Powering Through the Last Month of Dissertation Writing

This will be a short post, as I’m not feeling great at all these last couple of days. I’ve officially caught some bug, and the timing couldn’t get much worse given that I have less than a month to complete my dissertation in preparation for my March defense.

But as I frequently say to myself and my students, now is the time to “power through” the feeling sick, the exhaustion, the desire to let work slide. This does not mean that I’m working as productively or diligently as I do when I feel well, but it does mean that I don’t halt all work. If I did that, I’d lose momentum, quickly fall behind, and find it to be a real struggle when I try to then frantically wrap up my dissertation.

Instead, I’m taking a break from revising my last chapter in order to review some reading for my introduction. I still can review and read text right now even with the exhaustion and coughing. But final revisions require an objective eye and an alert brain, and I can’t claim to have either of those assets right now. So I continue to work a little each day to keep the momentum going and make a little progress, but I do so with lowered expectations. (Admittedly, even with lowered expectations, I still fall short, but that’s because I dream big so I don’t beat myself up about it–I’m just grateful for any progress.)

So I guess, for me, powering through means keep moving forward despite the obstacle(s). But also know your limits. Don’t push so hard that you wear yourself out and extend the illness or create new problems. It’s a skill that will serve you well in academia and in other environments (professional or otherwise).

Dissertation Defense Scheduled!

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

It’s been quite busy around here lately–mostly because I adopted an adorable puppy I named Roxie a few weeks ago. BUT even more exciting is that I’m in the process of writing my final dissertation chapter AND I’ve officially scheduled my defense date! (March 4th at 10:30am for those who’d like to know.) It’s both amazing and a bit terrifying.

Surprisingly, I’ve found myself reluctant to work as the “end” approaches. I expected to find myself super energized and ready to finish. Instead, I’m reluctant to work. I’m not sure if it’s just because I need a break or if I’m anxious about ending this phase of my life and beginning a new one. I’m certainly excited to no longer be an official student. And I also anticipate some revision and an additional chapter to transform my dissertation into a book, so it isn’t as if the project is *done* once it’s defended.

As I write this, I’ve decided that either way, it is “okay.” I will do as I have always done and push forward toward success. The end of my dissertation is near, and that is *AWESOME* and deserves to be celebrated!

Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

Keep Writing

Source Unknown

Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

Genre Activity: 19th C. Periodicals & Dickens Journal Online

While I have incorporated fairy tales into teaching genre in a composition course, below is an excellent “genre activity” that pulls from my field of 19th century British literature. It is an actual competition, if you are interested in writing for Dickens’ Household Words, but the instructions seem to also fit a writing assignment emphasizing genre, audience, and publication format. It also encourages the use of technology and the exploration of Victorian culture and literature. Moreover, at least until Nov. 15, 2014, it is a real-world writing assignment, writing that serves a purpose outside of the classroom. I could envision using this writing assignment in a general composition course, but also in an introduction to literature or 19th c. survey course. Has anyone taught a similar assignment? If so, was it successful?

Competition Announcement–Deadline Extended!

Written by John Drew

We are delighted to announce our first LITERARY JOURNALISM COMPETITION. Write an article (reportage, sketch, exposé, informative factual account, digest, etc.), short story, instalment of serial fiction, or poem(s), suitable for publication in a weekly number of Household Words or All the Year Round. If you are not sure what to write, browse the contents of either journal, using the navigation tools above. Minimum word-length is 1,500 words/60 lines of poetry; maximum word-length is 2,000 words. No author’s name should appear on the pages of your entry: name and contact details should be supplied as a separate final sheet, to permit anonymous judging.

Send your entry to djo@buckingham.ac.uk as an e-mail attachment, by midnight on Saturday, 15 November 2014; at the same time, make the minimum donation using the ‘Charities Aid Foundation’ widget on the right of our homepage, to cover entry costs. Once your entry and your donation have been matched up, your entry will be passed to an expert panel of judges. Short-listed entrants will be informed by the end of November; winners will be announced during the Festive Season Details of prizes given on website; winning entries will be typeset in an ‘Extra Twenty-First-Century Number,’ available by Christmas. We hope you enjoy participating!

via Welcome to DJO.

