the grid

the grid

Sunday 5 June 2022

2022 Second Session, Week 2

I'll follow JaneB's prompt from last week with another one about your relationship to writing: what encourages you to write, or helps you to find pleasure in it? This might be physical (the right pen, a large monitor, a comfortable chair or sunny room), relational (an audience, company in the room, or solitude), or psychological/emotional (a recent acceptance, an intriguing problem or character). Or something else I haven't thought of, or a combination! Perhaps you'd like to think about a time when you wrote happily and fluidly, and what circumstances allowed that.

So far, we're a small group this time. We might still have some readers or former participants who would like to join us: please do! Or just stop by once in awhile to let us know how you are, even if the organization of weekly check-ins doesn't fit your needs at this time.

Last week's goals:

Finish association reports
Open old paper to see what is needed, pick something and do it
Research accounting
Set up awkward meeting with current admin about moving my research money
Pack up something substantial in house

Dame Eleanor Hull
- 3 days work on conference paper
- 3 days work on spring grad class
- find out what documents I need for new driver's license
- finish weeding veg patch and plant veg/herbs
- move stuff back into guest room

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

Create 20,000-foot plan for the session;
Write and mail long-overdue thank you notes;
Plan conference and remaining medical trips for the next month;
Outline my nascent blog post ideas.

heu mihi
1) Plan WH intro revisions.
2) Touch up paint in basement bedroom.
3) Finish two books that I'm almost finished with.
4) Finish stacking wood.
5) Clean upstairs windows.

1) work no more than 10 hours
2) do something fun each day of the long Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend
3) make some lists for smaller things that fit under goals 1, 2 and 4 to pick from in future weeks.

Let us know how you did, set your new goals, and respond to the prompt if/as you feel inspired. I look forward to our conversation in the comments.


  1. How I did:
    - 3 days work on conference paper - YES
    - 3 days work on spring grad class - YES
    - find out what documents I need for new driver's license -YES plus made an appointment to get it
    - finish weeding veg patch and plant veg/herbs - YES (enough: weeding will be on-going, b/c of course there's an invasive monster in there)
    - move stuff back into guest room - NO

    New goals:
    - 4 days work on conference paper
    - 4 days work on spring undergrad class
    - get new phone
    - 4 days weeding or other garden tasks
    - move stuff back into guest room OR tidy my study

    I like writing when I'm exploring ideas or a topic, free-associating, just letting words pour out. I also like the "grooming" stage, when I'm making corrections, revising sentences for greater elegance, and generally making the piece pretty. Working out the best organization for an argument is the hardest part of writing. I like to be alone, with a pleasant (but not too distracting) view, preferably sunny: trees, water, something like that.

    I remember the summer of 2016 (I think that's the right year: sometime in the mid-teens, in the old house; maybe 2015, not really sure) as being a happy writing time, sitting in my apricot-golden study with books piled around me on the floor as well as the desk, and at least one cat present, along with a view of the apple tree's branches. I got through a lot of rough-draft work that summer, including drafts of two articles (which needed a lot of revision later, but did get published), a lot of work on the MMP, and good work on the Huge Honking Translation. It probably felt more pressured at the time than it does in retrospect! I felt like there was a lot of time, and I had projects that interested me very strongly, where I felt I had Things To Say that other people hadn't thought of. So rather than struggling to figure out what was new, I was sure about the value of what I was working on, which was a huge help to happiness in writing.

    1. Lots of yes!

      Which invasive weed do you have this year??

      Being sure of what you want to say can be helpful - for me, my favourite parts of writing are right at the start (freewriting/S****y first draft) and the change-points between drafts when you restructure the piece (reverse outlining is my fave), and those are where I work out what I am REALLY saying. But doing academic writing in STEM-related subjects, I usually start being sure that the data or model I'm presenting is new, and the challenge is how to best explain it or interpret it or contextualise it. That's quite different to humanities where the explain/interpret/context IS the new part. Interesting! I wonder how that relates to fiction writing?

