flexibility? A sense of humor? A large vocabulary? It's likely that you have one or more such abilities, including one I have not listed, to some degree.


What I am not saying here is that a "positive attitude" is sufficient. I have no patience for that kind of useless advice. What I am giving, rather, are some of the components of a positive attitude, components which you will have to put together with some serious thought, effort, and attentiveness. Nor am I promising painlessness or an easy shortcut to get to where you are going. If you are not a happy writer now, it will take some time to get there, because you have a lot of bad habits to overcome.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Double Publication

Someone I know has discovered that the same article was published in 2010 in two separate journals, one in the US and the other in England. The same author, title, abstract, etc... Both are very well-known journals. Someone has some explaining to do, probably the author of the article. I won't speculate on what happened, but this is highly unusual.

Building a Happy Relationship (to Your Writing)

Many if not most academic writers I know do not enjoy a happy relationship to their own writing.* They don't enjoy the process of writing or even the product--their own prose style. Writing, even for those with active, vigorous research programs, is a burden or a torment, offering few if any pleasures. Curiously, the romantic vision of a scholar involves suffering in order to produce, but the end result is not a brilliantly inspired work of art, but rather a routine publication. Such scholars might speak of their own articles as mere entries on their curricula vitae, without a clear sense of pride in what they've done. Their unhappy relationship to the process of writing taints the publications themselves.

I've had an unhappy relation to my own writing at times, so I am speaking from experience. But I also know that this way of thinking is not necessary. The happy writer draws strength from her scholarly base and takes pleasure in the act of putting sentences together. An article from such a scholar is a genuine contribution to the field and a further source of happiness and pride. Do you have to suffer to create? Maybe, but I think we all have suffered enough anyway: there is no need to introduce extra suffering into the process.


*Thomas, quoting Tolstoy, says that all happy writers are alike.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Say No To Signposting

You really don't need it as much as you might think you do. I've written a whole article with virtually none, and it worked out fine. I don't think a reader will even miss it. I don't think a reader will even say, "Wow, a whole article with no signposting," because the absence of it won't even register. Signposting is distracting, but its absence is not. I guess there could a few academic readers who say, "What's this about, no jargon, no self-referential signposting, no acadamese. This person obviously doesn't know how to write." That's a risk I'm willing to take.

What about an introduction to a book? Don't you have to say, "In chapter 4, I will argue that the novels of Roberto Bolaño..." ? As a first step I would suggest something like this. "The novels of Roberto Bolaño--the subject of Chapter 4--..." The rest of the sentence will state your argument without saying that it is your argument. Of course you wouldn't use that exact formula in each paragraph of the chapter summary. As long as the reader knows that it is a chapter summary, you might even get away with suppressing even those parenthetical reminders. What if you were summarizing the last chapter, then you could start out that paragraph with "The novels of Teresa de la Parra, finally, ...." It would be implied that this is the subject of the last chapter. I'm not against discursive markers like finally, that simply signal the stages of a discussion.

Dissertation as Developmental Stage

The other way of looking at the dissertation is as a stage that a student needs to go through before being a real scholar. According to this argument (a straw man, I guess, because I don't know if people really believe this?), we should expect a dissertation to be dissertation-like because the student is not quite ready for prime-time. I disagree with this, because the graduate seminars are training the student to be a professional. I see no reason for the regressive, unreadable quality of many dissertations. Do the committees really demand unreadability, even as they complain about it? Why do so many aspects of the dissertation make dissertation research more difficult to publish?

Choose the Hardest Possible Advisor

If given a choice, choose the hardest possible dissertation advisor, the professor who has given you the toughest comments on your seminar papers. Those are the professors who care the most about your intellectual development.

(Obviously, I do not mean to choose the capricious professor, who changes his or her mind or forgets what needed to be done, or who is gratuitously hostile. It does no good to have professor who tell you your work is shit but won't tell you why.)

Avoid the professor who can publish you in his own journals, or have you co-edit stuff with him. It usually is a him but it could be a her in some cases.