Resolving to Return to a (Work) Routine

As I begin writing this post, I can’t help but sigh heavily. To say that August has been a whirlwind of chaotic activity would be an understatement. But as it comes to a close and my special collections research ends (or at least is put on hold), I find myself struggling to get back into my old routine of writing and reading. Or rather, I need to find a new routine. Either way, productivity is down.

Part of this is simple burnout. I want and need a break. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I have approaching deadlines that require that I continue working and accept the last two days as break enough. As Tim Gunn says, “It’s time to make it work!”

So, since I’m not simply falling back into a work routine, reflection is in order to push past the feeling of being overwhelmed with “stuff” to do. What do I need to do? What is the first step(s) to getting it done? What is my priority? What can wait a while?

And to make this official, I’m sharing my “To Do” list, in prioritized order with any formal (or informal) due dates:

  1. Organize desk top. (It is a mess from the move still.) [X]
  2. Register for conference in Sept. [X]
  3. Reserve shuttle for Nov. conference. [X]
  4. Read and incorporate secondary sources into my current dissertation chapter. [in progress]
  5. Polish my current dissertation chapter.
  6. Submit to dissertation director before meeting on Sept. 15th. [X]
  7. Condense to conference presentation and submit to graduate student presentation contest by Sept. 18th. [X]
  8. Begin creating colloquium presentation (PowerPoint or Prezi) while on the topic.
  9. Attend and present at conference Sept. 25th-28th. [X]
  10. Finish preparing 40 minutes colloquium presentation paper/notes and visuals by Oct. 16th.
  11. Jump into next chapter (already begun but put on hold last semester), in particular to prepare for Nov. conference presentation.
  12. Prepare conference presentation by Nov. 5th.
  13. Attend and present at conference Nov. 5th-8th.

I think at that point in November I can afford to take a week or two off to recover.

And, just as I’m about to publish this post, I realize I left all my job application materials off the official list, so . . .

*1-13* Scatter job application prep, search, and submission throughout.

Optimizing My Writing Space: DIY Desk Makeover

This is the reveal of my new and improved desk!

I discussed some ideas I had for optimizing my writing space in this post, and after an at times hellish week, my desk revamp is now complete. The process of repainting and stenciling my hand-me-down laminate desk was more time and energy consuming than I originally thought it would be, but I’m very pleased with the end result, and I’ve learned *a lot* about painting (laminate) furniture.

Here is what my desk looked like when I began the project. (You can see that I tested my metallic paint on the keyboard shelf by the time I thought to take a “before” photo.)

plain laminate desk before paint

Before

And here is the end result, after spray painting, stenciling, and sealing.

Painted and Stenciled Laminate Desk

After

PROJECT OVERVIEW

Purpose:

Create an inviting and inspirational workspace to make the idea of sitting and writing for hours on end more appealing.

Materials:

  1. Laminate Desk
  2. Spray Paint (I used 4 cans of Krylon Fusion for Plastic in Metallic Shimmer on the base and ~1.5 cans of Krylon Dual Superbond Paint + Primer in Ivory Satin for the desk top.)
  3. Stencils of choice
  4. Acrylic Paint (I used three colors I had laying around from a previous project for the stenciling)
  5. Foam Brushes to apply acrylic paint
  6. 1 spray can of Minwax Polycrylic in Clear with Satin finish (to protect desk top)
  7. 220 Sandpaper to sand between coats of polycrylic
  8. Tarp to protect garage floor
  9. Boxes to stand furniture on while painting
  10. Internet Access for continual research

Process (actual not necessarily recommended):

  1. Research via Pinterest for tips on painting laminate
  2. Decide spray paint is the answer to “easy” furniture makeovers and that you want your desk to be a metallic copper
  3. Run all over more than one town looking for the only spray paint that explicitly states it is made to work with laminate (Krylon Dual Superbond Paint + Primer) only to find it is unavailable at most locations and is definitely unavailable in copper
  4. After being lied to by a sales associate regarding the presence of the desired paint in silver, settle on a silver paint made for plastic (because plastic and laminate are basically the same thing, right?)
  5. Also purchase a can of spray polyurethane that is not the polycrylic you thought you needed only to discover you were correct and that the purchased product needs to be returned
  6. Test the paint on the keyboard shelf to make sure it doesn’t simply refuse to stick
  7. Talk father into helping to paint the desk he gave you
  8. Run out of metallic spray paint after base is painted (desk top is still original laminate)
  9. Decide the metallic paint is darker than you expected and so desk top is going to be painted ivory and stenciled (because it should be a simple process, right?)
  10. Do more research regarding stenciling furniture
  11. Run all over more than one town (again) looking for ivory paint made for laminates (found at 1st store, score!–along with foam brushes and sandpaper), correct spray polycrylic (found at 3rd store), and stencils (found at 6th store).
  12. After spray painting desk top ivory, spend 7 hours painting the stencils in a filthy garage in 90+ degree heat, bent over the desk top and unable to sit
  13. Decide the stencils can be cleaned later because your back is killing you (they are still waiting to be cleaned and I’m still in pain)
  14. Due to pain, ask dad to help again by applying polycrylic to desk top and sanding between each coat (3 were recommended, 5 were applied and then the can was empty so we–he–stopped)
  15. Have dad move the desk to new apartment, put it back together, and take picture of end product…1 hellish week complete!

