A tip: if at first you don’t succeed, re-analyze your plan of attack and try again.
Over the weekend I tried desperately to get some work done on this one paper I’ve got looming. I did get one draft pounded out, but try as I might I couldn’t seem to do any editing. Every time I sat down to work, I realized that something else needed to get done: my desk needed to be cleaned, my floor needed vacuuming, I had other things I needed to write, I hadn’t answered x, y, or z e-mail, etc.
It took some serious oomph before I realized I had to resort to the old stand-by: print and red pen.
When I was in my Master’s, I didn’t do anything electronically. Every single paper I wrote was something that I would (admittedly) preliminarily type, but then hand-edit. Draft after draft after draft I would ink to my heart’s content and, after about six to ten drafts, I would have something worth turning in.
In recent years, I’ve tried to become a bit more “green” and conscious of precisely how many trees I was killing in the process of producing 60-80 finished pages of writing a semester (multiply by 8; the average number of drafts I go through; yikes). Not to mention the money I was spending on ink and paper (which, believe me, wasn’t insignificant). I developed some ability to edit at my keyboard and I’ve even produced full papers without printing more than three drafts.
But this one was simply eluding me. It was taunting me on the screen and I was left with no recourse.
I printed, and went for a walk.
I find that, given the right environment and the right project, I can be much more productive away from my desk than at it. This only works for papers in draft form as, before they are
coherent, I have to reference the piles and piles of books from the book fort I’ve built on the floor next to aforementioned desk. But once I do have something I’m playing with, once the words are on the page, often times the only way I can advance past this is to go to a coffee shop and not let myself come home until I’m done drafting.
It does two things: first it removes any possibility of distraction (especially if I’m a good good girl and turn my phone off for the duration of my writing session), and secondly it gives me the impetus to work faster. If I want to go home in any reasonable length of time, well then I had better get to business hadn’t I? Often, there are artificial limitations on this: how long can I sit without a break for the necessities (food, nose-powdering, etc.), but if I work diligently, I can crank out a draft of a 20-page paper within the two to three hour time window that my attention span and biology usually allot for.
So that’s just what I did yesterday. I took my draft, I took my red pen, and I bought myself a giant iced coffee and went to town.
Luckily, it was a random daytime during a Monday so there weren’t many people there to talk around me (something I can’t abide while I’m working). I also happen to know a great place that doesn’t play obnoxious music (another thing I really can’t work through).
Writing, actually writing, the old fashioned way with a pen, is very romantic. Whenever I do so at a coffee shop, I can’t help but imagine myself into some antiquated notion of academia where we all wear tweed suits and use monocles. There’s something nostalgic about it; an act that connects you to your forefathers. Everyone I’ve ever read wrote this way (and certainly those I most admire wrote this way); pen in hand, caffeine source nearby. I guess unless you’re Kerouac in which case I’m not sure I’d want to write the way you wrote…
Anyway, my ploy worked! This paper is in great shape, all of my projects are under control, and despite any misgivings I may have about walking away from my desk at the end of today (because I know there’s more work to do, I just can’t do more work right now), I can comfort myself with the fact that everything is where it should be and nothing is getting left out in the cold.
…Unless I’m forgetting something huge. Which is always a possibility.