Monday, March 26, 2007

So Many Words

The Real Book
When I opened Word this evening to compose something for my blog, I was greeted by my book chapter. It has a pretty title, bold and centered, under which my name and affiliation is followed by two others. I write, by the way, in Arial. It’s not so scary anymore. The 11 point font marches neatly across the screen, interrupted only by bold headings when the topic changes or a pretty, color figure when a point requires illustration.

It’s lovely, my chapter. Very incomplete, of course, but the section I see when it pops in front of Firefox is pretty. I have a folder of literature piled on my side table and another batch of papers waiting in my bag. There’s so much to learn and incorporate. Thousands of words to skim, hoping that I’m not too tired or distracted to mark the good parts so that I can come back to them later.

It’s coming along – rather quickly, actually. I’m learning a lot, though my knowledge on this particular topic is rather superficial. But I can apply certain algorithms, make a pretty figure, then explain what happened and propose some explanation. I wished today for the quiet of home. Time with my fine point Crayola markers – I like to pick a color and write on papers as I try to focus. When I finish a paper, I get to change colors. It keeps me oddly motivated. I also didn’t send my chapter to the office, so I couldn’t work on it there. But I wanted to write it today – had ideas and desire, but lacked opportunity.

I think this means I’m famous!
Instead, I stayed on campus after arriving a bit late. I worked on my grant – not writing, per se, but restructuring so that it followed a more logical order. My initial attempt was more like “here’s a bunch of paragraphs. What’s important is hidden there somewhere. Good luck! And please give me money.” I find this new way Boss devised to be rather amazing in how it actually says what we’re trying to say.

After sending him the new draft, I got an email that read as follows:

I just got the new issue of [Very Good Journal that Published My Last Graduate Paper]. Congratulations on having one of your figures chosen for the cover!

Since I don’t get that journal and had no idea one of my figures had been chosen for the cover, I hurried down the hall toward his office and knocked at his open door. He picked up the glasses lying next to his computer screen and settled them on his nose before smiling at me.

“May I see the journal? Do you have one?”

“Don’t you get one?” He asked, jumping up from his desk as he looked around for his copy. “I didn’t know you got the cover! That’s fantastic – quite an honor.”

“I didn’t know either.” I told him. He handed it to me and I looked at it for a moment. Silent. Wondering who else had figures in that issue that might have competed with mine. I was proud, but in a distant way. More pleased – strange as it sounds – with the colored image than I was of myself for making it. Boss went through calculations of the chances one had of getting a cover image – calculated probabilities of getting published in that journal at all, then in having a reviewer mark that a certain image was cover-worthy, then to have that one chosen over all other candidates. I just continued to look at it.

“Make sure you tell Advisor.” Boss noted after we’d talked for some time. He then went down the hall to see if anyone else would part with their copy of the journal, hoping we could frame one, send another to my parents, have another for him to keep since he’d given me his. Boss is terribly sweet – I love him very much.

I composed an email – one of many since I’d updated the co-authors on this paper’s tentative acceptance, official acceptance, the arrival of proofs, the online publication, and its selection for a virtual journal.

In continuing news of "look how well my paper is doing!" I thought I could let you know that our figure was selected for the cover image of the March issue of [Very Good Journal that Published My Last Graduate Paper]! Boss is quite pleased and has given me his copy. So the little paper that took forever to get published anywhere is finally doing quite well for itself. I'm really quite pleased. So congratulations to all of us again! :)

I hope you all continue to be well. And this really should be the last time I say, "hey, look at that!" about this particular paper.


I don’t know why I said the paper was doing well for itself any more than I know why I think of it that way. But that’s not the point. Advisor wrote back a congratulatory email that was also copied to the members of my committee. The same members, by the way, who postponed my defense date by 6 months because “the work I’d done would never get published if it wasn’t in press upon leaving grad school.” That I “made the department look bad with a poor publication record upon leaving.”

They were wrong. I got every single paper published (well, there were only three first author manuscripts, but still! They’re all in print now! It just takes time, dammit.) and have not, I hope, brought shame upon all who know me. So that was a nice little boost on a Monday morning.

And the novel
I wrote the beginning - it took awhile for me to even start that. Then I edited the beginning so I didn’t think it was poorly written. There is a small gap between where I left off and where I picked up again in the middle. I know – in some basic sense – what I want to fill that space. The stories, the mood, the conflict, the characters. I can’t find time to write it. So it sits in my head and waits, and as completely self-absorbed and insane as it sounds, I sort of feel it there. Pressure as the ideas build themselves into sentences and paragraphs and itch to be typed out on paper so they can stop their swirling in my brain.

I like my middle section. Of the book, not of my body. It’s the happiest part – the most hopeful and right and lovely. And it replaces someone else’s words with those I can claim as my own. If I want to remember at some point, I won’t read what he said. I’ll read what I wrote. It’s small, but seems significant to me for some reason. I’m not completely sure why – I haven’t discussed it with Dr. Counselor.

Anyway, I wrote another middle chapter this weekend. A long chapter. It was easy to start and hellish to finish. Not because it hurt to write – that had been my problem so far. I end up saving certain documents for later because they’re too painful on certain days. This is the first time that I knew where I was headed and could not – hard as I tried – get there. Increasingly frustrated, I stared at the screen – at these characters – and cried, “Come on!” The mood kept slipping and the dialogue went flat and even I lost interest as I was writing it. I finally fixed it after I took a nap – I think it’s reading a lot better now.

“I finished a chapter.” I told Friend afterward. “Sometimes that completes a section. I say what I want, tell a certain story, then I’m done with that part. But this section just keeps flowing into something else I need to write. There’s so much there that one chapter just links to the next. And this one in particular cuts off in the middle of scene! I know where it’s going, but it just takes so long to write. So I’ll leave it at a stopping point and write for work. Really.”

But it’s another section that is screaming to be written down (I sound pretentious – I know – I’m sorry. I have problems.) and I really want to try to write it and I don’t have time or energy. I am shocked, by the way, at how much time and effort goes into that kind of writing. It's hard for me to retain focus on the major point of what I'm writing while telling other stories, foreshadowing, incorporating some humor (I get rather dark at times) and trying to create something interesting. I guess if I'm going to write a book - even if only a few select people read it - I'd like it to be decent. But I don't have time to do it well right now.

What I have is a stack of writing projects and a full work calendar that doesn’t leave enough time for professional writing, let alone personal. Which is why you get yet another whiny blog post. But things have changed – my recent boredom has allowed me to start several projects. Finding time to finish them will be the real trick.


Earnest English said...

I'm just totally envious that you are writing a novel, and I am not. Rock on, you!

Psychobunny said...

Wow, a cover image! Congratulations, you famous scholar, you! That's so cool.

Lucy said...

Congratulations on the cover! That's exciting :)
I'm glad you have new plans to keep you from being bored, too.

JustMe said...

congrats!!! i think that is the real world equivalent of a people or vogue cover! you ARE famous!

Estrella said...

Congrats on the cover image!!! How exciting! I have a question about this since I'm trying to find extra copies of the magazine with my article, and I'm new at this... is it considered poor taste to ask for additional copies of a magazine from the publisher? (For mine, it's published for all members of my field's major organization, but I don't believe they print any more beyond that.) I've already asked some colleagues in hopes that one of them will relinguish their copy, but I haven't heard back from them yet. (My parents want a copy, I need at least one for my portfolio, etc.)

More congratulations on the progress you're making with your novel! :-)

BrightStar said...

oooo! A COVER IMAGE?! That's fantastic. Congrats!

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