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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...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Small Risks / Big Opportunities

In many cases the risks of trying new things, applying for grants, or otherwise putting yourself out there, are miniscule. But the gains can be enormous. The main risk of applying to a prestigious fellowship is that the time invested in the process would be better spent elsewhere. I've certainly felt at times that I was spending too much time chasing money to do my research and not enough time doing it. Other than that, there is not much of a downside. Send an article to a journal that you think might reject it, you waste time that would otherwise go to having it considered somewhere more realistic. You could also risk the disappointment that comes with rejection. However, the pay-off could be very great indeed. If the likelihood of success is even 10%, it might be a good gamble, if it does not entail a huge amount of work.

I used to just always have a grant proposal. Whenever something came up, I would modify that proposal for the requirements of that competition.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not Breaking the Chain

I have written for about a month using the method of the Seinfeld Chain. The end few days of January plus (by now) almost all of February. If I break the chain, that will be ok, because I can just start a new one. I can't say that I have written brilliantly for all 30 days, but I have maintained continuity. Compared to what I would have done without writing every day, I am quite satisfied. I have put myself in a position to write a chapter in March when I have spring break. After March, I only have April and part of May to teach, before NEXT JANUARY. (Unless I teach a summer class for some extra money, which I might do.) So I will be able to get a whole lot done since writing will be my full-time job for almost 9 months.

To review: the Seinfeld chain involves a calendar, and keeping track of how many days in a row you can write or do significant research on your project.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


In the free-weight room the other day, I noticed that I had the smallest pectoral muscles of anyone in there. Yet I can do 60 pushups! Something doesn't add up here.

Of course, men (mostly men) who are in that room in the first place are a self-selecting group. Walking down the street I am slightly more muscular than average, but in the weight room I am scrawny.

Of course, I am also only 5' 8" and 160 lbs. Probably everyone else lifting weights were between five-eleven and six-four, and 190-230, I would guess. I am strong relative to my weight. I am also 30 years older than most of them, so I feel good just being there, even if I am the proverbial 98-lb weakling.

So I guess the metaphor here is about comparing yourself to other people. You could feel one way walking down the street, among non-academic civilians. You are smarter than them. Another way in your own department, a self-selected group of people all working in the same discipline, and another way in the profession, where the smartest guy or gal in one particular department might be mediocre on the national scene.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Modest Proposal

My new grandiose idea is that I would teach a poetry translation workshop in the MFA program here at Kansas. The three poets who teach graduate courses are good friends of mine and respect me, so they probably would let me do this. I am going to float this idea past them very soon.

This has to do, a bit, with my sense that all of what I know is not coming out in my teaching. I would like my teaching to reflect a more complete sense of everything I have to offer. It's not that I mind teaching advanced composition, but the question is what is the very best use of my talents, modest as they might be.

Why this never occurred to me before, I have no idea. I am in a phase now of personal and professional growth which is making me quite happy. I am allowing myself to think in these more ambitious ways, in ways I wouldn't have thought of before.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Shift

It is day 22 of the Chain. The idea behind the Seinfeld chain is to string together as many days of working on your research agenda as possible. I usually think of at least an hour as my minimum, or 200 words.

Today, I feel I hate Lorca and all of my own ideas about Lorca. In order to avoid burn-out but keep the chain alive, I am going to work on a translation of a book of poems by María Victoria Atencia. Tomorrow, I will not hate all my ideas any more, and will come back refreshed.

One way to write every day without getting burned out is to shift, occasionally, your writing task.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


For years I've wanted to be the ambitious research guy, the one who out-publishes every one else. I am, pretty much, the archetype of that guy, and I always will be.

Now, however, aside from the 1-3 hours I spend a day on research, I'd also like to do some other things. Now I am seeing the research as just one plank in the platform.

The other things I am working on are

(1) Self-care. Eating better and exercising. Meditation. Various other kinds of positive things that will lead me to have a satisfying personal life. (Or a personal life, period.)

(2) Mentorship and advocacy. Helping other people achieve their goals, whether these people are readers of my blog, friends, or students.

