Category Archives: Dissertation

2014 Failures (and Successes)

So… these were my writing-ish goals for 2014:

  • Finish the Dissertation. No, really. Stick a freaking spork in this thing. [hahaha. ok, so I got it to almost-done, and then I got distracted. see below.]
  • Move TC (the lit journal) to WordPress. [YES! YES, I DID THIS.]
  • Establish freelance editing business. [I made some moves in that direction at the beginning of the year, but then other things took precedence.]
  • Keep record of words written (so I don’t have to answer with a vague ‘maybe?’ to 500-words-a-day challenge question next year ;)). [Yeah, no. zzz.]
  • Bonus: Do something creative with my Tumblr. (deliberate vagueness!) [Also no.]

Ok, so what happened is I applied to teach a class and was hired, so I got distracted with that. (I knew this would happen, which is why I stuck with TAing for so long. But I really like this class–it’s feminism/info tech, so…) Getting it all organized, syllabus & stuff, in July/Aug, and then teaching it for the first time in the fall. Anyway, I’m teaching the same class this semester, so it should be easier. So back to the neverending dissertation I go… (blah. I’m so over it, tbh. which is how I’ve felt at the end of every degree, so… I think that’s a good thing?)

Usual TC contributions:

I’m getting good at doing “cheat” articles 😉 And I love co-writing in docs with Steph. The September article was so fun to write.

What else? Oh, I started those “some things I read this month” posts b/c I read more than just books. I like those, will continue. And I started making Pinterest-friendly images for our articles at TC b/c I noticed we were getting lots of traffic from there. TC’s traffic is wayyyy up since I moved everything to WordPress, so I’m pretty stoked about that. Also, I did like a comic thing for the March AB article and Steph and I started doing podcasts. Look at me, putting my drawings and voice on the interwebs. So yeah, I may have failed at most of my named goals for the year, but (THE) OPPOSITE was an excellent word-of-the-year choice. My track record of being better at just doing things than setting/meeting goals remains intact.

With that said, I have just one writing goal for 2015: FINISH THE DAMN DISSERTATION.

And my word for the year is: OPEN.


the book you write is real

What’s in your head is seemingly infinitely richer than what you finally get down on the page. I think that’s why some people never actually get the writing done. They have a dream of a book in their head, and every attempt to write it down feels impoverished. The difference used to bother me until I thought about what the tradeoff was. The book in your head may be the platonically ideal book you could write, while the book you do write may seem a poor beast indeed, Caliban to your ideal book’s Prospero. But the book you write is real. And when you finish, you can hold it in your hands.

Richard Rhodes

the finish line

The finish line at the end of a career is no different from the finish line at the end of a match. The objective is to get within reach of that finish line, because then it gives off a magnetic force. When you’re close, you can feel that force pulling you, and you can use that force to get across. But just before you come within range, or just after, you feel another force, equally strong, pushing you away. It’s inexplicable, mystical, these twin forces, these contradictory energies, but they both exist. I know, because I’ve spent so much of my life seeking the one, fighting the other, and sometimes I’ve been stuck, suspended, bounced like a tennis ball between the two.

Andre Agassi

So. Real. I don’t think it’s ‘inexplicable’ or ‘mystical’ though. Isn’t it obvious what pushes you away from the finish line? Once you cross it (unless you’re in a position to rest on your laurels for the rest of your life, which most of us are not), you have to find a new goal, start over. Starting is always hard, but it’s even more so when you’ve been focused on a major goal for a really long time. And when you’d like to something different than what’s seen as the natural next step, the decision can be fraught.

I’m not done my dissertation draft, but I’ve officially reached the point at which I would have a 12- to 15-page paper the night before it was due (all-nighters ftw). Which means for the first time in this process I can see the finish line. Realistically, a few more weeks and I will be sticking a spork in it. I’m… relieved. Maybe the thrill will come later, after I’ve finished formatting it (so not looking forward to that), or after the feedback process, or after the defense, or after the official “yes, you are graduating” notice, or… well, let’s just say, I’m not one for counting my chickens before they’re hatched. But a weight lifted this week.

the incredible fragmentation of things

Rebecca Scherm: What might we be surprised to see in your first drafts?

A.M. Homes: The enormous number of pieces of paper, the incredible fragmentation of things. Fragments and half-sentences that I don’t put together for a long time. Hundreds of pages of notes, and then I build the story from that, like knitting or sewing. Increasingly, I work by hand, with pencil and paper. I get better connectivity that way, but then I have to type it up really quickly because I can’t read my handwriting.

Everything is Breaking News:
An Interview with A.M. Homes

showing up

This time, I never promised myself that would speak Spanish. I just promised myself that I would practice every day. … I feel like the path for my Spanish work had been set in a lot of ways by my yoga practice. For me yoga has never been about how flexible you are, or whether you can stand on your hands. It’s about showing up. In a way, almost anything that’s worth doing is just about showing up. Not worrying about the big goal but taking baby steps, every single day and trusting that you’ll get there.

Amy Azzarito

this vocation is not a sprint

Postal submissions taught writers that this vocation is not a sprint. Writing is a series of marathons separated by long respites, where we regain breath and build strength. It is time for writers to slow down again, so that our performance in the next race can be better, more meaningful, and if we are lucky, closer to the eternal, mysterious rewards of art.

