Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writing Challenge


As you might guess from the spotty postings of this blog, my professional limiting factor is writing.

I actually write a lot—almost daily since I was in elementary school and my brilliant 4th grade teacher taught us to keep a journal. But I spin my wheels a lot. Much of my writing is private—for me only, to help clarify thoughts. And it works: my thoughts, feelings, and ideas are generally not muddy, as long as I’ve spent time writing about them.  But I have a difficult time translating this to lots of writing for public consumption/professional well being. Likely this is because of fear—my own fear of falling flat, realizing that what ends up coming out on the page is only an approximation to the richness that I sense internally.

So though I would like my writing to be just like my cooking, which delivers food to the table most days and is often delicious but occasionally a disaster requiring a replacement pizza, my writing is too often overbaked, undercooked, tough, and sometimes inedible yet with a few delicious morsels here and there. It is sometimes good, but inconsistent.

This is frustrating, because as a faculty member I’m externally evaluated on both the quality (Q) and quantity (q) of my writing. Q might be more important, but q is easier to count, so I need to cover both. I use the approximate formula Q ln (q) for evaluations.  A higher Q ln (q) will make funding my research program easier, which will allow me to comfortably pull another student or two into my group, which will make for a richer program, which will increase my Q ln (q), which will hopefully help feed a self-sustaining positive cycle.

So once again I am embarking on a personal journey of low-level self-discipline and systematic rewards to help me become a better writer. I do this almost every year and--hooray--it results in incremental improvement most years.

Want to join me? The goal is to write every day at least a little bit: in 25-minute increments most days and 15 minutes on teaching days. Every 10 hours of writing, we treat ourselves to a manicure, to more fully participate in #ManicureMonday. When we log 1000 hrs, we will go on a shopping/cheese-eating spree to Paris. There are lots of delicious carrots to nibble along the way, and no sticks except those internal ones that we will harvest for our campfire where we toast marshmallows and sing folk songs after we finish our daily writing.

I am sorry I cannot offer anything other than incremental improvement; but occasionally if you’re lucky and the timing is right something “clicks-in” and things really do change.

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