Monday, April 21, 2008

Every Other Day

One of my favourite poets, Kate Greenstreet, has a blog called Every Other Day. She has stopped posting to it, but I encourage you to have a look at it, both for its own sake, and for the regular work habit implicit in the title.

Not only did Kate in fact blog every other day, she had a number of regular features, or types of posts. She would often post original interviews with other poets about their first published books. And she had many interesting posts consisting of a picture and a caption. All of it was part of the "plot"—"the whole thing: just trying to be at home."

This idea of structuring your writing through a series of recurring tasks is worth considering. I believe it can be extended also, at least to some extent, to your non-writing activities and even to your non-academic activities. For example, I have been blogging every other (week)day and jogging every other day. In both cases, I have settled (more or less) into a pattern that determines what I do on a particular day.

Actually, I've been blogging every day. Every Friday there's a video post (the video is made on Thursday's but the corresponding post is written on Friday morning). I would have ordinary posts on Mondays and Wednesday's and shorter posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, written after returning from my run.

I'm going to drop the Tuesday and Thursday posts altogether now, in part because I'm increasing the length of my run. Here, too, I am trying to establish a repeating pattern. Five easy kilometers on Tuesdays, hills on Thursdays, and a longer (8-10 km) run on Saturdays. The new regimen has, of course, been talked through with my 'running coach' (one of the profs at my department).

He always reminds me that jogging programmes go awry because people try to get fit too quickly. They think they should just go out and run five kilometers every day from the beginning. After a few weeks, they're worn out. By contrast, I have found that starting slowly, running every other day, has let my legs get strong enough to make my runs truly enjoyable.

You know where I'm going with this. If you do all your writing in a "gotta get it done" spirit, setting aside whole days for a week at a time, you may, indeed, get a paper done, but you will not build up your strength to write over the long term. On the contrary, you'll be draining that strength.

As I am doing now, it is possible to adjust the pattern. If you spend more time on certain activities, others have to give way. The trick is to make sure that you are not always making ad hoc adjustments. Give some thought to how to write within a sustainably repeating pattern. That pattern can change as your other activities change; you may have a heavy teaching load one semester, or be doing field work, or dealing with administrative tasks. But try to see the changes you are reacting to in the bigger picture of a few months at a time.

A good way of establishing the basic structure of a repeating pattern is to ask yourself, How would I get this done if I were working on it every other day?

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