Tag Archives: Writing

Not So Lively?

28 Nov

Promises to get back to blogging are easy to break. I’ve made them before only to find myself staring at months of silence. I’m not about to make another one now. This blog has been a home for many works-in-progress ideas. When I needed an outlet for exploration, this was an ideal forum. I struggled, as we all can, to maintain a steady volume of output. The ebb and flow of posts is essential for long-term readers. As a writer I am learning to be reliable, but it is a long process.

Part of the challenge–which I recently discussed with a colleague or two at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego–is the paralysis that can come when writing a certain kind of blog post. I have preferred to write lengthier posts that do a bit of the initial free-writing on a topic I’d like to explore further (Demons in video games, for instance, or the viral qualities of cult formation seen in Twitch Plays Pokemon). This preference makes it much harder to be satisfied with your posts. When have I had my say on a topic that I’m just beginning to write about? Am I using my blog as an “open research notebook” for myself or should I consider my audience as I write?

For me the paralysis of writing often emerges when I fail to find a suitable way to balance the demands of audience and personal research notes. The first requires clarity and a willingness to explain context while avoiding jargon. The second makes more rapid progress while shutting out potential conversations. Rather than walk the line I have often chosen not to take a first step and my writing suffered.

Being out of the classroom (we knew we were moving mid-semester so I lost quite a bit of time when I could have been teaching) also diminished my desire to write. Speaking with folks on sabbatical reminded me how integral the conversations in the classroom have been to my own writing process. This blog has been most active when I have been working intensely with students who challenge me to present my ideas more succinctly and seek out points of reference for their frame of experience. Having begun teaching again this fall I feel my desire to write has been rejuvenated. I am also brimming with ideas, many of which are spurred by the work my students have done.

If this experiment has not been so lively lately, I am certainly to blame. But I have not been idle and I hope to be able to share the fruits of other orchards with visitors when they arrive. I still hope to transfer my digital life over to my self-hosted site; I still work on the details of my Spiritual Warfare Archive; I am moving forward in the development of multiple writing projects; and I have exciting partnerships with folks elsewhere on the web such as SacredAndSequential.org and SacredMatters. Perhaps I should shed more light on the shadowy development process, but, as many of us feel, it is often easier to *do* the things rather than discuss them. Self-reflection is a skill to be mastered just as much as blogging.

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On Deadlines

18 Jan

I can literally count the days until the full draft of my dissertation is due. I’ve been disciplined so far, if exceedingly slow. I think my writing process, which used to be quite voluminous, slowed considerably after I taught in the university’s writing program for a year or two. Now I am exceedingly self-conscious about my prose and its quirks. (Have you noticed yet that I love hyphens?)

I am going to try very hard to maintain a minimal level of activity here on the blog, too. Not only do I need a pressure valve to avoid getting lost in my own work over the next 8 weeks, but I need to stay in the writing flow. I find the relative freedom of prose on the blog here helps me move myself along from the grips of personal critical paralysis in the dissertation.

I already have a steady non-academic release–my triathlon training. Exercise is a known de-stresser. It also helps give you more energy, improves quality of sleep, and structures my otherwise endless hours at my desk. I hope that my bicycle, which is at the shop having a pedal repaired, will soon be back so I can pedal my way to the finish line. Literally. I’ll be submitting the draft just a couple days before my triathlon, which if all goes to plan will be both competitive success and miniature vacation. (It’s in Hawaii after all).

In all of this I feel badly about two things. First, my neighbors. I like to listen to music–all kinds of music–while I write and edit and read. It’s probably not the greatest habit, but it works for me. Since my wife and I both work at home it is also necessary to, uh, drown out her non-stop telephone conferences. So as I get set to spend even twice as much time as I have been attached to my desk, my neighbors will get twice the musical goodness. I imagine some things aren’t such a terrible burden. Fleet Foxes, the Shins, and most of the folksy music I listen to probably doesn’t carry much into the adjacent apartments. Neither will quite a bit of the rock and pop I listen to. Or the jazz or classical music. I’m not worried about any of those. Nope. It’s the Skrillex, Deadmau5, Eminem, Kanye, Jay-Z, Macklemore, and Blackalicious. Well, let’s just say I might have to turn down my subwoofer. Sure, I have some excellent headphones somewhere. But I find that it is harder to work with them on. They get in the way of my typing and the rotating pile of books. The pressure from the headphones can also give me headaches. Woe to the academic music lover, eh? I wonder what folks in the music program do when they have to listen to hours and hours of music.