Submit to the journal that is hardest to get into. Over and over, until they accept you. Hispanic Review used to reject articles in 10 days or a fortnight with no comment, back in the late 80s. This was great because I just sent them articles until I got in, but didn't waste any time with rejected articles being held for months.

Of course, choosing the hard way when the easy is available is not going to work for everyone. I had a lot of self-confidence, so I always went this route.

My Department Chair, who happened to have worked with the same dissertation advisor as my wife, said he chose this advisor, who was notoriously tough, because he knew that if he could work with this advisor, then he would know that he was good enough to excel in the field (or something like that). In this case, it wasn't an excess of confidence, but a kind of cold calculation. If you aren't sure if you are good enough, then the way to go is the hard way, because then you will know.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Write the Dissertation as a Book

... if you can get away with it. If your committee is fine with it, just write it directly as though it were a book. Skip the literature review, or make it something that you can simply remove with one click of the mouse. Address scholars in your field of study, making arguments that they will respond to. Don't waste your time with summaries of what everyone already knows. I finished my dissertation in 88 and published my book in 90. My wife did pretty much the same thing. Neither of us had to revise much at all from dissertation to book, because we both had publishable manuscripts all but ready.

All you are really saying is that you want to write a more readable, polished book rather than a typical academic snooze-fest. What you are doing is harder, of course, because you have to write work that is publishable, not just acceptable to a committee of 5. But it is also easier because you are streamlining your career.

Another piece of advice is to choose the hardest possible director, the one with the highest standards. The idea is not to get the PhD the easiest way possible, but to get a meaningful PhD, one that actually trains you to be a publishing scholar.

I've noticed students regressing from seminars to the dissertation, writing worse and becoming less interesting. Why? Because the Dissertation with a Capital D is so Intimidating. The big theoretical introduction; the overgrown 40-page chapters. Everyone complains about the same things, but for some reason they all perpetuate the system they hate.

People will tell you the dissertation does not have to perfect; don't sweat it so much, it's just something you have to do to get the degree etc... Those people are liars. Starting a second project as a beginning assistant professor is much harder than publishing the dissertation as a book. I've seen a lot of careers start off on shaky footing because the new professor cannot easily get publications out of the dissertation.

It may be that, despite your best efforts, the finished dissertation is still a long ways from a book. In that case, we can talk about that.

Don't Say You Are Bad At Something If It Is Something That, Typically, Almost Everyone Else Is Bad At

Ok, I think the title of the post says it all. This morning I have been reformatting an article for a British journal. I find I am very bad at this unfamiliar system of references, neither MLA or Chicago. But almost anyone would be fairly inept with such an unfamiliar system. Many academics are inept anyway, even in a system that they should know. Almost everyone is a bad proofreader, bad with deadlines, etc...

Singling yourself out as bad at something is a kind of reverse vanity, or a handy way of making excuses. The person saying this is assuming that everyone else has an easy time with these tasks, which is far from the truth. Instead, I suggest you take responsibility to not be bad at doing whatever it is. Just take more time to do it right, or develop a system to work around your weaknesses.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lab

Imagine a big scientific lab that puts out a lot of publications, some of which are spin-offs of the main agenda of the lab. I've been worried that my publications were duplicating themselves a little too much, but I've decided that I'm fine. There will be a little redundancy and overlap because the corpus I'm working on suggests additional ideas, because books will repeat arguments made in articles, etc... I might write a second article making the same theoretical point, but using other texts, for instance. I feel bad sometimes when I do this, but looking back on previous cases I don't think I'm all that reduplicative.

