Week 1: The Writing Plan

I’m big on planning. I make weekly and daily to-do lists. I have a five-year plan. So, when the first chapter was titled “Designing Your Plan for Writing,” I knew that not only could I get on board, but I would also enjoy it, probably.

Week 1: Designing Your Plan for Writing. Writing in academia is one of those things that its practitioners love to hate (or hate to love?). It’s so nice to get your thoughts and ideas into words, to write a close analysis of a source, to take all that time you’ve spent and material you’ve collected researching into some coherent thing. But, writing is hard. So, this chapter really asks you to engage with the process of writing – starting with how you feel about it, thinking about what you want to write or revise, engaging with the place you write, and making, sticking to, and reflecting on a writing schedule.

The goal I set for last week was to approach a potential writing partner. I did, and I’m happy to say that he accepted. The introduction includes an agreement you can sign with your writing partner to hold yourselves and each other accountable. Belcher encourages you to print out and keep the signed agreement by your writing space. We’ve done an electronic version as I’m in Beirut and he’s in London and I’ll put it on my desktop since my writing space moves (even though one of the Week 1 tasks is to “choose and improve your writing space.” I’ll let you know how that goes next week) (1).

So, I’ve got my writing partner and agreement in hand. To the task list. The book is designed so you spend 5 hours/week, or 1 hour/day working on your article.

  • Day 1 (Monday). Read through page 10 of chapter one and fill in the boxes provided on those pages to get you to think about how you feel about writing.
  • Day 2 (Tuesday). Read pages 110-18 and select a text to develop for publication.
  • Day 3 (Wednesday). Read pages 18-19 and choose and improve the place that I write.
  • Day 4 (Thursday). Read pages 19-39 and create a daily and weekly writing schedule for the next 12 weeks, including the possibility for obstacles and interruptions.
  • Day 5 (Friday). Read pages 39-40 and start documenting how you spend your time.

*  *  *

When you begin a new writing project, do you create a plan? If so, what does it look like? If not, what does the start of a new project look like for you?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

 

Hello from Nantes!

The first leg of my research year has just about come to a close. It’s been a simultaneously long and short six weeks in Nantes, France (see helpful map below), and I’m looking forward to see what Beirut has in store for me. I’ll get into the ins and outs of my research time, but I thought I’d devote this post to talking about some of the things I’ve been doing here that aren’t related to research.

As most anyone who knows me could tell you, I’m a fairly committed introvert and can very happily spend an entire weekend at home, enjoying a good book, podcast, show, or movie (or, all of the above). This means that I’ve read – or have started to read – a fair few books (all of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing) and almost completed the crossword puzzle book I got to entertain me on the long flight from Los Angeles to London. I’ve also enjoyed Outlander (the TV show; it’s why I started reading the books), Brooklyn 99 (hilarious!), and Poldark (not too bad, with beautiful cinematography, though the writing falls short at times), all of which aren’t available on US Netflix – sorry – but are worth a watch if you can get them some other way, as well as some French news programs and crime dramas.

Located on the Loire river on France’s Atlantic coast, Nantes is a large city of almost a million people in its greater metropolitan area, and is the largest city in the region.

63c88d857da5df3ef420d291df1ee52f
Accessed from: reflectim.com

It’s also a very old city, having existed as a site of some importance since ancient times. In fact, there’s a place in the city, near the restored Chateau de ducs de Bretagne, that has been marked off as a historical site containing the remains of the oldest and newest walls in the city – from a wall built by the Romans in the third century, to those constructed in the medieval and early modern periods, all the way to the wall that surrounds the restored castle, built in the twentieth century. Near the castle is a cathedral, built in a style similar to that of Notre Dame in Paris, from what I can tell (The top two pictures below are of and from the castle; the bottom two are of the cathedral).