I don't see this as having a balance between work and life, but as having various aspects of work and non-work life be parts of the entire package. This blog is mainly about those 2 hours of writing I try to do in a day, but there is a lot more going on with me than that.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing Every Day (2)

One advantage of writing every day is that it abbreviates the "start up" time for a writing session. I can go immediately to a document and know exactly what I am doing, without going through the laborious process of figuring out what it's all about. It is as though I never stopped working on it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Every Day

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Men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts

Aristotle had a unique perspective on virtue, stressing the importance of habituation. We act virtuously not because of some inner essence of virtue but, partly at least, by developing good habits. Behavior itself determines results. He drew an analogy with artistic pursuits, like lyre-playing.

Of course, both good and bad players of the lyre become lyre-players by playing the lyre, as he goes on to point out. The habit might not be sufficient, but it is necessary. Writers write rather than sitting around talking about what they are going to write in the future.

Many negative behaviors also fall in the category of the "habit." The word itself is a metonymy for an addiction to drugs, in popular parlance. Most negative behaviors are not one-time phenomena, but persistent patterns of behavior.

The Project Does Its Work On You

Once you get used to writing every day, you will simply do it. It will be rarely necessary to muscle your way through it. It will be easy to sit down and write. I've always argued that beginning the writing session is the only really hard part. Once you are there, you will get something done.

I think it was Aristotle who pointed out that habit is a stronger force than character. In other words, what defines us is what we do habitually. To be someone who reads a lot of novels means to read novels many days out of the year, not to be someone who, in theory, is a reader, but can rarely be found in the company of books.

Today I was thinking that I was not getting much done by adding only 80 words to the chapter before I go to the gym. But by exposing myself to what I had already written, I was also allowing my project to get its work done on me. I have enough written on this new book (16,000 words of notes with a little bit of finished prose) that just by reading what I have written already I can inspire more of my own thoughts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An offer you can refuse if you want

Feel free to refuse this offer. I won't put a mutilated horse in your bed. Read this blog and try to use some the tips for your own writing. If you have an experience to relate, I will let you do a guest post here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Muscling through it

Sometimes you just have to push through your writing through sheer will and strength. Today was such a day for me, when I decided just to force myself to write in otherwise unpropitious circumstances.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

15th day of the chain

Today was the 15th day of my Seinfeld chain. I barely made it yesterday, which was a horrible day in more than one way. I still did it though. Today was easy. Tomorrow looks nearly impossible.

Since the power is in the continuity, not in the efficacy of any one day's writing, I try to do something on the project every day, even when exhausted and spent like today. The writing got done, that is the important thing, not how I feel.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Concentration Secrets

Increasingly, I've used begun to listen to music while doing nothing else. I concentrate on the music itself rather than using it as background. When I meditate, and dismiss other thoughts that come up. When I am teaching, I am doing that. Nothing outside the classroom discussion exists for me. When I'm talking to a friend, that person gets my full attention.

When I write, I shut out other distractions. It could be in a crowded, noisy café, but that's what I do.

The secret of concentration is very simple. Don't multitask. Just devote yourself to whatever it is you are doing. It's true that I recite Shakespeare in the shower, so that while I am showering I am not only showering. Most things, though, are worth doing for themselves, without any other activity interceding.

If you think you can only concentrate for 10 minutes, then start there. Work on your project for exactly 10 minutes and gradually work up from there. You really only need to be able to concentrate for 25-30 minutes in order to make good progress on a larger project. You can write for 25 minutes, take a break, then do it again. Once you are used to concentrating it becomes habitual. You can turn your email off for those 25 minutes, because nothing is that urgent that can't wait such a short time.

I can concentrate for three hours on a project. That's about my limit, but I rarely have to work 3 hours a day on my research and writing. It's nice to know I could work three hours straight and think of nothing else, but I almost never have to use that excess capacity because I can accomplish a tremendous amount in 2 1/4 hours.