A single scholar is a like a big laboratory in this respect. This is also why it's easier to publish a lot more if you are already publishing a lot. What is more difficult is going from zero to one, going from publishing nothing (or a very small amount) to publishing a moderate amount. If you are actively engaged in research, you will get extra ideas you won't even be able to use, because you will notice interesting things in other texts you are reading.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hilarious article on excessive signposting

here. Dyer, the author of the essay, brilliantly mimics Fried's signposting as he describes it:
What the reader discovers, however, is that Fried will continue to announce what he’s about to do right to the end: “Later on in this book I shall examine . . . ”; “I shall discuss both of these after considering . . . ”; “I shall also be relating. . . . ” Fried’s brilliance, however, is that in spite of all the time spent looking ahead and harking back he also — and it’s this that I want to emphasize here — finds the time to tell you what he’s doing now, as he’s doing it: “But again I ask . . . ” ; “Let me try to clarify matters by noting . . . ”; “What I want to call attention to. . . . ” But that’s not all: the touch of genius is that on top of everything else he somehow manages to tell you what he is not doing (“I am not claiming that . . . ”), what he has not done (“What I have not said . . . ”) and what he is not going to do (“This is not the place for . . . ”). On occasions he combines several of these tropes in dazzling permutations like the negative- implied- forward and the double- backward — “So far I have said nothing in this conclusion about Barthes’s ‘Camera Lucida,’ which in Chapter 4 I interpreted as a consistently antitheatrical text even as I also suggested . . . ” — before reverting, a paragraph later, to the tense endeavor of the present (i.e., telling us what he’s still got to do): “One further aspect of Barthes’s text remains to be dealt with.” There is, I would observe here, a kind of zero-sum perfection about the way the theatricality of the flamboyant, future- oriented sign- posting is matched by all the retrospection. The depths of self- absorption that makes this possible are hard to fathom.


These are my results from the first months of the writing group. I finished three articles, two chapters, one course proposal, and one talk. I had three weeks (in a row!) in which I failed to accomplish my goal, and a few other weeks where I deliberately did not set a goal, because I was traveling or on vacation. My goals were either to complete something, or to put myself in a good position to finish something in a few more weeks.

The results of a method like this can only be assessed over the course of several months. That's when you can see the bigger picture, how you deal with setbacks, how you compensate for time lost to travel and vacation. None of my weekly goals was super-ambitious or back-breaking, since most involved finishing something that had been begun long ago, or simply making significant progress. I know what I did looks impressive, but it rarely felt onerous.

3/14: Finished article.
3/21: Finished talk.
3/28: Nothing
4/4: Work on “Was Lorca a poetic thinker”
4/11: “ ”
[Next three weeks: failed to meet goals.]
5/23: Course proposal and substantial progress on article.
5/30: Finished article.
6/6: Finished other article for “Modernist Cultures.”
6/13: Finished chapter on Zambrano.
6/20: Progress on the Lorca chapter.
6/27: Nothing.
7/4: Finished Lorca chapter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


"Blank is inseparable from blank." When you find yourself writing that sentence (fill in the blanks), you need to find a more specific claim. The "inseparable" claim just means that there is some unspecified relation between the two elements, that they cannot be considered separately, only together. Your job, however, is to specify what that relation actually is.

"Blank is no exception." You've described a general trend, and then you want to transition into your more specific subject. "Blank is no exception" (to this general trend) does the job, but it is a weak claim, because it simply asserts a lack of contradiction. You want to say that blank is a particularly interesting example of the general trend, for these specific reasons.

"Is it any accident that..." "It is no coincidence that...." Two things happen at the same time. The scholar is asserting a relationship because the two things happen in the same decade. But it could be coincidence unless the actual relationship is specified. Juxtaposition takes the place of a real argument for the relation between the two elements. In many cases I've seen, the time frame of the supposed coincidence does not even match up.

A lot of scholarly writing consists of asserting claims of relatedness. In all three cases (three clichés of scholarly writing), the relationship is stated in a lazy and imprecise way.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Basics

If you are new to this blog let me review some basics:

(1) The blog is about how to get your scholarly writing done. The key here is to write on a regular schedule, three or four times a week for 1-3 hours, writing from 300-700 words each day. I set weekly goals, using the private writing group, along with short term goals (the particular article or chapter I'm working on), and long term goals: the particular book-length project I'm working on.

(2) The larger concept is the development of the scholarly base, the large percentage of the work that is not visible in the writing. (Hemingway's "iceberg" theory.) A scholar needs to develop a long-term agenda, a sense of what he or she wants to accomplish. The agenda goes beyond any one article or book.

