Horrific as this image may be, it is, I am sure, familiar to the writers of EdJoWriWe. This writing is grinding. We are not being punished for sedition, but the words we put on the page (or the screen) come from inside us and take a physical toll. For me, anyway. I am meeting my targets. I am writing thousands of words this week, and the article is taking shape. But I am cream-crackered.
Tuesday afternoon, we began writing in earnest, and I had the shell of an outline. Wednesday was about intensively filling in that plan. And despite a slow start (I spent the morning watching my young son's school nativity play; he did well—thanks for asking) I was progressing. Dan Soule, our workshop leader, had referred to Joseph Conrad's discipline of writing 750 words a day, made concrete in the motivational website 750words.com. Seemed a reasonable goal. But as the afternoon wore on, I had surpassed it. Well, then, maybe, like novelist Will Self, I was more of a two-Conrads guy. Great idea. Let's do it. But at 3:30, as we broke for coffee and a stretch, I found myself suddenly and profoundly exhausted. Beyond the caffeine boost, I needed a march around George Square in the gathering dark to hit my target and make good use of the final writing block of the day.
Thursday was even better. Two-thousand words.
Thursday was even worse. I needed the walk and the air after lunch, and by afternoon coffee, I was once again woozy and disoriented, so I took a second walk. Heading home at day's end, I felt broken, and I was useless at domestic tasks such as washing the dishes or reading a bedtime story to the children. The sparest of conversations with my wife. Early to bed.
I am making progress, but if it kills me in the process, what have I gained? A posthumous submission to a journal, with my 7,000-word article as my epitaph? “Here lies Michael Munnik. As this article (published here in draft form) suggests, he showed reasonable promise as a scholar, though he would have done well to work on his paragraphs and consider each topic sentence in greater detail so as to arrange his thoughts in an intelligible manner. Plus, his referencing is inconsistent.”
Perhaps I exaggerate. But I suspect the intensity of our writing this week is unsustainable. The collective accountability (and the collective release during breaks) of the group motivates me. Can I write two Conrads a day without it? And what shape will I be in if I do? I wonder which of the practices we have experimented with this week I can carry forward for the next six months as I finish my thesis. Which of them can last in that futurepotential career as a scholar? We have heard this week how jealously academics guard their writing time—how valuable it is for their promotion, and how easily dismissed it is amidst the noisier deadlines of marking, conference abstracts, and grant proposals. Maybe two Conrads a day is feasible only in the sacred, special time of our PhD (or the sacreder, specialer time of EdJoWriWe).
Or, like Harry Potter, we can press on with the cause we believe in. We can declare that writing up our own research is important. We can defend and insist on it even if it bleeds our body and scars our skin. Let's hope it doesn't come to that by 6:00 Sunday.