December 1st. If I follow from the declaration made in the first post on this blog, today is the first day of the sixth month of my sabbatical. Wow. The recent completion of NaNoWriMo seems a good a time as any to arbitrarily declare this as the chosen point in time for an in-process, sabbatical reflection. And perhaps doing so will make me feel a bit better about not quite “winning” NaNoWriMo — or, in everyday parlance, failing to reach the 50,000 word count one needs in order to wear that moniker proudly. How much did I write? Well, I’ll get to that. Soon.
This is my 101st post (I kind of like that #100 was all about natalie wood). While having dinner with a couple of nights ago, t described this manic posting practice I seem to have developed as prolific — certainly a nicer word than manic, to be sure. Where, I wonder, was this sprinting ability while I was writing my dissertation? When I’m struggling to write that conclusion for a chapter? Or even when pulling together a comment for my other blog? The culprit or catalyst, depending on perspective, may be audience with a side of time(liness).
Audience: How liberating it is to write without audience, or at least not on that is pre-defined and looms large over your every word? Very. This is the —
[begin digression] as i write, there is a couple sitting on the green olive stripe colored sofa across from me. the young woman, im guessing in her early 20s, wears a turquoise knit hat on her head that hangs oh-so-casually off of her parietal lobe. her paramour, a young man with shoulder length, dirty blonde hair wearing not one but two hoodies, sits next to her with alternating looks of brooding and fabricated wonderment. a few moments earlier, they were locked in an embrace, his head buried in her shoulder, for nothing short of 5 minutes — i kept looking up, they kept embracing. they are preparing to leave now, after double hoodie has been served a large mocha with whip cream and chocolate drizzle as his companion watches him lick the whip cream with the awe a dog owner might have for her pet — wonderment at every, slightest thing. [end digression]
I think I was saying something about writing … Oh right, writing free from the ghosts of audience past, present, and future. I didn’t write into “my novel” everyday in November — and yes, I’m not going to be able to drop the quotes because it seems inconceivable to me to assign something penned by these tired fingers a name that might imply a kinship in some way to the words penned by many others that have evoked adoration and illumination. Despite slacking occasionally and not achieving the 2,000 words/day that would have ensured “winning,” I found myself thinking about the stories in the story constantly. I am, once again, moved to reminisce about my friend A who is the example I often refer to when urging my students that they must “know” their data. She would carry with her binders in which she had collected and organized transcripts, fieldnotes, her own journals and ongoing analysis and, always one to make the most of a moment, if ever writers block struck her she would read into her binder — I think there were ultimately more than one. Two? Three? No matter, she would read and rereread and reread again. She read the words of her research participants as one would a compelling novel, with great interest and with the sense that new interpretations were possible with each new reading. She reminded me of my grandmother’s practice of reading a few texts multiple times, specifically texts that had both religious and cultural foundations. In one year she may have read them each half a dozen times, with the reading, she would insist, different each time. [Insert Rosenblatt-ian reference to reader response and aesthetic reading here.] And lucky for her grandkids, she would share choice excerpts from time to time as we gathered to hear her version of how this person vanquished another or how magical fantasticalism could seem perfectly quotidian.
Thus, the audience in part for these masters of rereading may have been first and foremost themselves. Were they inclined to read and learn more? Did they find the characters, storylines, and events compelling? Was the story something they would want to read? What was missing? So perhaps a humbling finding, if you will, of this month-long autoethnography of mine is that (for me) to write consistently, let alone well, the source material has to be cultivated, nurtured, sat with, dreamed about, talked through (either alone or with disinterested others — informed audiences are for another time), sketched out, repositioned, viewed from multiple and unexpected horizons, questioned, considered, studied, and brought to life with touches of grace and fallibility.
Time(liness): A’s practice of rereading and knowing the stories also leads into the second catalystic culprit that hit me over the head in a Duh-like move this month — time pressure can not only be a good thing, but such a feature might be best used well in advance of actual deadlines. Now sure, I’ve tried to give myself “false” deadlines before. It’s really due November 1st, when the “real” (read: set by someone else) is November 15th. Friends and colleagues are way ahead of me on this matter, some of whom submit things in advance of deadlines. Such a practice continues to amaze and astound me, but at least now I am beginning to gain a glimpse of how such a practice might be possible. (Don’t let it be said that you were not warned about the sheer multitude of Duh-like moments to be read in this post. Thus, the reader would do well to pace her eye-rolling. There are more to come, I’m sure!)
It helped to feel a part of the larger NaNoWriMo community, and in this last fortnight to have encountered the NaNoWordSprints tweets. It’s the ethos we strive to accomplish with writing groups and other collective composing endeavors, but the reality is that the time we know it takes to accomplish the aforementioned “knowing” of the stories often butts up against the time-suck activities with which university life is replete. A third hand or factor in this equation of time is the steady stream of deadlines and demands on time, and thus too quickly writing becomes just one more thing to do — and in the tenure dance, the very important thing to do [shoulder slump] — instead of what it has been for the last month: a space in which to get lost, in which ideas danced and so, too, did the characters.
For those of assume many other roles in addition to that of writers (i.e., colleagues, committee members, dissertation advisers, counselors, sounding boards, cheerleaders, critical friends — sometimes in the same day) — if we even allow ourselves such a title to begin with — such a process of knowing, breathing, and living with the stories that may lead to writing may not always be realistic. Perhaps it would if we weren’t implicitly — and in more than a few cases explicitly — told that quantity of publications (nevermind any adherence to what else may result from writing) is paramount. And when one is facing graduation with the goal of just getting the thing done, you may want to channel the inimitable A’s ability to draft whole chapters in a single weekend. (If I remember correctly, a selection of sugary treats were integral to this maneuver. It also helped that she, as noted above, knew the hell out of the stories she was crafting.)
To write fewer but better, to write with abandon, to give one another break and not hold take one another to task for every utterance (even as in some instances every utterance matters), to make words count, to be quiet more often than we talk.
But as long we’re talking word counts…
My final NaNoWriMo word count: 30404.
Just for kicks, I also tallied up the word count for my November blog posts: 11348.
The Final* Word Count for November, 2011: 41752.