(3) No particular intelligence is required to have good writing habits. It is more important to work smart than to be smart. The scholarly base, by the same token, is an infinitely expandable reservoir of knowledge and expertise. Once you are smart enough to actually be in the field (the "threshold theory"), then you only have to worry about managing your resources.

(4) While I often go off on metaphorical tangents, I like to return, again and again, to basic principles. The same things that make good coherent writing for a freshman in college (or in high school) are the things you need to know as a scholar. Failure often occurs at the bottom, not at the top. In other words, the writer is failing to apply concepts he or she should have known even before college.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

... or with a roller ball

This pen seemed much less satisfying, and the notes are more random.

Handwritten Notes

Sometimes I work by hand in fountain pen.

Tour de France

Imagine a footrace between several people. That would be the simplest model of a race. The tour is incredibly more complex than that. There are no only individuals, but teams. Some riders are not there to win themselves, but to be supportive of others on their teams. Quaintly, supportive riders are called "domestiques."

Secondly, it is cumulative, so that the winner is not the first across the finish line, but the rider with the lowest overall time at the end.

Most riders, most of the time, are in a huge pack called the "peloton," riding very close together. It is a very gregarious event. The leader of the race, wearing the yellow jersey, is often to be found in the middle of the peloton. There is no particular advantage to being at the front of the pack, since only a few second separate the front from the back.

Riders stage escapes or attacks by trying to separate themselves from the peloton, usually in small groups. The maillot jaune and other top riders can tolerate an attack if it doesn't include serious rivals. The leader himself can attack, and if he is successful put some distance between himself and key rivals, since not all the rivals will be part of the escaping group. After an attack the peloton as a collective entity can try to catch up with the escaped riders. There is a cost in an escape: if unsuccessful, it is a loss of valuable energy. There are also huge gains to be made if a rider escapes and moves up in the overall standings. Most days are not decisive, but some are, with a dramatic escape that changes the standings. The mountains, first the Pyrenees and then the Alps, are the most decisive, because they tend to spread out the riders more and allow from more drama than the flatter parts of the race.

Riders can always win glory in individual stages, but most are out either to win the whole thing, be a domestic servant, or vie for one of the secondary prizes like "king of the mountain."

It's hard to get too enthusiastic because even Armstrong, who passed every drug test ever, is now under suspicion of doping.

Most of the time, then, you want to be in the peloton, more or less following the status quo. You want to have some individual distinction, but you can also be part of a team. Daring escapes are cause for excitement, but are risky and not always successful.

Get a Life, PhD: How Smart Do You Have to Be To Become a Successful Academic?

More from Tanya on the "Threshold theory," with ample citations to me.

Get a Life, PhD: How Smart Do You Have to Be To Become a Successful Academic?


Franklin has asked me the following question:
I've always wondered about the notion of a "stealth attack" on an article that you've used on several occasions. You've sometimes used phrases like "...before it can put up resistance" or "before the project knows what's hit it." (I'm paraphrasing.) These are metaphors, of course - the -article- isn't doing anything, even passively. But the author is. I wonder if you could say something about what kinds of resistance you have in mind, and what the "tactics" of such attacks might be.

Articles and larger project loom large in our minds. They can be scary and intimidating, resulting in procrastination of very slow, tentative starts. The stealth or sneak attack is a way of getting around this intimidation by conceiving of the task as a resisting force, ascribing a metaphorical agency to it that, of course, it doesn't really have. Suppose a chapter is going to put up resistance to me writing it. If it knows I am about to write it, it will marshal resistance. But if I don't tell myself before hand that I am going to work on it, then I can just surprise myself and do it before "it" (me) is aware of what is happening.

On a less metaphorical level, the sneak attack simply means writing an inordinate amount in a short period of time in order to make rapid but substantial progress on it. Most of your writing won't be done that way, but it is a helpful change of pace in certain circumstances. Aside from the work produced, it has the benefit of letting yourself know what you are capable of when given a block of time and an opportunity.

