Getting organized

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tomorrow is February 1st, but I'm pretending it's the first day of the year and I'm starting my resolutions tomorrow.  I didn't make any resolutions at the beginning of 2011, and perhaps in part because of this, January was the least productive month ever.  Even if I rarely keep resolutions, they at least make me work harder at something for awhile.  Without having any set goals for the year, I feel like I made no progress on the dissertation, the novel, or any other important thing going on in my life during this past month.  I went two weeks without grading a single thing, and these were the first two weeks of the semester!  Not a good way to start a semester, so I'm committing to starting fresh and working hard in the month to come.

This isn't to say I was a total barnacle this past month.  My dissertation director set a March 4 deadline for my prospectus, so I have been ordering and printing primary texts, making my bibliography, reading up on the history of the British East India Company, and trying to narrow down chapter topics.  Even though this journey has only begun, I'm getting organized, which to me is fun.  (In another life I think I was a professional closet organizer.)

My home file cabinet is completely full of boring paperwork (read: bills and bank statements), and since I'm trying to avoid my office at AU as much as possible, I needed a new home filing system for the diss.  At the beginning of the month I went to Office Depot and bought two filing crates and two-hundred files in bright, happy colors, and so far my color-coded system has worked fantastically.

I have files for appendix-related materials (charts, maps, pictures), for bibliographies I come across, for each woman writer I'm working with.  I have files for each chapter and each sub-topic within the chapters, so when I come across an article I don't need now but that might be important a year from now, I just print it and drop it into the appropriate file.

Even more important than my paper filing system, though, is my electronic one.  I'm using Microsoft One Note to keep all of my notes, web links, pictures, and even to-do lists together, and it is so much fun and so easy to use.  I highly recommend it to anyone taking on a massive project.  (I have a separate one for The Novel and another for planning trips.)

For anyone not familiar with One Note, it works like an electronic notebook.  You give your "notebook" a name, set up tabs for the different sections, and then make individual pages for each section.  In my screenshot above, you'll see I have a "To-Do" tab and then a different to-do list for each month.  I also have a  "Summaries" tab, with a separate page for each of the women I'm working with and a breakdown of all of the topics they wrote about.  If I find a picture or image I like online, I copy it and paste it onto the appropriate page of my Appendix section, and One Note automatically records the title and web address of the picture.  One Note is awesomeness incarnate.

I'm just one page away from completing my January to-do list, which I'll finish up this afternoon, and then it's on to February!  Here's to hoping it's a fun, productive month for all of us!


On learning patience

Friday, January 7, 2011

I am by nature an impatient person.  So far I've never found this quality to be of any benefit to me, and it certainly isn't a good characteristic for a writer or a reader to have.  Right now I'm suffering from impatience because I just (as in ten minutes ago) finished Ally Condie's dystopian YA novel Matched, the first in a three book series.  That's right.  Part one of three.  And the second doesn't come out until November 2011.  Soooo, that means I have a long wait ahead of me.  And I am not good at waiting.  I want instant gratification.  I'm so happy I read the Twilight series after all the books were out. Otherwise, I might have been up for days wondering "Who will Bella choose?  Edward?  Jacob?  Mike?  Or that Tyler kid?  Will she become a vampire?  And will she and Edward ever just do it already?!"  ;-)  And I'm very thankful that I waited until last July to read The Hunger Games, so I only had a month to wait before the final book came out.  If I'd had to wait much longer the stress might have killed me.

I think, as a reader, it is sometimes difficult to remember how long it really takes to put a book together--not just the writing, and that alone can take years.  I'm a slow writer, so even on a good day I can usually only write about five pages.  Five pages that took five hours to write, and maybe another hour of research, and another hour or two of revision.  A full work day to compose five pages that the average reader will consume in ten minutes.  Today I read 200+ pages of Matched, a 366-page book.  Since Ally Condie also admits to being a slow writer and that the second Matched book, Crossed, has already taken fourteen months, I'm going to estimate that today I read what it took Condie ten months or so to write--and that's in addition to all of the editorial revisions she must have made and all of the hurdles of publication.

Sometimes when impatience sets in I must remind myself of how long and arduous the journey is from a single idea to a published book, that while one can receive almost instant gratification from reading a great novel or seeing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or listening to Brahms' First Symphony, years can go into their making.  Years, for just a few hours of individual joy.  But anything truly great takes time, commitment, the belief that the end result will be worth all the wait.  And so, as I begin the long wait until November for Crossed to be released into the world, I will also try to remember to be patient with my own writing, that writing isn't glossy book covers and acid-free pages and reviews in the Times--it's long hours staring at a computer monitor, rearranging words and sentences and pages and deleting them and adding them back and questioning whether any of it works and whether anyone should want to read it.  That it's work--hard work.  But that in the end, the result is so worth the wait.

Who could resist this fantastic cover!


