Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Getting Into The Groove (With A Little Help From Howard Becker)

I fortunately am on sabbatical this semester. Simply put, it feels great. It's amazing to have so much time to think and write. I haven't had this much time and space since graduate school. So far, the best part of sabbatical is having less clutter in my life. Less e-mail, no preparation time for courses, no meetings, no grading. I'll miss my students and colleagues this semester, but I'll love the break from the usual busyness. I'm ready for a different kind of busyness.

So far, the writing has come easy. Whenever I'm on the verge of writer's block, I heed the advice of Howard Becker: "Write whatever comes into your head, as fast as you can type, without reference to outlines, notes, data, books or any other aids." Becker's point is to find out what you want to say because you already know what you want to say. By the time we actually write something, we've done a lot of thinking (pp. 54-55 in Becker's Writing for Social Scientists, University of Chicago Press, 1986). This doesn't mean ignoring the literature, it means not being "terrorized by the literature" (Becker's beautiful phrase featured in chapter 8). Like Becker says, "Use the literature, don't let it use you" (p. 149). These days I'm writing more than I'm reading, in order to say what I want to say. There's plenty of time to acknowledge the relevant literature and to use it effectively.

I try to write everyday, but I don't freak out if a day goes by without any writing. Some days the words flow, some days they don't. So far I'm not handcuffed to my computer. It's good to get away from the computer and enjoy the extra time afforded by sabbatical. So I'm doing things I don't normally get to do, like going to the gym and meeting up with old friends for lunch. I'm careful not to squander away the days. But I'm not forcing myself to adhere to a strict writing schedule. There's enough pressure in everyday life. I want to enjoy this sabbatical. So that means combining rest, relaxation, research, reading, thinking, writing, exercising, and recreation. It also means eating better and cooking more often. In short, a healthy balanced life.

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