Metaphors like this help in the writing process because they shape behavior. I favor agonistic metaphors because for me they are motivating, though I wouldn't encourage anyone to use a metaphor just because I use it. Develop your own by all means.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No More Articles?

I'm thinking I could get away with not writing any more articles and writing only books from now on. My justification is that articles are a distraction. They either form part of the book project, in which case they are redundant, or else they don't, in which case they take away from the big enchilada. My reasons for writing articles are these:

1) I get asked to. I don't want to disappoint the person asking me, or not figure among the list of people in the special issue or book.

2) A book takes a long time to come out. Articles can be faster. I need to show yearly activity in research, but articles fill in the gaps and make me look busier.

3) Sometimes I have an article-length idea that doesn't fit into my current book projects.

4) Sometimes it is helpful to write things up in different forms before the finished chapter.

Only the third of these reasons is really a good one. The others are just forms of insecurity, being left out of the party, or fearing that my colleagues will think I'm a slacker (they won't). Since raises are minimal anyway, and research is always going to be my strong area, I could probably get away with no articles for the foreseeable future.

Of course, once I say this, I will probably decide to write another article. At once point I decided to write only articles from now on, no more books, and the result was the publication of two books three years later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Room for 3 more

In the top-secret writing group. Email me and we'll talk.

If I've deleted you and you still think you belong, write me and i'll let you back in. Really, though, the group is for people who are serious about checking in (almost) every week.

A New Way of Counting Words

Instead of counting words in the entire document, I am beginning to count the words before the asterisks. I place three *** between the part of the paper or chapter that is finished and the part that isn't. By counting the words before the ***, I am able to focus more on producing actual prose.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing Group

I'm thinking of doing something a little different with the writing group. For me it works fine: I set weekly goals and either meet them or don't (usually I do). I check in every week, except when I deliberately plan on not doing so when on vacation. I've made even more progress on my projects that I normally would have, and that is saying a lot because I was already a super-productive writer. A few others also check in every week and are doing well. Some, however, have not been heard from for a while.

So my plan is to figure out who has not posted in a few months and eliminate them, then invite new members to join. Thirdly, I'd like to set it up with more rigorous rules and perhaps a more formally defined set of interactions. I'm not sure what yet, so pardon my vagueness, but I think it has to be (and do) a little more than it is now.


We refinanced our house today, converting a 30 year loan into a shorter term note. While we were at it, we got a better deal on home insurance AND auto insurance, so we came out of the day in much better financial shape, only having to pay a little more a month in our house payment, and quite a bit less in insurance, while cutting years off the loan. Not only that, but I got some writing done.

Money, like time, can play some nasty tricks with your head. For some reason, both are hard to perceive accurately. What I mean is that it is very difficult to estimate costs or time frames accurately. We overestimate the time something will take, making an hour's work seem like twenty, but also let time slip away through inaction. Those two impulses might seem contradictory, but they are really part and parcel of the same dynamic, since we procrastinate when that one hour of work looms larger in the imagination than it should.

If I gave out money management tricks, they would be very similar to my time management ones. In both cases, it is all about how to perceive these quantities accurately. With money, as with time, I like to do things ahead of time, paying bills as quickly as I can, minimizing debts. I have to be quite adept at it, because I am paid only 9 months of the year and have to allocate extra funds for the summer. I spend a lot of time just transferring funds from one account to another in order to maximize my savings through a fairly complex system. As with my work time, I am always tweaking my finances for optimal results.


I'm back from my vacation to Spain. Curiously, I don't have any new gimmicks for you, but I would be glad to post on any relevant topic of your choice. Suggest topics in the comment box and I'll choose those I want to address over the next several days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bad at Vacations

I'm not that good at taking vacations. If I were really good, I would not be blogging now from my vacation in Spain. Here in Pontevedra I went to a museum where they showed some statues from the workshop of Mestre Mateo de Compostela. Of course, I thought immediately of Lorca's mention of this medieval master-craftsman in "Juego y teoría del duende."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Trabajar sin estar trabajando

