the grid

the grid

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Week 13: Parking on a downhill slope

I kind of hate to have to mention this, but we have just two weeks to go of this iteration of TLQ group, and some north American acadabloggers are already clearly gearing up for the start of the new academic year.  So I thought this week we should carry on thinking about the writing process, this week focusing on a metaphor that has been used for ages in this online community - I read it first over at Notorious' place - and which I've found a really helpful tip for myself and when shared with real-life colleagues - the notion of parking our work on a downhill slope. It follows on nicely from last week's topic, as one means of avoiding getting stuck is to always make it as easy as possible to re-enter work, whether it's just carrying on the next day or getting back to writing after a busy month or two of classes, tests, grading, student emails and bureaucracy. 

I "park my work" in one of two ways - first, I aim to end a writing session with a few "what next" notes.  For academic papers this is usually bullet points of the ideas I have for the contents of the next few paragraphs or the things I need to mention - even if I think it's obvious! - whereas for fiction it's more often a question or single phrase ("how does she feel when she wakes up the next morning?  Why did it dig a hole? He really doesn't want to answer that question so he'll evade, "look shiny!", now it's time to switch to what's happening in the woods").  Then the next session begins by writing those notes into sentences and expanding on them.  I try to stop before I run out of steam, so that it's easy to have a couple of nascent ideas to note - also that's a better use of time, as the "thrashing" of the last part of a writing session can be quite unproductive and confidence-destroying.  I'm getting better at accepting a good chunk done rather than trying to force myself to do MORE!  Second, when I leave a piece of work in progress for a longer period, and especially for working in semester time, I also aim to make a list of small, concrete "useful steps" - "add references to paragraph 7" or "format table 3" or "check journal rules for referencing" - that make using half an hour of writing time easier, as I spend much less time working out where I was, I just pick a thing from the list and do that, knowing it's necessary.  And I try and leave those lists somewhere really obvious, e.g. at the top of the document in bright red, again to avoid spending ten minutes of my half hour trying to work out what to do.  What about you?  How do you "park your work on a downhill slope"?  And especially for those of us on a Northern Hemisphere academic cycle, are there specific things you can prioritise in the last part of this iteration to park your summer's work on a downhill slope and keep some TLQ momentum going into the new semester?

Also, any volunteers to coordinate the next iteration between September and Christmas, and suggestions for dates to start?


Last week's goals:

Contingent Cassandra (from week ten)

  1. Get grades in (TRQ, but also necessary to having a bit of time to concentrate on TLQ)
  2. Figure out what I'll do when in the next month as much as possible
  3. Keep lifting weights; get in the pool; move some more mulch if weather cooperates


  1. Relax and have fun.

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

  1. Walk forty-five minutes a day.
  2. Clear my part of the study so I can think.
  3. File eveything on my desk at work so I can think.


  1. Do online registration tasks Monday or Tuesday.
  2. Write 3x for 30 minutes.
  3. Read a couple of more chapters of book on structure.
  4. Make appointment to see my primary about weird symptoms.
  5. Do 2 syllabi.
  6. Do sprucing up of laundry room.
  7. Sort through 1-2 boxes or bags in garage.
  8. Get (or at least choose) some plants for the backyard.

heu mihi

  1. Read MM's dissertation.
  2. Finish at least 1 Big thing for ch. 2 and as many of the S & M things as Interlibrary Loan will allow.
  3. Create a course pack for FYS.
  4. Take notes on the books sitting on my desk.
  5. Complete syllabus 2/3.
  6. Annual faculty report.


  1. finish revisions to rbp chapter 2 (saving intro chapter for last)
  2. grading for summer class
  3. follow up again with co-author


  1. Finish first draft of Chapter 2.
  2. 5-minute-exercises at least twice a day.
  3. Find ‘my own 15 minutes’ as many as possible, and do something.
  4. Re-consider my plan.


  1. write very rough draft of a paper which is for a special collection and is due at the end of September. This is the third ProblemChild paper (we originally planned on four, but have decided one meatier one is probably better). It is a nice long way off now but it will catch up VERY SOON.
  2. remake figure for Tagalong paper (so-called because I feel a bit of a fraud being a co-author, although I've written a nice chunk of the discussion and edited the heck out of the draft)
  3. get as much as possible done on Black Summer Project in the two days
  4. keep in touch with PickyPaper (I have sorted out the next batch of simulations today, so I can set them going between meetings & stuff so I can feel a little productive).
  5. read at least one more novel (I like reading novels)


  1. finish posters
  2. finish exam questions
  3. finish skirt
  4. start new knitting project (wool is ordered, sketches and plans made...)