Lessons Learned & Tips for Future Projects:

  1. Plan ahead. *Way* ahead.
  2. When trying a new technique (all of this was new to both me and my dad), begin with a smaller project (like a box, a frame, an end table, etc.).
  3. Don’t attempt to complete entire project in 1 week.
  4. Purchase all needed materials ahead of time, perhaps via the internet to avoid driving around everywhere only to find your desired materials are unavailable.
  5. Painting wood furniture instead of laminate furniture would also make purchasing materials easier, as there are many more products available for painting wood.
  6. Choose more temperate weather for outdoor projects (meaning not humid and 90+ degrees)
  7. Hmmm, I know there are more but I’m drawing a blank, so I’ll end with have fun with it and enjoy the final product of all your hard work!

Conclusions:

Although this was a difficult and trying process, I’m extremely pleased with the end result and look forward to using my pretty new desk (once the desk top has plenty of time to dry). It was certainly worth all the work.

Now I find myself eyeing up various pieces of furniture as possible future projects. I won’t be taking them on any time soon (after all, I have some smaller crafts in the works to continue upgrading my work space) but this project definitely has not turned me off from painting and/or stenciling furniture in the future.

The possibilities seem endless…and I have this end table that would look lovely in a metallic copper!

Sources of Inspiration and Information (in no particular order):

  1. Everything I Know About Spray Paint!” and “Painting Furniture 101” by All Things Thrifty
  2. How to Spray Paint Furniture Like a Pro!” by Classy Clutter
  3. Bling for the Bedroom–A Silver Nightstand–Sold” by The Ordinary Made Extraordinary
  4. Painting Laminate Furniture” by Gluesticks
  5. Table Redo for $12–Holla! + My Best Tips on How to Spray Paint Furniture” by The House of Smiths
  6. DIY Desk Makeover” by The Chronicles of Ruthie Hart
  7. DIY Thrift Store Desk Makeover (Using Silver Leaf!)” by LiveLoveDIY
  8. Make It Nice Again” by Pinterest & the Pauper

Technology in the Classroom: Infographics

I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as some of my previous posts on the topic may suggest, but I’m trying to overcome my knee-jerk rejection of technology in the classroom, which seems to be largely caused by my frustration with trouble shooting technology problems. As usual lately, this post was inspired by my Pinterest addiction (a good indication that I am an all too frequent user of technology outside the classroom). So today I’d like to share some thoughts on how I can envision using infographics in the classroom.

Because of my Pinterest addiction, I’ll begin with an infographic entitled “Professors, Peers, & Pinterest.” 🙂

Okay, back to infographics in the classroom!

Assigning students (or groups of students) to create their own infographics seems to me to be a fun and useful assignment in an English classroom. In terms of the composition classroom, infographics are a unique form of communication, incorporating images, charts, and researched statistics or other information to educate and inform an intended audience (general or specific). Infographics thereby become a distinct genre of communication, with a specific purpose and audience.

Yet it is a genre quite different from the typical kinds of writing I usually assign in my composition classroom (think summary, analysis, and argument). Although related to summary (info graphics are, after all, a summary or even synthesis of information and research), communication in this genre occurs not through sentences and paragraphs but mainly through images. It appears to be a more obviously creative form of communication that I think might appeal to students with a creative bent, as well as an opportunity for students to consider the creation, layout, and appeal of a visual form of rhetoric.