It’s history has also been shaped by the major events of the twentieth century, including both World Wars. There’s a large cemetery near the city center that includes grave sites for the French, French colonial (mostly Tunisia and Algeria, from what I could see), English, Belgian, and German soldiers who died in France during WWI.

img_2034

Aside from its history, Nantes has a pretty rich cultural life, with countless museums (many of which are free) and cultural events (also often free). I’ve made a habit of going to a permanent market that’s been in Nantes since the 1930s, Marche de Talensac; it’s open almost every morning of the week and hosts indoor, covered, and open-air stalls selling produce, meat, seafood, cheese, bread, art, bags, clothes, and a number of other things. I also enjoy regular to trips to one of the four boulangerie’s (bakery) near my apartment.

Since I’ve been here since late September, I’ve gotten to enjoy the changing seasons (which, unlike in southern California, isn’t only marked by the arrival of the pumpkin spice latte to your local Starbucks). When I first arrived, I would have my windows open wide and a tree across from my apartment was thick with green leaves. Now, I open the windows only a crack, just for fresh air, and find myself running the portable radiator for a bit in the mornings, just to get the chill out, and that same tree is now only sparsely filled with brilliantly-hued red-orange and yellow leaves. Fall has, I think, officially arrived.

Stay tuned for more on research and what I’ve been finding in the archive here!

5 Things: Podcasts

I recently got an iPad (I know, welcome to the 21st century, right?) and have become an avid listener of a variety of podcasts. While I probably enjoy listening to at least 10 different podcasts, I’ve chosen five that I can’t get enough of right now:

Stuff Mom Never Told You. This has a distinctly feminist bent, but (so?) shouldn’t preclude anyone from listening. In addition to a variety of other topics looked at from a feminist and gender perspective, earlier this summer they did a series on romantic comedies. It was great and has added several films to my must-watch list.

Stuff You Missed in History Class. These are fun and cover a variety of historical topics that, as the name suggests, you probably didn’t learn in your general education history classes. (Several weeks ago, the hosts posted to the podcast’s blog about concerns that they include “too many women” on the program. If you want to read their excellent response to that claim, click here.)

Pop Culture Happy Hour. This podcast makes me aware of how painfully unaware I am of pop culture. But they did do an episode on “Bob’s Burgers” last month that was something I know about before listening.

Ottoman History Podcast. This obviously aligns more to my particular professional and academic interests, but, like “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” the hosts and guests provide you with a look at the past that you probably never got. They also do a good job at showing how history isn’t just memorizing a bunch of names and dates.

Sit’N Listen. This comes from Harvard University’s graduate student organization, Science in the News (SITN), and has so far discussed a number of topics, ranging from GMOs to the construction of sex and gender in science (spoiler from the latter: science isn’t as objective as we like to think it is!).

Bonus for those who like politics: Off Message and The Axe Files are two I’ve been listening to lately.

Since I’m a podcast neophyte, I’d be happy to hear your recommendations in the comments!

Bagels and Math

I wrote the following blog post for a pedagogy course I’m taking this quarter. We were tasked with recounting an experience we witnessed or had ourselves that reflected fixed and/or growth mindsets to learning. Enjoy!

My favorite breakfast is a bagel and cream cheese. To feed this habit, every couple of weeks I stop by a local bagel place and pick up a half dozen–3 cranberry and 3 blueberry. Last week, as I was standing in line to place my order, a dad and his two daughters walked in. The dad and the youngest were in the middle of a conversation about school:

Daughter: I’m bad at math
Dad: No you’re not. You’re smart.
Daughter: No, I can’t do math.
Dad: No, you’re smart. I can do math so you can do math.
Daughter: I’m bad at math! Why can’t you just support me?!
(this girl had some sass)

Years of conversations like this came flooding back to me. I was this girl. I was this girl until I was a senior in high school. Sometimes, I’m still this girl.