Notorious, PhD (carried over)

  1. Writing: 2500 words
  2. Research: One volume of ordinances
  3. Mind/body: 3 yoga, 4 morning meditation

Susan (carried over)

  1. Make sure I've ordered desk copies of all books for fall
  2. Keep moving
  3. Keep reading

Waffles (carried over)

  1. Practice APA talk
  2. Winnow down something in my house (to prep for move)


  1. last week's goals:
    1) write very rough draft of ProblemChildPart3 which is for a special collection and is due at the end of September. It is a nice long way off now but it will catch up VERY SOON. yes, very rough, but written
    2) remake figure for Tagalong paper done and sent off
    3) get as much as possible done on Black Summer Project in the two days yes, it went well - although I still have to write up all the notes...
    4) keep in touch with PickyPaper (I have sorted out the next batch of simulations today, so I can set them going between meetings & stuff so I can feel a little productive). this went OK - I have another batch of simulations done
    5) read at least one more novel (I like reading novels) and I did this too - urban fantasy, of the most cliched vampire/witch/werewolf/American city/young but Speshul and attractive-to-everyone female protagonist kind, but pretty well written and handled, and everyone gets to chill out with mind-candy at times, right?

    there were a couple of points this week when that summer feeling of being comfortable with my research and settling into the "research mindset" happened - but also more long days at work and a bit of postponing of self-care things, and a lot of stress under the surface which I am doing OK at ignoring so far. Summer is fading fast but I only JUST began the stuff that matters... ::sigh!:: The next couple of weeks are quite people-full for me - an academic visitor, a "science experience" high school student, it's Clearing Day on Thursday (high schoolers get their A level results and can change their university plans if their results are unexpected in either direction - being a "squeezed middle" regional university, this is a very important recruitment period for NorthernUni and I probably can't escape entirely!), and I have to do teaching timetable administration. But hopefully around that I will find some research time, and some self-care time. I need to move more!

    next week's goals:
    1) write up and send notes/samples related to BlackSummerProject, try and tick off my part of the next step
    2) write up the Picky Paper results from last week
    3) Gallimaufrey review and possible grant - collect up comments so far, pull together, propose tasks others can do, send out emails
    4) clear my office desk!
    5) enjoy working with the Visitor
    6) move more!

    1. Looks like a great week for writing and research (and novel reading)! I do hope you're able to enjoy your visitor. Maybe the two of you can walk together while chatting (in order to get the "moving more" part in)?

    2. Sadly we need to sit in front of a computer mostly - but I have been moving more at work, going back and forth to check in on him and the high school student who is based in the lab, and going to the coffee shop...

  2. I'm back! Sorry for disappearing through the last month or more - I'll plead start of semester, and hope that things are back on a slightly more even keel now that it has settled in.

    I've got a couple of urgent tasks to do this week, and a day of travelling to and back from the other campus, but will see what I can do about momentum on TLQ. When it comes to parking on a downhill slope, like JaneB I work best if i have planned and noted small, un-intimidating tasks to get me started up again next time. Another thing that sometimes works is making sure I have my materials in place - journal articles saved or printed out, or relevant templates downloaded. If those are in place I can go into writing headspace more directly than getting caught up on running around.

    This Week:
    1) finish abstract ahead of extended deadline
    2) draft theme area grant application
    3) do one pomodoro of office tidying
    4) move more (2 x yoga, 1 x walk - think about downloading a couch to 5k app)

    1. I can co-host for the next iteration if needed.

      I'll wait to hear from northern hemisphere colleagues on start dates - if we want to have a hiatus or not.

      Looking at the calendar, we could do a long session till mid December (approx 15 weeks) or divide the time up into two shorter 8 week blocks.

    2. Good to hear from you, Karen! I hope things are, indeed, settling in. I'm in the semester ramp up right now. It's always an edgy time for me, no matter how many times I've done it!

      I'm okay with or without a hiatus, and I can do two short sessions or one long one. Either way!

  3. I am also sorry to have been MIA. I move to NYC next week, so I am 100% consumed by that, but also trying to get some work done. I also went to my field's major conference and presented there. It was an okay experience - the room for our symposium was freakishly small, which was unfortunate. We have some ideas of how to position ourselves better for next year, so that is good. I also got to meet some of my collaborators in person for the first time, which was GREAT! And got to see someone I haven't seen since I was in undergrad, which was also great.