Often, I will tell myself that I have no concentration on a particular day before I even try to work. A huge mistake. It is much better to work anyway and then have the *concentration habit* quick in once you begin. The worst that can happen is a mediocre writing session that keeps in touch with your project. On days I don't feel like exercising I might go to the gym anyway. I tell myself: "I will go to the gym in my gym clothes even though I am not going to exercise at all. " Then, once I am there, I figure out I might as well work out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

100 / 500 /1,000

If I write an produce 100 new words on a document, that just means I showed up for work and did something. If I produce 500 words, that means I showed up and stayed around for at least an hour or so. There has to something valuable in those words, some new idea, or the articulation or fleshing out of an idea or two. If I produce 1,000 words or more then I really kicked it into high gear. That usually means 2 1/2 hours or 3. I might have copied and pasted some quotes from other sources, or written parts of several chapters. Today, since I only wrote a bit before and after classes, was a 500 day. I will have the Mirth writing group tomorrow, where we sit around a table and write while not talking to one another. That is always good for 750 or 900. I've almost done two weeks of a chain of continuous writing. If I can get through the weekend, then I can probably continue that for the following two weeks at least, through almost the beginning of March.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Yes, I did write more than you did today and I'm happy.

Annals of Peer Review

[Details changed to protect anonymity]

I reviewed an article a few years ago that was almost all summary. It spoke with a firm voice of authority, giving a very good and readable summary of a non-fiction book by a Peruvian novelist. The article, however, was rejected because it didn't have a critical argument apart from the summary. The quotes from the novelist were lengthy, but the author of the article didn't really analyze them. Normally, I like a lack of signposting, but in this case there was no introduction, no conclusion, no sense that there were three (or four) main points to be made. The summary just went seamlessly through the book and explained all of it. We never found out what the author of the article really thought about anything. There was no independent critical voice or separation between the the voice of author and critic. We never found out why the non-fiction work was important, or why a non-specialist author should care about any of it.

There are many ways to go wrong. Unhappy articles come in many forms and shapes. The complete lack of effort to frame an article is very unusual, but it can also happen.


Here is the record I kept of my writing on the introduction to a book I am writing. I started with 411 words, then it snowballed from there. Mirth and Henry's are cafés in Lawrence.

(Before: 411.)
Nov. 7, 2011: 1336. (3 pomodoro sessions)
Nov. 8: 1627 (1 pomodoro session)
Nov 9: 1926 (1 pomodoro session)
Nov. 10: 2292 (1 pomodoro session)
Dec. 3: 2957 (2 pomodoro sessions)
Dec. 4: 4140 (1 pomodoro session [mostly copy and paste])
Dec. 7 4488 (1 pomodoro session) [added chapter on queer]
Dec. 19 5077 (2 pomodoro sessions)
Dec. 21 2943 (1 pomodoro session / broke off two chapters)
January 21: 1524. (1 pomodoro session / broke off remaining chapters)
January 25: 1531 (Writing at Mirth)
January 27: 1677 (Mirth)
January 29: 2124 (3 Pomodoro sessions)
Jan. 30: 2801 (solo writing at Henry’s)
Jan. 31: 3356. [writing in office before and between classes]
Feb. 1: 4040. [writing while proctoring exam]
Feb. 2: 4246. [writing in office and between classes]
Feb. 3: 4408 [Writing in Hotel. day 6 of chain]
Feb. 5 / 4448 [Hotel]
Feb. 7 / 4757 [writing in office before class]
Feb. 8. / 5537 [mirth]

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I have decided to put myself up for distinguished professor. There, I said it. The secret is out. Someone else nominates you, but you have to do a substantial amount of of the work yourself.

I don't feel very distinguished from the inside, most of the time. I don't think most people think of themselves that way, even semi-arrogant people such as me. I always expect people to say, "Ha, so you think you are distinguished!" Yet if I look at my cv from the outside, as though it were someone else's, then I am more impressed with myself. A third perspective is when I read something I have written in the past and no longer remember writing it. Then I can experience the semi-objective frisson of thinking the guy I used to be had something to say.

From inside I just feel like the average bookish college professor. I am not impressed because that's just who I naturally am. Everything I do just flows naturally from the fact that I was the kid reading more books than everyone else around me.

"The reason why I always thought that academic writing was hard is because I wasn’t doing enough of it."