Second, my wife. Bless her heart, she tries very, very hard to keep me on schedule with the triathlon training. She’s already a triathlete and she’s now training for an ironman, but dealing with me as I slowly am enveloped by a very, very, very fixed deadline for this draft doesn’t bode too well for her. I’m sure my meals will get even more erratic as I self-caffeinite all day to keep my energy up.  Who knows when I’ll find time for 20 mile bike rides or mile-long swims or six mile runs. Since it is winter and the sun sets at roughly 5pm my night owlish temperament doesn’t help me get out the door for 6am workouts. Not to mention the local pool is outdoors. And unheated. Only in California, right? At least if I go out midday it’s 65 and sunny all the time. It’ll be a sad day for us both weather-wise when we leave sunny southern California.

This is probably not the last time I’ll mention managing the stress of the final stretch of the project, but it may be the only time I personalize it in this way. If you like it and want more, you might let me know. Otherwise it’ll be back to academic posts, and you’ll forgive me if they are a bit shorter than I usually like to make them. Priorities and deadlines.

Here There Be Dragons

31 Jan

Shiny New Toy?

For my 30th birthday, I received a new piece of technology as a gift from my mother. It’s a piece of software called Dragon Dictate. You may have heard about it on TV or come across it on a web ad. What happens when we get a new piece of technology? Sometimes I think we’ll find that it can seamlessly integrate itself into our daily routine. When I got a new phone, for instance, I found it did all the things that my old phone used to do. Since it was a smart phone, however, it also did a new range of things that my old phone couldn’t do. All of a sudden I could surf the web, and check my e-mail, and integrate the address books on my computer and telephone.

News Paper Origami Dragon Monster

Image by epSos.de via Flickr

Fear the Dragon!

I’m hoping that Dragon Dictate is a piece of software that can bridge the gap between what I say and what I type or write. More than one of my instructors when I was an undergraduate commented that that I was more eloquent aloud in class then I was on paper even given time at home to compose my thoughts. I’ve always had a bit of the gift of gab–even though I do hope to kiss the Blarney Stone when I’m in Ireland later this year–but it is particularly evident if you were to meet me in person and then compare it with my writing. I don’t mean to say that my writing is poor, and it’s obviously a skill that I hope to continue to improve by writing on this blog. Yet I think that however improved my writing could be from constant exercise, it will still be less than what I can say extemporaneously. I hope that doesn’t break some terrible unwritten rule about working in the academy. I know we’re all supposed to be gifted writers and speakers, but is it an egregious lack of tact to claim that I’m better at one than the other and use the weaker medium to share that claim with everyone? I bet that sounded much better aloud.

Chink in the Armor?

The reason I decided I wanted Dragon Dictate is that I’m preparing a series of lectures that I will give as part of a course I’m teaching this summer. I’m also dealing with a variety of materials in my dissertation research such as letters and testimonials that are nowhere else transcribed. It’s likely that I will photograph these materials, which are not digitally available, and it may be that the easiest way to transcribe large chunks of these texts will be to read them aloud into this program.  The lectures and transcription share the common need for a way to capture what I say aloud quickly and accurately. The lectures will be written using my notes, which I will prepare ahead of time and have in front of me when I speak to the computer program. That’s the plan at least. I’m hoping that it will work better than any kind of workflow where I would sit and type up what I think I would like to say and then practice saying it, making changes as I go along. That seems to me backwards not only in intent but also in practice, so perhaps saying it aloud first and revisiting the transcription will allow me a new kind of clarity on what it is I say and how it is that I’m saying it.

As I experimented more with the program I found, however, that it was much easier to speak naturally without inserting any of the punctuation that the software would like you to include (say aloud “comma”), and that it was easy to add them later on in the editing process. This may mean perhaps a second or even a third or fourth run through of the material–something I normally do for all my blogs, even though this often fails to catch all the mistakes that I make. It may add to the labor of the process in ways I haven’t fully quantified yet, and I can bet that it will change, in subtle ways, the way I say things. I wonder if I’ll be able to identify the changes? Will I pause in different places or speak at a different pace? Who knows? This particular piece of technology will influence my work will and I’ll try to note as we go along which of my blog posts have been composed with Dragon Dictate and which ones were entirely composed without the speech software. Into the great technological yonder, right?