    2. Ohhh invasive weeds!!!!!! I'm sorry. We have about 15 varieties in our gardens (several of which I've complained about before, as you know) and they really are the worst.

    3. Duchesnea indica, fake strawberry. Propagates by runners. Very tough roots. Ugh. It seems like gardening divides between nurturing the fragile and attacking the thugs, with not much pleasant middle ground!

    4. I think the middle ground is either finding the perfect plants for your climate zone, soil and garden, or finding thuggy plants that you like and letting them do some of the work (I like mint, don't care if it gets everywhere, it makes my garden fragrant and it's lovely and green... and I don't like to have bare soil, it's mulch or groundcover for me thank you! But my garden is currently a total disaster zone (or wildlife zone, as I prefer to think of it) so my views are not worth much in practice!!)

  2. I'm still Very Done with work things in general, and off (due back tomorrow, but will contact the GP again and expect to be off for another week at least - basically I've been doing a small few work things (marking honours projects, meetings related to my research students & stuff), and that's using up nearly all the time each day when I have focus and executive function. I'm feeling guilty about not being properly on leave, and about not actually doing the amount of work that needs doing, and also feeling very stressed, burnt out, dysthymic and anhedonic. And my sleep and appetite are still all over the place. Delightful!<-- sarcasm font. And very boring

    Prompt: what helps me want to write.
    PHYSICALLY: A good set-up: for tech stuff - ergonomic keyboard and raised monitor, something for my feet to fiddle with, some clear desk space for papers on a writing slope or document holder, a focus light, daylight spectrum light, an armless adjustable preferably wheely chair which accommodates my substantial behind. For manual - a writing slope, a good fountain pen or gel pen, paper - ideally both the relevant notebook and some loose paper, both ideally dot grid but plain or squared also works - lined is my last choice, it works but it's not as alluring. Chair and light as above). A quantity of water, and depending on my mood also a more "interesting" drink. A sleepy cat is good, a cat wanting attention is not helpful (all cat things are good for some value of good). I don't mind outside sounds - I do sometimes mind NO sound, and apps like coffitivity can be useful there.

    RELATIONAL: Preferably the space needs to be "safe" - either I can see the door or I control the door/who's around, something growing outside the window, enough privacy (or the company of "safe" people) that I don't have to spend too much energy on being self-conscious (this isn't so much "party nerves" kind of thing as keeping an eye on myself for some of my bad habits, like repetitive motions, bouncing, tapping things, kicking the table or the chair, talking to my things or writing, humming, snipping split ends off the paintbrush bit at the end of my braid one hair at a time, making paperclip or blutak or paper scrap "art"...). I like write-ins when I'm at a particular point in my writing, especially on line ones or ones with colleagues I already know, because the communal focus does create a useful incentive to actually stick to good habits - I don't like pomodoros, 25 minutes is too short for me, but we do 45 writing/15 break and that works well for me - I like online ones especially because I can do a one song dance around in the break, and still have time to grab another drink or go to the bathroom.

    EMOTIONALLY: I need to not be fed up with co-authors! Or stressed about grants and expectation. Parking on a downhill slope at a previous session, of course. I feel I have enough tools in my toolkit now, enough understanding of the process of writing, that once I manage to get myself started, I can find useful work to do whatever stage I am at with different projects. I pretty much always have multiple options for a writing session - both because the brain monkeys are more lureable by choice (the toddler shoe thing - Adult: "Put your shoes on!" Toddler: "No!" versus Adult: "Do you want the red shoes or the blue wellies?" Toddler: "Blue wellies" ) and because I almost always have projects at different stages, so can choose according to my capacity on the day to some extent.

    I miss being bendy enough to sprawl on the floor or couch with a pad of paper and a pen, but I creak, and that's just life.