Great insight here from Clarissa. She is one of the success stories of SMT. She has read the blog for a while now and and has been able to implement the suggestions in her working life, with satisfying results. Recently, she has had three articles accepted for publication. That is a a lot of articles to be accepted, since a half-dozen makes for a good basis for a tenure case.

It is hard to write one (and only one) article a year. Writing a bit more is easier, because then you are assuming the responsibility of being a scholar as part of your normal, everyday job. Writing one article a year is like taking one bicycle ride a year. It is very hard: you have to get your bike out, put air in the tires, wipe the cobwebs off, find your helmet. You won't even be in shape to ride the bike. Riding a few times a week, however, is very easy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What's a Good Excuse?

As a college professor, I have never missed class to illness in 16 years of teaching at KU. I have missed for professional travel and once for weather. An excuse to miss class for me, then, would be an illness truly incapacitating or violently contagious, or crashing my car on the morning of class and not arriving. Being too tired, burn-out of this particular class, having a headache, etc... would not be legitimate reasons. I wouldn't miss class because I didn't have time to go, being busy with other things.

So what would it mean to treat your writing time like a class you had to meet? The first thing you will realize here is that the greater flexibility, being able to start writing at 7 or 8 or 9 or 10, is a disadvantage rather than an advantage. It is much easier to treat a class as a fixed obligation because it is at a particular time, and ends at a preordained hour too. Secondly, you will realize that if you miss a writing session, nobody complains! You won't be fired from your job, even if you miss 90% of your appointments with yourself. This, once again, is a disadvantage wrapped in an advantage.

You could probably write when you are even too sick to teach. You can write when you are traveling, as I am doing today in a hotel room. You can write on vacation with a laptop for an hour in the morning and still have a great vacation.

So as an experiment one week, just schedule your writing as you would a class. Six hours a week? Treat that obligation just as seriously. Show up at the appointed time. Have your cellphone and email off, the same way you would while teaching. Lock your office door and pretend not to be there if anyone knocks. Don't worry about not having time to do this. In your new frame of mind that would be like not having time to teach your class.

Day 8

On day 8 of my Seinfeld Chain I am seeing my project much more clearly. I can envision a completion date, even. I realize that if I continue to work more or less randomly on the seven chapters for the rest of the month of Feb. (and pretty much every day), then I will have a good base for each chapter to be completed in about month or a month and a half each. In March - December of 2012 I could finish two books, before I resume teaching in January '13. But only if I continue the chain method. March I would do Chapter 2 (the intro is chapter 1). I know I could do this because this is already one of the best developed chapters. April is my last full month of teaching, so after that I have May - December (summer plus sabbatical).

I also realized what my project Lorca: modelo para armar is really about: restoring Lorca to modern critical theory and, simultaneously, to the modern poetic tradition itself. Those two projects are joined at the hip, because I need modern theory in order to explain how he is a modern poet.

Of course, there is a basis is the previously existing Lorca criticism for my project, but I still think my book will be an extremely significant and influential one. I hope you will forgive me thinking this. It is not really me talking, it is the enthusiasm I have derived from the chain of continuous days working on the project.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Power of the Chain

As of today, I have maintained a continuous chain of working on a project for 5 consecutive days. That might seem short, but I am already feeling the power of it. I proctored the PhD exam yesterday, so I had to sit there and write for three straight hours in a room with no internet connection. I added over a 1,000 words to this project and generated many new ideas. That might not had happened if I hadn't written the three days prior to that.

If you break your chain, simply begin again. Imagine that you wrote consecutively for 10 days, then 5 more, then 20, then 3, with one-day breaks in between. You will have written for 38 days with only three days of not being productive. Compare that with the normal pattern of maybe writing two or three times a week.

The beauty of it is that you don't have to worry if any particular chain is short, 3 or 4 days. Even that is better than the guy who finds time only once a week to nurture his project. Even if your average length chains is 3 days, you will be fine. Just remember that there are people like me out there, people who not only have the intellectual capability to publish scholarship of high quality, but who also can work over a hundred days straight on a major project.