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Serial writing / little-and-often

Since my previous post, I have been reading lots of articles and books about writing and today, as I prepared for the writing task at hand--to try and weave a 1,000 word close reading of a poem into my thesis chapter--I noticed a book on my shelf that I had not picked up for more than a year: How to write a thesis by Rowena Murray. This is a book I purchased (second hand, ex-library copy) in the first year of my PhD, way back in the pre-historic age.

For the first couple of years I regularly dipped in and engaged with the writing tasks and questions set by the author in the opening chapters: 'How to write 1,000 words an hour' and 'Thinking about writing a doctorate' and even 'Starting to write'.  So when I opened the book today to the bookmarked place where I'd left off, I was somewhat surprised to see that since my last reading, I have moved on several 'stages'. I now found that my current PhD stage fell into the chapter titled 'Becoming a serial writer'. This comes as a great relief!

Open University Press

Murray's advice is always spot on, not just with regards to writing a thesis, but to living life as a writer. Here is an excerpt from the section 'What is a serial writer?':

A serial writer is someone who sees writing as a series of tasks, who progresses from one writing task to the next and connects the writing sessions with each other, to create continuity [...] writers establish a pattern of writing, a cadence of production that suits their working environment and a social environment that sustains--or at least does not undermine--their writing. (p 150)

During the past two years especially, my focus has been to build up writing in this way. I tend to work in this rhythm with academic writing or else (as she also warns) I tend to forget where I am in my thinking and then it takes several full days for me to re-approach and catch up with my thoughts and my argument. Very frustrating! Serial writing has also worked well for me with poetry projects and book reviews. This little-and-often quality also feeds into parts of life that happen around and between writing times.  In her section on regular writing, p. 160, Murray approaches the concept of binge writing. As I commented in my last post, although I have found binge writing helpful at times, I always hit the crash that comes afterwards. Being a long-time, part-time student, it has taken me at least five years of PhD study to realise how tiring the binge approach can be and I found myself nodding to and underlining this section today while reading:

With bingeing comes hypomania, the near-mania of euphoria and rushing. With bingeing comes busyness--because each binged task is followed by the need to complete other, overdue tasks while emitting all the busy signs of not wanting to be disturbed. And with bingeing comes a failing to find the times for rest and renewal that could provide energy and ideas for writing. 

This well-worded and humbling quote comes from R. Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure (1994, p. 240).

Right now, I feel lucky to be in a place where the ideas are flowing faster than I can keep up: ideas for my next poetry sequence, connections finally made on my chapter trajectory, books I want to review and articles with which I want to engage, blog posts to write. Each time I meet fellow writers and discuss, listen to, give feedback or throw around ideas, I come home head-abuzz with even more ideas.  But for now, I am trying to just keep on keeping on with the writing, though I guess I should make a list of the ideas so they don't just pass by.