Publication News

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I have to thank my friend Tawnysha Greene for her wonderfully honest and inspiring post yesterday over on her blog.  A lot of writers are open about their rejections, but Tawnysha took this kind of honesty to a new level by revealing exactly how many times each of her published works had been rejected.  The numbers were truly astounding.  While some pieces were accepted after just a few rejections or even accepted by the first place she submitted them, a couple of pieces were rejected well over a hundred times before finding a home!  I know how good a writer Tawnysha is, so there were two different ways I could have responded to such statistics--I could have been depressed that the publishing world is so competitive (and subjective) that talented writers like Tawnysha are overlooked, or I could have been inspired by her tenacity and determination.  I chose the latter.

After I read Tawnysha's post, I decided to dust off some old pieces that had been rejected and resubmit them.  I realized that by only submitting a story four or five times, I wasn't really giving it a fair shake.  I started with a story I discussed in another post last summer, a piece that I really love but that had been rejected four times.  Last semester I made a lot of excuses for not resubmitting the story--usually blaming comps, my (very weak) excuse for everything last semester--but yesterday I decided to stop making excuses and just do the damn thing.  So I submitted the story to seven places.  I've never sent a story to so many places at once before, but Tawnysha's post made me realize I needed to cast my net wider and deeper.  And this time I caught something.

This morning I received an email from The Citron Review--less than 24 hours after I submitted my story to them--asking to publish "Black & White" in their Spring 2011 issue in March.  Of course I then had to withdraw the story from six other places, but it was well worth it to see this story finally published.

So I have to give a special thanks to Tawnysha for writing such an honest and inspiring post.  It's thanks to her that today I have one more publishing cred to my name.


2010: A Year in Review

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It may seem strange to be reviewing 2010 four days into 2011, but 2010 was such a great year for me that I feel I must acknowledge it in some way.  For one thing, 2010 was the first year that I actually kept a resolution--to be ABD by the end of the year.  I've been absent from the blogosphere for several months, busy teaching and studying for comps, but I can now happily report that I passed my written and oral comps with flying colors and, as my dissertation director says, my life is now my own.  I am in the happy land of research and dissertation writing.

When I wasn't teaching or studying or taking classes last year, though, I did lots of other fun things:

  • I presented at two eighteenth-century conferences (ASECS in Albuquerque and EC-ASECS in Pittsburgh).  
  • I spent the summer teaching and writing in a tiny mountain town in Pennsylvania. 
  • I spent a glorious four-day weekend in New York.  
Me with good ol' Hans Christian Anderson in Central Park.
  • I read tons of amazing books.  (I typed 42 titles into my long-neglected GoodReads account this morning--and those were just the ones I could remember off the top of my head.)  Favorites include Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series (for YA), the Emily the Strange novels (for MG/YA), Kate Morton's The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden (contemporary/historical novels), Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth (short story collection), and Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague (eighteenth-century epistolary novel).
One of the  most beautiful and moving books I read this year.
  • I listened to a lot of great music.  My favorite albums of the year were Vampire Weekend's Contra, Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, The xx's XX, Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More, and Broken Bells' self-titled debut.  And I got to see She & Him, Silversun Pickups, and Muse in concert.  Seeing Muse was on my bucket list, and it was the most amazing concert I've ever seen.
Ohhh, Matt Bellamy, you can do no wrong in my eyes. ;-)
  • I visited some of the greatest art museums in the world and saw some truly inspiring exhibits.  Favorites were "Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" at MoMA, "Caricature, Satire, and Comedy of Errors: Works on Paper from the 18th through 20th Centuries" at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and "Salvador Dali: The Late Works" at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Dali's Hallucinogenic Toreador--not part of the exhibit, but my favorite Dali painting nonetheless.
  • I got to celebrate being ABD with a trip to Mexico, and I got to tour Chichen Itza (another bucket list item), climb to the top of Ek Balam, snorkel some amazing reefs, and try snuba for the first time.  I learned a lot about myself on that trip, and I'm sure it will be food for many stories (and maybe even a poem!) to come.
Itty-bitty me and El Castillo at Chichen Itza.
Some of the amazingly well-preserved carvings and statues at Ek Balam.
The gorgeous water at Xel-Ha.
Snorkeling in the reef near Puerto Morelos.
Some of my favorite fish friends at Xel-Ha.
My first (and perhaps last! lol) attempt at SNUBA

I didn't get to travel as much as usual this past year, but I did some calculations, and I spent more than one month living in hotel rooms in 2010.  Add that to the two months I lived in PA and the weeks that I spent visiting friends and family, and I probably only spent eight months in Auburn last year.  2011 promises to be even more eventful, with several trips in the works (Seattle/Vancouver in March, at least a month living in London this summer, and maybe trips to Amsterdam, Paris, and Italy), and I hope to write a little more, read a little more, and just enjoy life even more. :-)


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