    This week:
    1. Outline for expectancies paper
    2. Asthma paper - figure out next steps
    3. Email guy from Tennessee
    4. pack, clean, pack, clean, and random details related to packing and cleaning!

    1. Good luck with the move! It'll be so nice to be settled again, I imagine.

    2. It's sounds like you've had a lot going on! And I'm glad you enjoyed meeting your collaborators.

      It's amazing to me that you can do anything other than moving prep!

      Good luck holding it together as you pack and clean and pack and clean.

  4. Topic: Parking on the downhill slope is such a good idea. I am a bit obsessive about outlining and organizing my writing, so it is easiest for me to look at the next block, and freewrite some ideas about what I plan to write. I make sure I haven’t wandered off with any of my necessary things--colored pens or the bluetooth speaker are the most often misplaced things. I also like JaneB’s and karen’s suggestions about writing concrete things to do and organizing the materials needed.

    Last week’s goals:
    Walk forty-five minutes a day. 6 out of 7 days.
    Clear my part of the study so I can think. I can see the surface of my desk--well, it is glass, so I see through the surface now!
    File everything on my desk at work so I can think. Not completely, but everything is labelled and compiled, ready for file folders.

    This past week was re-entry from the leadership institute, and a bit difficult, honestly. All the meetings from the week I was gone were rescheduled for last week in addition to the ones already scheduled, so it was hard to catch my breath some days. Everything is gearing up for the start of the semester, which starts in two weeks, so the hysteria has begun. Add to that several fire alarms set off by construction workers madly trying to finish all their projects before term begins, and the week was full of fits and starts. At least it was nice to stand outside for a while.

    I am knocking on wood that this week is quieter, and have blocked time to disappear into the stacks and write or plan, or just to be away from people and recharge.

    Next week’s goals:
    Walk forty-five minutes a day.
    Work on Prudence one hour a day.
    File thirty minutes a day.

    Have a good week, everyone, and float like mist!

    1. I'm impressed that you got your walking done in spite of the meetings, etc.! And I really like the "file 30 minutes a day" item. That's the approach I need to take with some boxes in my house and with the chaos that is my campus office (since I don't think I'm going to get a full day to do it all at once).

      I hope you do find time to "disappear into the stacks" this week (which sounds like part of an awesome fantasy novel that takes place in a library).

  5. To park on the down-slope this time, I plan to print my complete MS so that I can start the "final" (scare-quotes needed) read-through. This should be a sufficiently concrete and--I hope--rewarding task that it'll be easy to start one classes are in session. My new secret MS submission date is October 15 (or maybe November 1); here's hoping!

    Last week:
    1. Read MM's dissertation. DONE
    2. Finish at least 1 Big thing for ch. 2 and as many of the S & M things as Interlibrary Loan will allow. DONE--chapter is nearly complete!
    3. Create a course pack for FYS. DONE
    4. Take notes on the books sitting on my desk. DONE, finally.
    5. Complete syllabus 2/3. DONE
    6. Annual faculty report. NOT DONE--putting this off until my visit to my in-laws next week, since it's pretty mindless.

    This week:
    1. Full rereading of ch. 2; get that one book to finish that one paragraph.
    2. Reread intro and figure out what I need to do.
    3. Read SD's thesis (defense on Friday).
    4. Keep working on to-do lists for other chapters.
    5. Get caught up on some phone calls and emails; schedule car maintenance.
    6. Finish syllabus 3/3 (this should take all of 15 minutes; no excuses!).
    7. If I have time and/or need something concrete and mindless to do, photocopy stuff for second course pack.

    1. A printed MS sounds like a great way to enter the academic term without losing momentum. And kudos on all of the Chapter 2 progress!

    2. Thank you! It managed to come together much more rapidly than I'd feared.

  6. A new downhill slope strategy is evolving for me this go-round with the book manuscript. I’ll note that I need to follow up or add something or think about a particular thing, then I will make notes in a Google doc as I carry that idea with me. When I go back to the manuscript, I can begin by dropping in some fresh notes. It’s a good way for me to engage easily.

    Last week:
    1 finish revisions to rbp chapter 2 (saving intro chapter for last): no, thank you migraine
    2 grading for summer class: yes but not done
    3 follow up again with co-author: yes

    This week is all TRQ for me. Grades are due, I have page proofs to review and comments due on an article I’m reviewing for a journal. It’s also the last free week before Fall classes begin--next week there are meetings and other responsibilities. Sigh. I want to try to hold on to the feeling of owning my time as well as I can.