      1) work no more than 10 hours - I did about 13. Not enough and too much. Had my teaching allocation meeting, which was... well, I'm not enthused.
      2) do something fun each day of the long Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend (ish. No D&D because my players all have exams in the next couple of weeks, but I designed another short "job board" game which was fun, and I have been reading some - very light fantasy/romance/minor mystery type stuff, anything else is still rather beyond my brain!). And I did buy and eat some treats - a peach and raspberry trifle was good!)
      3) make some lists for smaller things that fit under goals 1, 2 and 4 to pick from in future weeks (not really. I keep looking at this and starting and getting overwhelmed).

      1) work no more than 10 hours
      2) make some lists for smaller things that fit under the areas of personal replenishment, reducing next year's pressures and fun/creative stuff.
      3) replenishment: back to basics. Eating plenty of fruit and veg, drinking enough water, a small exercise habit (10 minutes a day of deliberate exercise), a small chore habit (5 minutes of picking up or one of the recurring chores like a load of laundry each day)
      4) pressure reduction: writing out my rough week-by-week for next year (I have to do this to put the workload data for my modules in to the teaching tsar, since we team teach everything so loads are messy and complex...). Send two emails for the Teaching Project which are preying on my mind. And I think that's plenty!
      5) fun/creative: write a letter to a friend/read for an hour at least 3 days/do at least two crochet stripes on the "desert colours" blanket project/play D&D or write another job board game.

      I finally have an appointment to see a counsellor this coming week, and hopefully my head of Dept will get around to contacting Occupational Health (I can't talk to them without his referral first), so... we'll see.

    2. This sounds like a good list for the week! I like your inclusion of cat involvement in your description of a good writing space--a sleepy cat is lovely but yes, an attention-seeking cat is NOT helpful (although good for other things, perhaps!).

    3. I like having a cat present, too, but it needs to not chew on my notes or other bits of paper! If you need book recommendations, I've been enjoying Mary Kingswood's regencies, reminiscent of Heyer.

  3. I apparently set appropriately low goals this past week!

    1) Plan WH intro revisions. - YES
    2) Touch up paint in basement bedroom. - YES
    3) Finish two books that I'm almost finished with. - YES
    4) Finish stacking wood. - YES
    5) Clean upstairs windows. - NO, but I did replace a broken curtain rod. Also, the pollen (pine?) is so intense at the moment that it doesn't really make sense to wash the windows until that's settled down.

    This week:
    1) Return to chapter 1: What was I doing again?
    2) House stuff: Deal with plumbing issue (i.e. wait for the plumber), Goodwill trip, technology recycling
    3) Read at least 1/2 of research book
    4) Write letter of recommendation for former student
    5) Have a nice time outside now and again

    It's my birthday on Friday, and my parents are coming for the weekend, so I'm trying to keep it reasonable.

    What helps me to write? I don't know...habit, I guess? I've gotten pretty good at ignoring internal resistance and grumbling; my problem is more often that I write before I'm ready, and spend a lot of time producing junk. But maybe I need that junk-production to move me into the good stuff. I'm not sure. The best writing experience I've ever had was when I was revising my second book manuscript, and suddenly I just knew what each paragraph needed to say and do, and I would just...wrote it. I knew what from my draft needed to be there and what didn't; it was an experience of remarkable clarity that I would love to recreate sometime in my life!

    1. Excellent achievements, and also it's very sensible to recognize when a goal doesn't make sense---no point in washing windows twice! The clarity you describe with your second book has never, ever hit me, but sounds marvelous, so it's good to know it can happen. May it one day visit us all!

      Happy birthday!

    2. Happy upcoming birthday! Mine is next week and I am using it as an excuse to indulge in buying things for myself. So far, just a handmade art magnet to put on my filing cabinet in my campus office.

