things I’m learning about myself

20Jan11

I’ve written before about my “writing process.” To recap: when I am first drafting a chapter, I spend several weeks reading through my sources and taking notes. (For various reasons not worth getting into, my dissertation is structured in such a way that each chapter really is a blank canvas and I read the set of sources relevant to each chapter as I go along.) As I’m reading the materials, thoughts and arguments come into view. Around the time that I’m roughly 70-75% through the material, I have a fairly strong sense of the argument that I’m going to try out. I then rush to pick and choose the most key pieces out of the remaining 25-30%, and then get writing as soon as possible.

So while I am constantly working, and while some of that work involves “writing” (there are long paragraphs in red strewn throughout my notes), there is a distinct shift when it comes time to actually commit to writing the chapter. Notes are printed out and piled up. A few handwritten, rough outlines appear. My thesaurus makes its way onto the table.

In other words, I have a distinct chapter mode. And I’m in that chapter mode right now. And given that I’m writing in slightly less than ideal circumstances (i.e. no office or carrel or other private space that isn’t my bedroom), some things have become clear. First, I work best in complete isolation. I need to be able to control the heat. I need to control the volume on the television. For the most part I work in silence or with my headphones in but occasionally some background television noise is desired. But not just anything will work. Food Network or HGTV are ideal, Diane Sawyer banging on about herself on OWN is not. The volume setting of 2, or 3 at a push, is fine. 7 is unacceptable. I should not be able to follow along word-for-word with ear plugs in.

It also turns out that when I’m in chapter mode, I get irritated incredibly easily. My roommate’s job is in a bit of a lull right now, and she’s constantly at home. This does not work for me. We end up spending hours a mere few feet away from each other b/c there’s only one space in the house to work other than the bedroom. Today, I’d made breakfast around noon and was getting ready to sit down to work when my roommate unexpectedly waltzes in. My mood plummeted instantly, especially since I already knew she’s taking tomorrow off. The TV was loud, in part my fault b/c I’d set it that loud when I was relaxing before sitting down to work.

Other things happened today that are even more tedious that what I’ve just described, but suffice it to say, I gave up and my irritation and anger levels were out of control.

So, things I’ve learned about what I need when I write: complete isolation, competence from the people I interact with (not my roommate but a library staffer), a steady supply of coffee and food, a large table to spread out my materials, and most importantly, a room that I can sit in for hours at a time that has a door that shuts between me and the world. I used to think that having a man in my life would be ideal during chapter mode but now I’m not so sure. I was in chapter mode last summer and proceeded to permanently wreck an on-off situation I’d been in for three years.

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One Response to “things I’m learning about myself”

  1. I wrote my thesis in complete isolation, complete isolation, competence from the people I interact with, a steady supply of coffee and food, …in a room that I used for hours at a time that has a door that shuts between me and the world.


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