When I am in Spain (like now) I try not to do any work-work, but I end up discussing ideas with colleagues here, buying books, speaking Spanish, and gaining some mental distance from my projects by seeing what they look like on this side of the Atlantic ocean. They sometimes look very different indeed. I think that if I were even better at taking vacations, my capacity for work would improve by just that much more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'll be leaving for Santiago this morning. I've scheduled some posts to appear while I'm gone, but I won't be blogging from Spain.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Research in a 2nd Language

Writing in Spanish is a wonderful for me. I have no grammatical problems with it, and the rhetorical flow is much more satisfying. I tend to think of fewer options to express my ideas, so the process is faster. My personality is different, since I tend to think in the commonplaces of Spanish prose rather than those of English. Sentences tend to be longer and less choppy. I have to explain fewer things, because the Spanish audience can be presumed to understand things that might be unclear for English speakers. There is no need for translations into English, so that saves a step or two as well.

I would like to write only in Spanish, but I also like writing for readers who don't know the language, as in Apocryphal Lorca. Explaining Spanish literature to those who don't know the language, including my relatives, is also highly satisfying.

Monday, July 4, 2011

300 Hours

I'm going to try something different for my next project, Lorca: modelo para armar: devote about 300 hours to getting a good first draft. Approximately 100 days at 3 hours each, to produce 140 words an hour, for 7 chapters of 6,000 words each. I will check off each hour I spend on this project. I'm writing in Spanish so the work will go fast.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Next Project

If you have a project in mind after the one you are completing now, as I usually do, this could present a problem. The next project could demand to be started; it could cannibalize your present efforts. My rule is not to think too much about future projects, keep them at the level of fantasy. Oftentimes, the next project is not even the next project, but a kind of distracting notion that I should be doing something else, anything else, because I am sick to death of the current project.

My next book was going to be on Antonio Gamoneda. Then it was supposed to be another book on Lorca. Then it was going to be two books, one on performativity in poetry and the other on Spanish modernism. Then the performativity book and the modernism project collapsed into a single book, which has a chapter on Gamoneda from the first book-that-never-was, plus elements from the other three ideas.

Now my next project is nicknamed (for internal use only) Another Damned Lorca Book. I don't yet know whether it is just reflecting my sense that I have more to say about Lorca I cannot fit in What Lorca Knew, or whether it's something I really need to write. In any case, there will be a volume 6 of my complete critical works, but I'm not sure it will be end up being ADLB or not.

Blogging is actually great for generating new ideas and discussing them without actually having to begin them. I will be blogging on Bemsha Swing a good deal about ADLB.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It is good to have another gear into which you can shift when needed. I know that I can accomplish a tremendous amount in a very short period of time when I need to. It is also good not to always use this gear.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Time Design for Fall Semester

Monday: Drive to Kansas. Planning session in the p.m.

T: 9-12. Work on courses (prep / grading). 1-2:15: Class. 2:15-4: Library or coffee shop.

Wed. 9-12. Research time. 1-4. Work on courses (prep / grading). 4-7: class.

Th. 9-10:30. Research time. 10:30-12: course work. 1-2:15: class. 3:00 p.m. Prosody group. 4 p.m. dept meetings once a month.

Friday. Drive to St. Louis. p.m. planning session.

Sat. day off.

Sun. Research day.

If I can be efficient enough during the course preparation hours, I should be able to fit some writing in too, once I get ahead of the game. I've scheduled ample time to prepare so that I won't skimp on preparation or fall behind in grading. On weeks I don't drive to St. Louis I will have extra research time.


I often feel the need to streamline, to do things even more simply than before. Streamlining is reducing clutter, routinizing tasks that should be routine, removing unnecessary obstacles. Summer is a good time for streamlining because you can think back to your routine in the school year and think: "Why do I do things in such a roundabout way?"

I'll have a streamlined semester in the fall, because I am teaching a class on Wed. evening, once a week, and only one class on T/Th. I should be able to come up with a work plan in which everything for my two classes grading and prep, can be done in a few blocks of time on T/W/Th. 3 hours on each day, for example. If I have the discipline to do that then I will be in great shape.