    3. Happy birthday! We share that one, hope there is lots of cake and good times for your day!

    4. Junk writing - or sh*tty draft writing or zero draft writing if we're being polite - is DEFINITELY part of my process - I think of it as tipping out the basket of stuff that has built up into my head onto paper so that I can pick through it, sort it out a bit more coherently into groups, spot connections, get rid of any spiders or cat toys that got in there along the way, and generally shuffling it all around - even if all the stuff goes straight back into the basket, the process of getting it out and going through it helps me refresh my view of the project and usually clarifies some next steps. It's more like free-writing from a prompt of "what have I got so far" than writing a draft of the paper.

      I used to find that trying to write a good draft first thing, waiting for that point when I was ready to write that draft, felt awkward to me. As soon as I gave early writing a different name (zero draft was the first one I found in a book - maybe the "write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day" book? - the awkwardness went away and it just became part of my process.

  4. Oooh, good prompt again – I rarely think about motivation and underlying writing processes. That stuff is normally drowned out by the urgency of getting things done so I really like being told to reflect a bit…

    What encourages me to write? Deadlines help… I wish they did not by they do… I think that having good data to write about is the most important thing for me. And knowing what that data will do for answers to questions and relevance to other work is important too.

    What makes me find pleasure in writing? Probably something like an acceptance, or a good talk with helpful feedback and hearing that past work is relevant to someone.... And finishing things, I love finishing things!!! I don’t mind starting them either, it is the pesky middle that drives me insane…

    Last week’s goals:
    Finish association reports MOSTLY DONE, WAITING ON PEOPLE
    Open old paper to see what is needed, pick something and do it OPENED
    Research accounting DONE
    Set up awkward meeting with current admin about moving my research money NO
    Pack up something substantial in house YES, SO PROGRESS

    I did manage to finish a lot of things that were critical last week, and I’m feeling that this week is reasonably under control. I have to do some urgent analytical stuff to send samples away so that they can be analysed while I’m doing other things. This makes me proud of myself that I’m still managing to do some forward planning and will have things in pipeline throughout moving chaos. That will also force me into the office to start the packing process.

    This week’s goals:
    Do analytical stuff for last samples and send away
    Do figures for old paper
    Think about new paper and write any one section, short is ok
    Pack up office or parts of office
    Finish editorial for association journal
    Dinner with another departing colleague

    1. As soon as I think I've finished something I start noticing all the little things that are still wrong with it, like over-using a word (in one piece it was surge), but it is definitely motivating to hear that a piece was useful to someone else. Yay for progress on packing, and I am amazed that you are managing to keep research going while you're in the packing process.

    2. Oh, the pesky middle! --Which is, of course, by far the longest part of the process. Congratulations on making such good progress on all fronts, though!

  5. These prompts are giving me a lot to think about, which is very good. So, what encourages me to write is often reading a critical article that I think totally misses the point. My first Kalamazoo paper, very long ago, was about a Middle English romance that the writer of every article pegged as being so awful it proved that all the romances were dreck after all. I was so incensed that no one saw that it was a fantastic parody, that I wrote the paper. After harshly criticizing two of the earlier articles in my talk, the authors (!!) responded in the question and answer period. It was a quick lesson in not trashing an article when one does not know the audience; in my defense, I was 23 years old.
    I enjoy marshalling my thoughts when beginning a new project, letting the mind-mapping go wherever it wants to go. I enjoy equally the very picky editing at the end; the downside of that is that I could happily polish forever. I don’t enjoy the literature review, because I am almost always arguing with at least one of the articles (see above) but have to include their arguments in their words, which just makes me want to get on with my own argument.

    Last week’s goals:
    Create 20,000-foot plan for the session. Yes; at least in broad strokes.
    Write and mail long-overdue thank you notes; Almost–yes to one out the door; two are waiting for a trip to the post office.
    Plan conference and remaining medical trips for the next month; Another almost–still need to purchase the train tickets.
    Outline my nascent blog post ideas. Outlined two and mind-mapped three more.

    Also done: Scanned a cubic foot of files that can now be recycled and compiled a box of old documents to take to the shredding day. FInished the administrativia for the intern. Posted one minimal blog post.

