Burn This *&$#@-Thesis Down Writing Retreat –Day 1

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4 days and a 40,000 word PhD thesis to write… Totally do-able right??

Of course, I am not starting from scratch- I’ve got about 30,000 words in a very messy, chaotic mess of a draft… I’m hoping being here (looks pretty ideal, right?) Will just push me over the “get this sucker done” huge wall that seems to be standing in my way.

Wish me luck.

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Rejection Perfection

Loving this article by the writer Kim Liao about having a rejection goal for the year. She shot for 100 rejections, and while she fell short of that goal (she got 43) she did get 5 acceptances- which, as she points out, would have felt like a daunting number to aim for. A little reverse psychology perhaps? But in both the academic and artistic communities I am a part of this seems like some great advice. How do you get better at your craft but by doing, doing, doing?! And how will anyone ever be able to see your work unless you are putting it out there?

In both the academic and artistic communities I am a part of, this seems like some really great advice. How do you get better at your craft but by doing, doing, doing?! And how will anyone ever be able to see your work unless you are putting it out there?! All. the time.

Rejection goals.

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Sh*t just got real…

OK- so I am not really sure that “the sh*t just got real” thing works in this context– I just really wanted an excuse to say that.

But, if it means that I need to really get my rear in gear– or my submission date is looming (September 29!!!) and I still do not have a full first draft… then yeah, sh*t just got real! (I tried typing it without the asterisk but couldn’t bring myself to leave it like that– I’ve got me some scruples, or I’m just an ol’ fuddy-duddy academic desperately grasping, and failing, to come off as edgy).

Because of my very full teaching schedule, today is the first day in months that I actually have the day (full work day) to write/work and of course, with that kind of freedom comes some trepidation– now I really have to do something. I am trying to go in with beginners mind— really just being present to what I am writing now and trying to not get ahead of myself or panic about all the work I haven’t done yet.

I am coupling that with a plan– mapping out what needs to be done. Got the white board wiped clean, new calendar pages ready to be filled in.

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I am walking into the white room  à la Twyla Tharp, ready to work, with a plan but open to surprises. And by surprises, I mean brilliant strokes of genius! Divine inspiration!

It’s real. 163 days… and counting. Let’s get this sh*t done!!!

Adrenaline junkie…who me?

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Several years ago a colleague in academia commented to me that procrastinators are adrenaline junkies, and I think about that idea every single freakin’ time I am writing or working on something, especially if it has a deadline.  It can be a paper, an article, rehearsing a show, marking student assignments, pizza lunch forms for the kids, whatever… I would say 98% of the time I come right down to the wire with it… almost every single freakin’ time I have anything to complete… right down to the wire. Am I really getting that much of a “rush” of adrenaline? Am I getting off on it, or is there something more going on?

According to Adam Grant’s January 2016 New York Times article “Why I Taught Myself To Procrastinate” while “procrastination is a vice for productivity”…it is also “a virtue for creativity”.   Grant’s research contends that our first ideas are usually our most conventional and by procrastinating we can let our mind wander thereby opening ourselves up to newer and more unexpected ideas and patterns. I gather that what he is suggesting is not that we should simply leave tasks completely untouched until the last minute but rather, start something and then leave it- let it simmer, come back with fresh eyes, ears and ideas. Grant lists several prolific procrastinators for whom leaving things last minute worked out very well for them, Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin, Bill Clinton, and Frank Lloyd Wright…my name is not on the list.

I can certainly buy the creativity angle, giving ideas time to percolate, allowing one’s self to feel a sense of spaciousness,  but I am not quite there yet. My procrastinating ways tend to lead  me into more dread and panic rather than whimsical creative wanderings, but, I am definitely curious to test out these theories.  Perhaps I will start with the pizza lunch forms…fill in my sons name, then my daughters, allow myself time to contemplate on whether to order two slices and the juice box option or three slices with desert, lose myself in thought over whether to pay by cash…or cheque, fully feel the impulse to include my signature before racing to the school to beg the secretary to accept my late forms so I don’t have to make lunch on Tuesday.

Build Me Up Break Me Down

I’ve realized I spend an awful lot of my time trying to form habits… the good ones, the productive and creative ones. Whether it is with my running, my health, finances, or my academics, I would say I am a bit obsessed with habits, and rituals. In my first year of my PhD I read countless books on the subject as I struggled to figure out what the hell I was doing and just how the hell I was going to get it done. Some of my favourite books on the subject included Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, which gave insights into the daily lives and habits of very famous writers and artists from Freud to Stravinsky to Woody Allen and The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It For Life, by Twyla Tharp, in which this remarkable woman and artist walks you through thirty-two exercises she has developed to be your most creative and productive self.

I have muddled about with setting my own rituals and habits in order to get more done, and have been, I think somewhat successful in finding a way to create a series of rituals that have made me feel more grounded, less frazzled and more ready to take on the work I have to do. In the last six months or so, I have been absolutely stringent in my rituals, even on weekends and holidays, and it looks something like this; I wake up at 4 am (I don’t use an alarm clock but just tell myself I want to wake up at a certain hour and it somehow works), I go into my office and do 20 minutes of yoga, 10 minutes of sitting meditation, sit down and write an intension for the day in my agenda and make a list of what I have to do that day. This is basically where the ritual ends…However, another ritual begins at around 5 am where in I go put the coffee on for and me and my old man sit and we sit have 2 coffees together before all hell breaks loose with kids and breakfast and making lunches and getting people out the door. We have been sitting and coffee together every weekday our entire married life (23+ years!) and it is definitely a ritual I cherish. But! back to MY newly developed ritual… I have been feeling quite good about it, it has helped me feel, as I said less frazzled and more settled, because after everyone has gotten out the door and it is time for me to sit down to work, I feel like I have already prepped myself and I can just get on with it. But I have to admit, although it felt really great to be so devoted to these ritual, it truly had become a habit in that, I found it really hard NOT do these things each morning. I would get anxious if I knew I had to be up late the night because I didn’t want to sleep in a miss my ritual time (I found it hard to be flexible with this time given that there are so many people in our house and so much of the ritual was wrapped up the delicious silence of the early morning) I would feel annoyed if someone got up early and I could hear them mooring around the house, and I became anxious about making sure that I carried on my ritual even when travelling, like I am now.
So I have tried a little experiment the last 3 days. I stepped away from my rituals. I wasn’t getting up at 4 am here in the UK, but my first almost week here I still woke and immediately unrolled my yoga mat, did my yoga, meditated, wrote out my intension and then put on the coffee. But something was nagging me to just step back, and it mostly had to do with me convincing myself that I have time. I have SO much time here and I am so not used to NOT having to scrounge out time for myself. Waking up at 4 am when I am at home is pretty much my only hope for finding that precious bit of space for myself, and I realized that that rhythm is so ingrained in me that even when I am travelling by myself I still feel that pull of having to hurry through my day, the clock is ticking and if I don’t take time for myself now, it will be gone.
So this is a bit of an experiment in making space for myself and working against the grain of the hurried life I normally live. The last few days here I have gotten up when I want because meetings etc. don’t start until midmorning. I sit quietly and have my coffee, or turn on a British real estate show, and than get up and start working when I feel ready. This scared me a bit at first because I was convinced that I would never “feel ready” and just “faff” my day away. “Faff” coincidently is a British word I just learned yesterday that means “to muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary”.
So here I am, 9:25 am, still in my pyjamas and faffing away on my blog.
A new faffing ritual perhaps?forget free time