Nick Ripatrazone

the furious finish is part of the process

I used to think that I needed wide open days and uncluttered hours to get important creative work done. Sometimes that’s true. But I’ve also learned that perhaps more important than what happens when I’m staring at the page is what happens when I’m not. How I chew on the idea in my downtime. My subconscious must know about the deadline—needs it, even—and works feverishly to pull it all together. Perhaps it’s even a pipe dream to imagine having something done early enough to bask in its finished glory with a glass of wine. And maybe that’s not even the point—writing is work and the furious finish is part of the process.

S. Hope Mills

2014: The Opposite

Ok, I admit I’m terrified to revisit my 2013 writing goals post, but let’s do it. Click.

2013 Writing (+ Reading) Goals

  • continue with 500 words a day challenge {hmm, maybe? need better record-keeping skillz}
  • write at least one essay {do blog posts count? ;)} + submit it [no]
  • read more books, especially fiction YES!
    • read some of these books + write reviews and/or interview authors YES!
    • read some new-to-me books on writing YES! + write an article {wrote articles, but not about those books}
    • read some of these books YES!
  • keep a reading journal YES!
  • keep on top of my book posts YES!
  • blog better YES!
  • tweet about new blog posts {working on this}
  • work on a business plan YES!
  • start a sketchbook [no]
  • snail mail {tally: 15, including packages}
  • finish The Dissertation [no, but thisclose]

Hmm, that wasn’t as terrible as I anticipated. Whew.

Things I did in 2013:

Made a lot of progress on the dissertation. Part of the reason I posted this was to remind myself how much I actually accomplished since last January. I know time’s supposed to fly, and on a day-to-day basis it sometimes feels like it, but when I look at those book covers, it seems like a million years ago. I think I was losing sight of the forest for the trees. So, perspective.

I did TC Mini-Nano again (try it! it’s fun!). Extra-pleased with my story because not only did I get to 5,000 words, I wrote a complete first draft. Still needs a ton of work, of course, but so happy to have a story with an END.

Started a linked story collection (3 stories so far, including my mini-nano story, a story I’ve been noodling around with for a while, and one that came out of nowhere).

I started what I’ve been calling “the Big List” (a la “the Big Salad”). It’s just a neverending to-do list in my (paper) writer’s notebook. When I think of something I need to do, I write it down. When I do it, I cross it off. What can I say. I love making lists and crossing stuff off them.

I also “scribbled” a lot of ideas in my digital writer’s notebook in Scrivener.

I read two of Janet Mullany’s books, reviewed one (Review of The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullany) and interviewed Janet (“Toasted Cheese Success Stories: Interview with Janet Mullany“).

I also wrote two other Absolute Blank articles: “So You Want to Write an Article…” and “‘You Shortlisted My Submission… Why Didn’t it Make the Final Cut?’” and three Snark Zones: “Unqualified Praise Only, Please,” “The Star-Ratings Tango,” and “CTRL-Z.”

Moved TC (the main site) to WordPress. Yeah, 13 years of hand-coding was enough.

In my quest to read more for fun, I started reading books at breakfast, and whoa. By the end of the year, I’d read 30 books. Success.

And yes, I kept a reading log (notes while reading), which made keeping up with my book posts way easier.

Got my feed reader under control. Ditched a bunch of feeds and organized the rest into 5 themes, each of which I only check once a week.

Started listening to podcasts in the kitchen. Gold, Jerry, gold! (How is this writing-related? Well, some of them are writing podcasts, of course.)

Watched a bunch o’ new(ish) movies. (Writing-related because movies about writers. Also screenwriters write them. And some are based on books. Just go with it.)

Learned how to knit. (Writing-related because this.)

Lesson: I may be better at just randomly starting to do things than setting goals. But, hey, it’s January, so… let’s set some goals for 2014!

  • Finish the Dissertation. No, really. Stick a freaking spork in this thing.
  • Move TC (the lit journal) to WordPress.
  • Establish freelance editing business.
  • Keep record of words written (so I don’t have to answer with a vague ‘maybe?’ to 500-words-a-day challenge question next year ;)).
  • Bonus: Do something creative with my Tumblr. (deliberate vagueness!)

Ok, that’s it. Keeping it simple. If I accomplish those things, it’ll be time to break out the champagne.

And, oh right. I need a word/phrase. Until a few days ago, I had nothing, and then this came to me, and it felt right. So, I declare 2014 the year of “the opposite.” Maybe I’ll get hired as assistant to the traveling secretary for the Yankees.

Jerry: If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

George: Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!

the value of patience

Harvard University art history professor Jennifer Roberts … talked of the need to teach the value of patience in today’s world. By patience, she meant close looking and deep thinking for an extended time in order to make connections and observations that do not lie on the surface of things. … She points out that “access is not synonymous with learning” We can find anything instantly online, but when we look only for an instant, we don’t learn much. She goes on to say “What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience.”

—“Slowness” by Fred Lynch at Urban Sketchers.

almost incidental

There is something about the increased demand that fiction writers speak as themselves that feels like a violation of what I used to hold so sacred, the tenet that it is not about me but about the characters I create. …

Obviously, social media itself isn’t the trouble. The crux, as I see it, is that lately the substance of what we create is often considered almost incidental to the way that we writers, personally, market our product. We now must sell our books like we sell ourselves.

Peter Orner