Sunday, November 30, 2008

InaDWriMo - Final Update

Well, I haven't really made any significant progress on writing since my last update. My writing time on Monday and Tuesday was taken up by incorporating the revisions my PI suggested, making some changes of my own, and cleaning up some missing citations. Then I took the day off on Wednesday. I spent the morning with Thing 2 - she hasn't been getting much mommy time lately. Then we picked up Thing 1 - she had an early dismissal. We had lunch, then stopped by the grocery store for a few last minute purchases.

Then I cooked. It was great! I actually enjoy cooking the Thanksgiving spread, so I do look forward to this time of year. The rest of the weekend, I spent enjoying my family, and taking Thing 1 to some extracurricular activities. I finished off the weekend by making turkey soup. Yum! But I digress. The best thing about this holiday weekend is that I don't feel like I'm "Not Serious" because I didn't work my ass off through the long weekend. I'm happy with the progress I have made on my writing, and I actually feel quite confident that I will have my manuscript finished very soon. I have a new appreciation for the fact that successful goal setting is one of the keys I need to achieve that elusive balance between work and the rest of my life.

Let me get more specific. I usually have several short term goals (things I can get done in a day) on my agenda and a couple of longer term goals (things that take several months of sustained effort to get done) sort of organizing and generating the short term goals. But I seem to keep having problems with the medium term goals - those things that take more than a day to finish, but yet are not on the same scale as the longer term goals. And it seems that I have more and more of those types of tasks as I progress in my training. I put them on my to-do list and then try to hack away at them each day. This leaves me feeling like I am flailing and makes it hard for me to see if I am making progress. Sometimes I try to break the medium length tasks into parts I can handle in one day. But that has varying degrees of success - I don't really have enough experience with some of these tasks to be accurate in my breakdown, so I get frustrated when one day I can easily finish what I plan and the next I don't even come close. I have also tried to estimate how long each chunk of the task will take and set deadlines for those. But it's so demoralizing to not meet those deadlines. So I need another option that fits the nature of these bigger tasks I will increasingly need to take on.

I suspect that many people in the training stages struggle with this issue, and I also suspect that it is one of the things that drives many people to work longer days that they'd like. Many days this month I have found myself approaching my scheduled leaving time wishing I didn't need to leave JUST THEN because I would have liked to finish what I was working on. And yet, I didn't really know how much longer it would take to finish what I was doing. Argh! Luckily, my sense of commitment to my kids won out every time, and I left work anyway.

But what can I do to give myself the feeling of progress that I need without also giving myself a lot of opportunities to feel like a failure? Well, though I resisted adding a progress bar for InaDWriMo to my blog, it looks like this may be a way to help myself break through the mid-size task blues. I didn't really use it as much as I could have, since I skipped several updates, but I had my own paper-based version on my desk, and it helped a lot. I also started using a sort of rolling to-do list, where I put what I thought I could do in a couple of days on a sticky, and didn't worry if I didn't complete everything in one day. But I didn't try to plan the whole week in one go. It sure felt good to crumple up the sticky every day or two and hang up a new one. I also started adding the little things I need to do for the family - phone calls, checks to mail, and forms to fill out. It turned out to be easier to fit those into my day if they were right there on my list. It's not a perfect system, yet, by far, but I am beginning to create a system for myself that actually works, and that I might be able to stick with. I think I am actually happier about my progress on this front than I am about the fact that I achieved 60% of the goals I set for myself this month.

So, I am wondering - have any of you readers struggled with scheduling and motivation for medium sized tasks? And do any of you have any suggestions for me?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words of the Week

I love words. It seems that you can never have too many of them. Each new word allows you to add nuances to your communications with others (and yourself, if you are a journal-keeper). The more words you include in your daily vocabulary, the more fun you can have playing around with language instead of just talking. I don't take this to extremes in my everyday conversations, and I don't consider myself to have a vocabulary that I would brag about to, say, an English professor. But, I always hoped to pass along the enjoyment of language to my children. So I don't hold back with the big words when I talk to them. Of course, I explain myself more simply when necessary, but they quickly pick up the words I use a lot, like "cooperation", and "appropriate". I read them books that are way above their reading comprehension level, making sure to be very expressive, so they can get lots of context clues. I'm reading "Stuart Little" to Thing 2 just now, and she loves it (Thing 1 has been joining us, to listen to this old favorite again).

When Thing 1 was younger, I could get away with using lots of obscure words to encrypt certain comments to hubby, but that doesn't work very well anymore. Her not-so-little ears prick up when I use an unfamiliar word, and she ASKS WHAT IT MEANS! I almost can't believe it - my insidious plans are working, and she has actually developed a very healthy interest in expanding her own vocabulary! At her request, we now have one or two "Words of the Week", which are written on the whiteboard that hangs in our kitchen. They are nominated by any member of the family who hears someone else use an unfamiliar word. I've decided to share them with you*. In the tradition of elementary school English classes and spelling bees, a definition** of each word will be followed by its use in the sentence that led to its nomination.

This week's words are:

  • disparaging: tending or intending to belittle
    "I don't like it when you speak to your sister in such a disparaging tone."

  • detritus: miscellaneous remnants; debris
    "I just don't appreciate finding all this detritus on the kitchen counter."

