Whatever diligence I used to have about meeting deadlines seems to have vanished in the face of chapter deadlines. I don’t know why my attitude about deadlines has changed in this way or when it happened, but I find myself wondering how to contact my advisor and telling her I need a few days to pull my thoughts together. It seems I obsess more about possible ways of phrasing my message about needing a few more days than actually sitting at my desk working on this darned chapter.
Although deadlines are the latest time by which something should be completed and submitted, I’ve never finished a research paper early and never felt that I’ve worked hard enough on something unless it involved many late nights and piles of books and photocopies. I have to admit that I have a hard time distinguishing the quality of what I’ve written from how hard I had to work to finish the piece. A friend recently told me this is a common problem women academics share—that we work much harder for the same results as our male counterparts labouring over articles and book chapters second-guessing our methods and conclusions instead of confidently stating what we have uncovered through our research.
Untangling this confused mess of evaluating what I’ve written from trying to be impossibly thorough and comprehensive is really hard. It’s hard because the hard work and diligence are what my former professors saw in me and prompted them to encourage me to pursue graduate school and the PhD. And it’s hard because I have to un-learn this attitude about digesting everything research before submitting the thesis. Can I have a complete draft of the thesis by December?
Recently I read an interview with a Canadian author about her new book. She comments on her perspective on writing which is influenced by her father’s career as a journalist. She also reflects about writers who find themselves becoming over-wrought with their writing and about the wrong things emphasized by literary prizes. This writing-as-craft attitude and emotional detachment are the best ways I know to counter my deadline-malaise.
My dad was a journalist and he hated the idea that writing is somehow a mystical art,” she says. “It’s not; it’s a craft. You can do it to a deadline, and you do it on days whether you feel like it or not. And if something’s not working, there’s reasons why, and you can articulate them and you can fix them.”
This is the hardest thing to teach students who presume it is necessary to be a suffering, broken-hearted alcoholic “listening to a lot of loud music” before they set their precious thoughts on paper. “Really?” she says. “Do you have to do all that before you become an engineer? No. It’s a job – you do it.”
At the same time, Lyon is leery of the effect of the award programs that have been so important to her own career – a view she developed as a youngster competing in music festivals. “For me, any kind of competition in the arts is anathema,” she says, taking care to compliment the generosity of the groups and individuals that sponsor the programs. “We’re not a sport. It’s not measurable that way. I think it’s destructive to pit people against one another.”