Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Writing Binges

It is conference season, and with it comes understandable professional pressures. As you may or may not know, I presented a part of my second chapter from my dissertation at SEM last weekend. In just a few days, I will be getting on a plane for Nashville to attend AMS. Normally conference season is my most unproductive. Whatever work I do is generally focused on older projects, and I direct the rest of my energy to other professional activities, like schmoozing and thinking about all of the new ideas circulating in the field(s) of music research. But this year is a little different, not just because I am on the job market, but also because I haven't altered my writing schedule.

I discovered sometime on Friday evening that I have inadvertently slipped into chapter draft completion mode. (This is not to be confused with final revision mode, which shares some attributes but is really a separate animal altogether.) This became glaringly obvious when I chose an evening of working on my dissertation over two very enticing Halloween parties. Something is clearly wrong with me!

My understanding of my own writing process is that sometime after I do the majority of the research on a chapter, I finally assimilate the information and my subconscious works out some of my major theoretical blocks. And then I decide that the blocks are mostly gone and I can work out the chapter in a first draft form. In short, the fretting and worrying that hinders me gives way to a firm belief that I can produce something coherent even if it needs to be rewritten/revised in the very near future. I solve a version of the dissertation puzzle, and then I really want to write. And write. And write.

This is what I call "chapter draft completion mode." In this mode of existence, everything else in my life fades away, even really enticing things like friends' parties, and I just want to get the darn chapter done. It eventually becomes compulsive. I binge. I treat my computer as an appendage. I carry many books around with me just so that they will remind me of certain crucial points. My sleep patterns change. I have to remind myself to eat. I can't sustain my focus on much of anything else.

I first experienced this mode of writing about a year ago when I promised an outside member of my committee a completed chapter draft by October 1. I proceeded to spend the last week of September hiding in a TA office on campus with my computer and books, finally hashing out all of the little details of my very first chapter. The final result was a predictable disaster, and it took me many months to clean up that mess. I've been trying to avoid that kind of overly messy writing binge ever since.

The good news is that I know what this is. And hopefully I will have this monster known as my chapter 4 relatively under control by a self-imposed due date hanging in the future. One can only hope.