    Next week’s goals:
    Finish two end of the year reports–one on what a productive faculty member I am (which I hate writing), and update on statistics, which is more Excel than me, thankfully;
    Mail the darn thank-you notes;
    Take the to-be-shredded files to the local shredding day event.

    I hope everyone is in the middle of a great week; float like mist, everyone.

    1. TLQ is like hand grenades & horseshoes: we give credit for "almost." Someone who is now a significant scholar told me long ago that he had fortunately recognized in the audience at a conference talk the person he was going to call "lamentably ignorant" of a particular source, and changed on the fly to "regrettably unaware." Anyhow, I am totally in favor of defending ME romance, and I think it's pretty cool that your 23-year-old self got to debate the value of this particular one with people who had argued otherwise.

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about my struggles to get work done and how I so do not want to be the person who begins emails “WIth apologies for my tardiness…” and yet I am. Deadlines certainly help, and I too hate to admit that. I need to create some deadlines of my own for the chapters I am writing this summer. I know I should get up and move to another room instead of perpetually sitting in the same place. There are certainly chairs (and a great sofa) in other rooms in the house, but nowhere out in the world where I would necessarily want to go to write. A lot to think about while I’m in “student mode” for the summer.

    Having posted late last week, I didn’t set goals for week 1. Partway through week 2, here are some goals:

    1 get caught up on writing classes
    2 submit an overdue book review (got one done Tuesday)
    3 write and submit abstract for January conference
    4 sort out bookmarks for Tiny Project

    1. This is interesting. You've mentioned the backlog of tasks in recent sessions, as well. Here are some questions, which may also help other people think about their processes. I don't mean these to sound accusatory, though I fear the list may come off that way. When I feel like my list has too many items, I tend to freeze and not be able to tackle any one, even though there may be plenty of time to do them all, so I need to think about ways to list things such that they don't overwhelm me.

      How long has this been happening? Was there a period when things were better? What slows you down? Do you take on too much? Have to do things you really don't want to do? Have too many conflicting demands on your time? Do you get into guilt spirals, where once it's late you can't face the project/people involved at all? (Most of us have been there, including me---not judging, just trying to help you identify what's going on!) Do you need a real break in which you can re-charge, rather than slogging on with all the stuff that has piled up? Do you feel like you don't deserve a break?

    2. Thank you so much for these questions, which I will journal about in the morning. I can raise my hand for more of them than I would like to.

    3. I hope journaling helps! Feeling stuck is so discouraging.

    4. Dame Eleanor, I also wanted to thank you for these questions. I have been slowly sinking into the morass of "but you're the only person who can do X," to the point where I am beginning to panic. These questions will provide a lot to think about. Thank you!

  7. Here's a post from Rachel Neumeier, responding to someone else's post about a survey of creative writer's processes and production. Although creative and scholarly writing can be quite different (I am never going to be able to write 2000 words a day of scholarly material), I thought it was worth thinking about both the survey (second link) and Rachel's comments.

  8. Continuing the late catch-up, in a week that has been chaotic and mostly consumed by travel and marking. I'll set myself a couple of realistic goals:
    - Finish off all outstanding marking before the final lot cones in Friday.
    - Respond to postgrad writing in a constructive way that helps the student move forward next week.
    - Break writing drought with a very short writing stint

    I have a rather difficult relationship with my own writing - I'm reasonably good at administrative writing, and on editing writing and providing feedback, but I find it very hard to push through the internal barriers and distractions to make progress on my own research/writing. While environmental things like music, cup of herbal tea, clear and tidy workspace can help, I'm increasingly aware that feeling rested/exercised/curious are what I really need to feel excited about writing.

    1. Rested is crucial for nearly anything, and many people also need exercised. I think it's Undine who needs to walk in the morning before writing (, but I can't find a post verifying that, so maybe it's someone else.