An infographic assignment could be a welcome break from the typical written assignment and seems an ideal way to transition to a researched argument paper. It would offer students an opportunity to practice their researching skills, including the evaluation and citation of sources, and it could even accompany (or replace) an annotated bibliography.

An infographic assignment is a bit more difficult to incorporate into a literature classroom, but I think there are still some available options. I’m intrigued by the idea of using infographics to present reader-response information following each text. For instance, groups of students would be responsible for creating a survey for their classmates to complete after reading each assigned text; survey results then would be transformed into infographics to be presented to the class and/or uploaded to the course wiki or blog. Surveys could ask questions regarding the speed of reading (such as whether students read only assigned pages or read ahead–and even why they read at that speed) and/or students’ enjoyment of, comprehension of , completion of, or agreement with the text. Whether students are reading a bound or digital copy of the text would also be interesting to know.

If someday reading speed could be calculated as it was for this “How We Read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice” infographic, it would be an amazing tool. But as an instructor, I think it could be helpful to receive such anonymous feedback concerning my student’s interaction with specific texts. For instance, a text that is more appealing to female readers, as the infographic suggests Pride & Prejudice is, would preferably be balanced by a text more appealing to male readers. Moreover, knowing whether students finished reading or understood the text is equally important, and I think students would be more likely to admit such information to their peers in an anonymous survey than to me in anonymous feedback submitted to the instructor.

Or infographics could be created to provide background information on literary texts before or while reading. Such an assignment in the literature classroom would practice many of the same researching and citing skills discussed previously concerning infographics in the composition classroom, as well as provide fellow students with important contextual information on assigned texts.

Finally, infographics could be used in the classroom not as an assignment but as a way for the instructor to review information and skills. In this way, instructor-produced infographics would become a quick reference for students in the course. Although the last method to be discussed in this post, this is probably where I would begin incorporating infographics into my classroom practices, if only because it would require that I become familiar with the creation of infographics, thereby allowing me to help my students create their own as well as more effectively evaluate and assess their final products.

10 Free Tools for Creating Infographics” seems to be a good place to begin playing with the creation of infographics.

I would greatly appreciate any suggestions and/or reviews of infographic creating applications (preferably free and user friendly). I’d also love to hear from anyone who has used infographic assignments in their classrooms.

Note: I have not checked the veracity of the infographics included in this post.

reading statistics, book facts

Source Unknown

Optimizing My Writing Space: Paint & Plans

In a previous post, I discussed how having a dedicated and comfortable writing space was improving my productivity as I compose my dissertation. I mentioned purchasing a separate keyboard to use to increase comfort when typing as my desk is setup with a keyboard shelf and therefore not super conducive to typing on a laptop resting on the desktop. (I switched to the keyboard halfway through the first sentence of this post, so it was a very good decision!) In this post, I’d like to compile and discuss some of my plans for improving my writing space (aka desk).

In a week I will finally be moving into my “permanent” apartment (yay!) and so will have the opportunity to reorganize my work space. This is what I currently have in mind:

1. METALLIC PAINT

To begin with, I’m painting my current desk to make it more aesthetically appealing. The desk was a hand-me-down from my dad, so I really had no say in picking it out. Also, because it was free for me, I’m not opposed to putting a bit of money into painting it.  What color, you may ask? I’ve decided on metallic nickel!

I’m excited for the transformation and have been “researching” how to spray paint laminate furniture (mostly on Pinterest). This backfired a bit as the paint I wanted, and the copper color I wanted, was unavailable in my area. I was able to find the metallic nickel color, however, and the paint, while not formulated for laminate, is made for plastics and other “hard to paint surfaces.” I tested it on the keyboard shelf yesterday as an easily removable and mostly unseen piece to paint and perhaps ruin, and so far so good! Hopefully, the results prove equally pleasing when the rest of the desk is done!

messy workspace, painting in progress

Part of my current disaster of a work space. You may notice the newly metallic keyboard shelf at the bottom.

2. NOTE & QUOTE ORGANIZATION

In addition to painting my desk, I’ve been considering new ways to organize my materials. During this recent in-between time (crammed into a one-bedroom apartment with another person–my bed is in the dining room actually and my desk is located at its foot) my desk has become out of control–simply a huge jumbled mess of random stuff (see photo evidence above). While this may do for now, I want a better system in the new apartment. Enter Pinterest (again)!