Since the 1970s, psychologist Carol Dweck has researched human motivation, looking at how people overcome difficulties. She developed the idea of fixed versus growth mindsets. According to Dweck, people that have a fixed mindset view intelligence as an innate characteristic that doesn’t change, so that academic success is limited by how “smart” you are. Those who have a growth mindset see the key to success in effort and hard work; intelligence isn’t something you either have or don’t, but is instead something that can be cultivated and grown.

Like the young girl I encountered at the bagel shop, for much of my young life I had a fixed mindset. As a third grader learning multiplication, I struggled a bit. I declared myself to be bad at math. When in junior high I got my first D on a writing assignment, I decided I couldn’t write. This thinking followed me around throughout elementary, junior, and early high school. Things finally began to change when I joined my high school’s cross country team as a sophomore. I had never been an athlete. When I first started running, I was really bad. I was sore for weeks on end. When I didn’t see immediate improvement I said it was because I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t think of running as a skill that needed to be developed; I saw it as something that you could do or you could not do.

Many off-season cross country runners join their school’s track and field team for the spring. I did the same. I was slow. And everyone could see how slow I was (tracks are the worst). Because I was the only upperclasswoman on the distance team my junior year, I ran in league finals against the top runners from the other schools in our league. They were very good. I crushed that race. I didn’t win, and I came in dead last, but I improved my 2-mile time by over 2 minutes (for those who aren’t runners, that’s a lot). It seemed like my hard work was, just maybe, finally starting to pay off. That summer, as I trained with my team for the fall cross country season, I made goals for myself, I focused and worked hard at improving my running. It worked. I was voted team captain. I ran on the varsity girls’ team. I came to see that, just as I had to work hard to improve at and develop my running skills, I needed to apply the same kind of effort to those areas of school that I struggled with (which, at that point, was most things).

With that realization, I moved from a fixed to a growth mindset–from I can’t to not yet; from hating math to excelling on it when I took the GRE; from being a B/C-range writer to doing it as a central part of my career.

I was so tempted to turn around and say something to that little girl. To tell her that, though she might not be great at math yet, if she works at it, and maybe works at it really hard, she’ll get better. I wanted to say: I used to feel the exact same way! For years and years and years. It stunted my learning and kept me from pursuing opportunities. You’ll get there. Just maybe not yet. I didn’t say anything (I mean, did you hear her sass? I didn’t know if I could handle getting yelled at by a 10-year-old at 6:30 in the morning). But, I hope she figures it out. I hope she has a teacher or a parent, a friend or a coach, that can show her that we might not always be good at things on the first try – that we can’t do math yet, but with hard work, determination, and a commitment to growth, we can.

Summer

It’s here! I know. Summer actually started a while ago. But, I took (and passed!) my first minor exam last week, so I didn’t really begin my summer until this week, and I’ve been enjoying the time, doing some work, but mostly not doing anything. It’s been wonderful.

Anyway, there’s lots to do as I prepare for the third year of the program; I’m looking forward to completing the second of two minor exams, taking the Arabic language exam, and qualifying. Fingers crossed that next year this time I’ll have all those things crossed off the to-do list.

To prepare, I’ll be doing work related to all of those things for the next two months, with some breaks and trips thrown in there too, of course. I mean, it’s still summer after all.

Transitions

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted on her blog about transitions. In her post, she made a point about transitions that I hadn’t thought of before: namely, that life isn’t full of finite beginnings and ends; rather, it is full of transitions that continually (though not always gracefully) move you from one to another, but not entirely leaving where you were before. There is a change but there is also continuity.

Today marks the T-minus 30-day piont before starting my new adventures as a PhD student. Last week, I made the announcement at work that I would be resigning on September 20. It has been bittersweet. While I’m looking forward to my transition from government employee to full time student, everything is full of unknowns. What will classes be like? How will I interact with new faculty members and peers? How will I handle the renewed pressured associated with the life of a researcher?

While I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, I do know that this is just one more of life’s exciting transitions, where I can take the experiences and people that make up my life with me, combining them with something new and probably awesome.