Last week's words:
  • ziggurat: a temple in the form of a terraced pyramid, built in ancient Mesopotamia
    "We got to look at a model of a ziggurat in school today."

  • fiduciary: an individual, corporation, or association holding assets for another party, often with the legal authority and duty to make financial decisions on behalf of the other party
    "There is no fiduciary branch of the US government."

*Not because I think my readers need to bone up for the GRE, but because, since we've been doing this for a few weeks, now, I've noticed that they provide interesting little snapshots of life in our family.

**I am not writing a dictionary. I will post the definition that fits the sentence.

Monday, November 24, 2008

InaDWriMo - Update 2

I know this is late even for the fourth promised update, but, well, this is what I've got. It's not that I haven't been working on my writing, because I have. It's just been really hard lately to get a post finished and published at home lately. In fact I've got three unfinished drafts in my list of posts that are so dated they no longer make sense. I'm not going to go into all the ins and outs of why this is happening right now. I'm just going to play the "two kids" card and move on.

So, my progress:

  1. The "Methods" section has been revised to add the missing material. That's one goal done!
  2. I have written a "Discussion" section. It needs a final paragraph where I wax lyrical about what my findings might mean in terms of details I haven't actually looked at, but may do in the future.
  3. I have learned how to use EndNote, and have created a library of my references. I have used that library to create a reference list that is formatted correctly for the journal. I have added citations in 90% of the places they are required in the text I have written. I'm going to call that a second goal completed!
  4. I have revised my abstract. I have reduced it from nearly 300 words down to about 150. The limit for the journal is 175, so I could add another sentence if necessary. That makes three goals accomplished!
  5. I have given all of what I have to my PI, and have gotten back his revisions. It was mainly text editing, except for the request for a little speculation mentioned above. Woo-hoo!
  6. I have solicited feedback from one person from Dr. Prof. Genius' lab who works on something related to my project - that leaves just two more people to approach, and I'm on it!

So, that's six of my goals addressed in the past three weeks, and I'm calling it a total of six completed goals! Yay! And I've written 6120 words (about one third of which were already written before November). I've also been trying to get that last "wouldn't it be nice if..." experiment to work. After writing what I have up, it has become obvious that it would really improve the paper if I could get the data that this experiment would provide. Unfortunately, it's not really working, and it may very well be beyond the limitations of my technique, but I'm not ready to give up yet.

So, although I probably won't win the contest, I'll be going into December in pretty good shape.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

InaDWriMo - Update 1

I worked for most of the day today, thanks to my Mom, who insisted that she really wanted to spend the day with the kids, and that the only thing that would make her happier would be to see me get some work done. I think she is going to be one happy lady when I go home and tell her how much I got done! Here's where I stand today:

  1. I have completed all the figures that include my actual data. Although that was already done on Friday, I checked them out today, made a couple of corrections and finished the last two captions. The two remaining are the one that may get axed anyway (a diagram of the experiment) and a new one that was suggested to me by a co-author (re-make of a figure from one of my references that will just make it easier for readers to understand what the hell I'm talking about).
  2. I finally have a draft of the "Results" section! I cannot tell you how happy I am to have that monkey off my back.
  3. I have a list of items to add to the "Methods" section.

In all I wrote about 650 words today.

I have not addressed any of my other goals yet. I will re-read what I wrote today later on tonight, and send it to my PI, and the co-author.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

InaDWriMo Away!

Thanks to ScienceWoman's excellent suggestion in response to my last post, I am now looking forward to my first time participating in InaDWriMo. It's being hosted by Dr. Brazen Hussy this year. She explained it all so well, I think I'll just quote her:

First, a little background: International acaDemic Writing Month is the academic’s answer to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It was originally created by StyleyGeek as International Dissertation Writing Month, but because so many of us who had already finished our degrees were interested in a little challenge, the D was loosely interpreted as acaDemic. This means that you can write your dissertation, a book chapter, an article, a grant proposal – anything goes, as long as it is academic. I hosted InaDWriMo 2007, and it was great fun, and it seems that you crazy kids want to do it again. So here we go!

The rules:
  1. You decide how much you want to write, and how you will keep track of it. I encourage you to make this goal challenging but not so unobtainable that you depress yourself.
  2. You can decide if you want to include revisions in your word count.
  3. Keep track on your blog, maybe using a writing meter like this one or this one.
  4. I will ask you all report your progress here, every Saturday for the month of November.
  5. On November 30, we will see how we’ve all done.

First of all, I have chosen not to have a word count goal. Instead, I have a set of tasks I wish to complete:

  1. Finish putting together the figures and captions for the paper I'm working on.
  2. Finish the "Results" section of my paper.
  3. Revise the "Methods" section to include things that I have realized I left out while writing the "Results".
  4. Write the "Discussion" section of my paper.
  5. Write an introduction for my paper.
  6. Revise the abstract I already wrote to submit for a conference so that it is appropriate for the paper.
  7. Organize all the references for the paper.
  8. Revision, revision, revision.
  9. Solicit and incorporate feedback from at least three other readers.
  10. Return to work on the partially finished document that must be finished before I can jump through an important hoop on the way to someday graduating. More detailed goals will materialize when I get to the point that I am not so worried about my research paper.

I will keep track of my progress on this blog in a qualitative way, since I have no word count goal. And I will be a good girl (for once) and update my status over at Dr. Brazen Hussy's place.