I came across some pins from a Better Homes & Gardens slideshow called “Home Office Storage on a Dime.” This simple organization system using some labeled clothespins appealed to me.

While the article suggests using the clothespins as a weekly schedule, labeling the clothespins with days of the week, I think this setup could be perfect for organizing various notes, quickly jotted thoughts, questions or directions, and/or quotations. Each pin could be labeled according to article or chapter topic or even sub-topic (for instance, Literary Annuals, Mary de Morgan, Theory, Introduction, etc.). Additional pins could be used as a to-do list or even a series of goals. Really, the possibilities seem endless.

3. ARTWORK & MEMO BOARDS

The same article also suggested turning canvas artwork into a memo board. It explained, “Don’t spend money on a corkboard — instead turn an artist’s canvas into a practical memo board. For a magnetic surface, attach a sheet-metal square. Hang it above your desk to keep important items visible” (“Home Office Storage on a Dime“)

I like the idea of a “prettier” memo board. But more than that, I like the idea of creating my own piece of artwork on a canvas and transforming that into a memo board. I’m currently taking a watercolor class at the community art center, and I think this may be the perfect way to utilize my newly acquired (basic) watercolor skills. Or, for more pop, I might use some basic acrylic paints, or even just wrap a canvas in a favorite piece of patterned fabric. Plus, I can choose whatever size I want and/or need.

Moreover, should I go the magnetic route suggested by the article, I could glue magnets to the labeled clothespins and skip the hanging twine altogether!

4. QUOTATIONS THAT MOTIVATE

Finally, I’m considering a motivational quotation, perhaps in the form of a wall decal. Tradingphrases.com has several options, but I kind of have a specific quotation in mind and am having trouble finding it in decal form. It’s from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

Not only is this quotation motivational as it encourages perseverence in the pursuit and completion of goals, but it also is rather calming in suggesting that there is a linear process to an end, whatever that end may be. I simply love it. So I might need to order a custom decal with this quotation. Or I might get an extra-large canvas for a memo board and incorporate the quotation into my artwork. 🙂

(Dissertation) Writing Tips

These are the steps that I have found productive in my personal dissertation-writing experience so far. While mostly basic and unoriginal, the tips below are tried and true in my experience. They may not work for everyone, but they are working for me, and so I’ll (re)share in the hopes that someone else finds them helpful.

Keep Writing

Source Unknown

1. Write every day.

Or almost every day. As regularly as possible. I’ve discussed this in a previous post, with links to other sites that offer similar tips and discuss daily writing specifically. When I wrote that post, I was just about to begin my trial run of daily writing.

Like most graduate students I know, I was previously a binge-writer, setting aside large amounts of time to write a lot all at once and then taking some days off. Although it has taken me several months to get into a daily (or almost daily) writing groove, it truly is amazing how much more productive I (feel I) am. Regularly working on my dissertation has also the side benefit (other than the main benefit of progress) of reducing my stress and guilt. Moreover, I can still binge-write; some days I might only write a sentence or paragraph, plan an outline of the direction I plan to take next, or read and take notes in preparation of writing the next day, while other days I will sit down for 6-8 hours and write.

But it’s important to note that by “write every day,” I do not necessarily mean WRITE. Perhaps work would be better, but writing is such a major component of the process that I think it needs to be emphasized. Once a complete draft is written, reading and incorporating secondary sources as well as revision are equally productive and necessary tasks. I therefore might not actually “write” anything that day yet I have prepared for the next day’s writing task.

1.2. Write every day even while teaching.

While I must note that my productivity has increased a lot since I began my fellowship and have not had to worry about teaching preparation and grading at the same time, it is also important to find ways to prioritize writing and research while teaching, especially because the final goal for most of us is to find a academic position that will require research and teaching.

One way I incorporated my own productivity into my composition classroom is through a Daily Writing Challenge. Basically, students could earn some extra credit points by posting daily writing (related to the course, such as paragraphs or outlines for writing assignments, reflections on or plans for progress in the course, etc.) to our course’s Blackboard Discussion Board. I posted as well, and if I did not meet the 6 out of 7 days a week goal I set for my students and myself, students earned freebie days they could skip as well. (So if I posted 5 days one week, students only needed to post 5 days to earn bonus extra credit points for completing the challenge for the week). Knowing I’m not helping my students progress by handing out unearned points motivated me to prioritize my own daily writing practices even while being busy teaching.

