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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers February 2006

vol. 2, no. 2

This month is about when New Year's resolutions have become sources of guilt rather than inspiration. In the northern hemisphere, the mornings are still dark, the weather often dreary. In the academic year, this month seems to find us at our lowest ebb, the enthusiasm of September behind us and the liberation of May still ahead. What to do?

Well, it is often said that “misery loves company.” Perhaps it is not often enough said that “miserable writers need company.” If you've been feeling a little blue about your writing lately, below you will find some of the best possible company. If you've been feeling pretty good about your writing lately, congratulations! Perhaps you can send this to a friend who hasn't been.

Readers Write In: Losing Your Groove

A Flourish reader wrote in about an important topic, restarting after you've stopped:
“About six weeks ago, I was happily enjoying a comfortable writing groove. I was safely beyond most of my preliminary research, had a good outline, and was experiencing no writing funks or glitches. I wrote, I edited, I rewrote, then I wrote some more. Every day I felt productive and unstoppable. Then I gave myself a two-week vacation during the holidays. That two-week vacation turned into three-and-a-half weeks. Then I had to attend to an urgent family matter. Two weeks later, when I arrived back in town, I got involved in a minor car accident, which resulted in severe back pain.

"Last week, as I struggled to return to my writing groove, a million and one things went through my mind.' How can I even think of writing when my aunt is struggling with terminal cancer? How can I write when I just watched her son, a soldier in Iraq, report to duty knowing that he would never see his mother again? How can I write when I can't type for more than twenty-five minutes without my back aching?' I concluded that writing right then was simply impossible.

"This week I began by lowering my writing expectations. I take baby steps instead of diving right into my intimidating tangle of writing projects. I do a little bit every day. I write one sentence, then two. I accept that my not writing will not keep my aunt from dying. I accept that sitting at the computer with no back pain is a ways off. I accept that trying to plunge right into a groove is like trying to dive into an empty swimming pool. Writing is a process that only gets better with time spent writing! But I know I will get there: I know I will start to write with the intention of continuing to write."

Readers Write In: Gaining Perspective

Some time ago, a Flourish reader sent in some great quotes. Here are two of them: "For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts." Anne Lamott

"Whenever I hear someone say, 'I love to write,' I am convinced that person doesn't know how to write; anyone familiar with the creative process -- the intense concentration, the endless problem-solving, the questioning and self-doubt -- would never make such a claim." Thomas Swick

Tipping Point

When we revise, we hope to improve our writing. Many of us, however, are afraid that we are just going to make it worse. How can we get over the fear of making early drafts worse? If you write on a computer, there are a couple of tricks.

  1. Save each revision under a new name. For instance, Chap1a, then Chap1b, and so on. You may never go back to look at these old drafts, but you will know that you can. If you prefer, create a paper file called Revisions of Chapter 1 and put printouts and notes in that file.
  2. Create an electronic file called Outs. Whenever you cut something from a piece you are working on, dump it in this file. You can have an Outs file for each piece you work on, or for all of them together.
  3. As you revise, paste everything you cut at the end of your electronic file. That way, you will come across the sentences before you finish revising and you can evaluate if they are still needed.

News from the Editor

This past month I had to accept that several chapters I had written for a larger project just weren't going to fit into the book and had to be cut. I will do something else with them, but it is always difficult to realize that one is not as far along as one had thought. So, I too am just trying to stick to the writing groove, one day at a time.