    This week:
    1 finish grading and post grades
    2 submit page proofs
    3 submit reviewer comments
    4 finish chapter 1 revisions

    NB: One of the things missing from the manuscript is me owning my terms and laying out the basic premises of the book. Even though I wanted to hold chapter 1 until the last, I found that I need to work on it first. And it is surprisingly exciting to fix the things that I know need fixing.

    1. Yes, own it! I'm glad at least some of the revisions are exciting (and maybe even empowering?). That should help you keep up the momentum.

      Sorry about the migraine. Sounds like you're in a squeezed middle kind of time. I hope you are able to hold on to your own time at least a little bit this week.

  7. How I did:

    1. Relax and have fun. YES. I did great! Even with continuing back pain, I enjoyed myself. I read a lot, went for a couple of long walks with my husband, went with him to listen to a jazz duo, had brunch with him and his mom, had a facial and a pedicure. Those last are in some ways not so much my sort of thing, but my options for Fun have narrowed a lot (eating out, for instance, is much more stressful than it is fun, because of my dietary problems), so I tried to come up with something that would seem vacation-y and not hurt me in any way. And they were enjoyable. Next summer I swear I am going to take two weeks vacation, preferably away somewhere, because I really loved the feeling of not needing to work. I packed three boxes, mainly just to get things off the floor for the cleaner, and then left the house to look after itself, too.

    Writing about what I've done and what needs to be done next, in my research journal, is supposed to park me on the downhill slope. I sure hope I left the journal up to date last time I did any writing, because between back pain and stay-cation, I haven't done anything much since I returned from the UK. And today mainly went on taking Sir John to a specialist eye appointment far from home (no change from last year, which is good), so . . . tomorrow is another day, I guess.

    This week's goals:
    Self: regular stretching and walking; see if I can get back to the gym without injuring myself; haircut; massage; have fun with out-of-town visitor.
    Teaching: finish syllabuses for fall; set up Blackboard shells for classes.
    Research: 5 hours each on revisions and on translation project.
    House: Garden work, finish packing my study, finish packing the guest room.

    This week has a whole lot of extras in it (appointment today, out-of-town friend, other stuff that carves up days), so I hope I'll be able to concentrate in bursts around those things.

    1. So glad you hear you enjoyed your week despite the back problems, and two weeks for next year sounds like a brilliant idea.

      I hope you find some good chunks of TLQ time in your choppy days.

  8. For me, parking on a downhill slope does often mean writing out some bullet points right in my manuscript where I leave off. Other times, it means printing something out and making margin notes to implement the next day. Occasionally, it means writing a couple of paragraphs long-hand so that I can get straight to typing without actually having to come up with the text. That typing helps me gain speed for actual writing.

    Last week:
    1) Do online registration tasks Monday or Tuesday. DONE.
    2) Write 3x for 30 minutes. NOT DONE.
    3) Read a couple of more chapters of book on structure. NOT DONE.
    4) Make appointment to see my primary about weird symptoms. DONE.
    5) Do 2 syllabi. DONE. I just need to submit them to reprographics tomorrow. (I should probably just do it tonight).
    6) Do sprucing up of laundry room. PARTLY DONE. I tidied, but I haven't gotten a new rug, etc.
    7) Sort through 1-2 boxes or bags in garage. DONE.
    8) Get (or at least choose) some plants for the backyard. WELL, I have some ideas.
    ALSO DONE: painted the interior walls of the witch hut, got some medical tests and lab work done.

    Analysis: I think I'm coming to terms with some of my TLQ failures, realizing causes, etc. I'll spend more time thinking about that this week.

    This week:
    1) Do last syllabus. Make necessary copies for first week of classes.
    2) Get new curtains for daughter and a curtain rod for son.
    3) Hem existing curtains for son.
    4) Exchange daughter's clarinet for a flute (long story involving clarinet cheilitis).
    5) Write 1000 words.
    6) Walk dog with son. Watch Gilmore Girls with daughter. Take both to the beach for boogie boarding.
    7) Arrange for a piano to be moved from my mom's house to my house (I don't feel like doing this AT ALL. Too much organizing and coordinating of schedules.)

    I should also call the dentist about several issues, but I don't want to do that either. We'll see...