HabitRPG (discussed previously here and here) has also proven an excellent tool to encourage my own daily writing.

Moreover, Gregory Semenza just wrote on the benefits of writing in short 10-15 minute bursts throughout the day, in “The Value of 10 Minutes: Writing Advice for the Time-Less Academic;” these daily writing bursts can take place in between classes or any time some spare time is found.

2. Have a comfortable and dedicated writing space.

This really helps the writing process as I know when I sit down at my desk (or stand at my desk…more on that coming soon), I am preparing to write. Sure, I end up playing online games and checking out Facebook or Pinterest, but more often than not, writing occurs without me forcing myself to do so. A thought will pop into my mind that I begin to work out in writing, or my notes will catch my eye and inspire a new direction or nuance that I’ll want to immediately begin to record.

But comfort is also important, and the more you write in your dedicated space, the more you’ll realize what adjustments can and should be made to improve productivity. For instance, I purchased a separate keyboard a few days ago after becoming frustrated at how high my laptop sat on my desk; with the separate (and wireless) keyboard on my desk’s keyboard shelf, I’m sitting in a much more comfortable and natural writing position, without the edge of my desk digging into my wrists or my back aching from leaning forward.

3. Know your writing process.

This may seem basic but it is important, and if you don’t already know your writing process, you probably will by the time you’re halfway through your dissertation. This knowledge will certainly prove useful as you try to optimize your productivity.

I know my process begins with marking up the primary source, followed by drafting, researching, incorporating secondary sources, revising, and proofreading. I know that researching before I write my analysis usually leaves me confused and overwhelmed. I also know that I will inevitably write more during the drafting process, followed by less writing while I research and read secondary sources, followed by a final return to the writing process. Because I know this, I don’t worry when I’m not making visible progress on my written draft when I hit the secondary source stages; progress is still being made even if concrete evidence of it cannot be seen, and the bulk reading and note taking (or rather, quotation flagging) will pay off in a quicker incorporation and revision process.

4. Plan your writing projects strategically.

By this I mean that you don’t necessarily have to write your introduction first, followed by Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. I began with my middle chapter first because I felt most confident in the argument being made in it and I already had ~40 pages written on the topic from my Master’s Essay. I chose my next chapters based on scheduled conference presentations related to the topics, as well as based on which chapters had the most written on the subject from previous term papers and presentations. I know I’ll be leaving the introduction until the end, and I’ve also decided to wait to work on one of my chapters because it easily drops out of the project if I run out of time to complete it and defend in order to graduate in May 2015 (my current plan involves an intro, seven chapters, and a coda and therefore more than meets any length requirements even with one chapter dropped).

I’ve also allowed whim and muse to play a role in my writing process. If I’m trying to decide what chapter to work on next, and I’m not particularly interested in the subject at the moment, I choose a subject and chapter that does interest me. Writing about something I like and care about at the moment only increases my productivity and has me still loving my project even after several months of writing.

 

Getting into the Writing Mood: Where Candles & Literature Collide

One effective writing habit that I have whole-heartedly embraced in the last few months is that of the designated writing location. For me, it’s my (often messy and full of flotsam) desk. But sometimes merely sitting at my desk isn’t enough to get into the writing groove. Enter my signature “writing scent” and Frostbeard Studio Soy Candles.

I came across these candles at a local craft show (Craftstravaganza, I believe it was called) and was instantly drawn in by their unique combination of scented candles and literature. I fell in love with and purchased Pemberley Rose, a pink candle inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. According to Frostbeard Studio’s online product description,

“PEMBERLEY ROSE — SOY CANDLE

Part of our Book Lovers’ Series, this candle is a completely original scent! Inspired by the Pemberley Estate and ideal for fans of Jane Austen.

This scent is our most feminine and traditional, a pleasant floral garden mix.

Scents:
Fresh roses with a hint of lilac and hyacinth.”

Candle, book, Spellbound, Pemberley Rose

Frostbeard Studio’s Pemberley Rose Candle & Molly Clarke Hillard’s new text, Spellbound: The Fairy Tale and the Victorians

The floral scent is lovely and perfectly sets the mood for dissertation writing. Moreover, these candles seem to be ideal gifts for any book-lover, and Frostbeard Studio also notably features several candles inspired by Harry Potter and even Doctor Who.