These days, I like to start my posts with something pretty or calming, such as this palm tree.
This post has nothing to do with palm trees, but I feel better if I can look at a palm tree. Don’t you? It’s like we’re on a tropical vacation! (Please ignore the grey sky behind the palm tree.) If you want to complement the effect with a cocktail, I recommend this fruity, rummy drink. Yum.
I know that several of you fancy yourselves writers, as do I. Writing is very much on my mind these days because I am facing the daunting task of writing two grants and one manuscript in the next six months. That’s a lot of writing of the science variety, and I’m more than a little nervous of how I am going to get all that writing done while still doing experiments and basic self-maintenance, such as getting dressed every day. But mostly I’ve been thinking about how it is that we, as writers, make something out of nothing, or at least we make something out of a box of random bits and bobs. Whatever gadgets and gizmos that inspire us, we throw in the box. And then we start thinking: how do all these weird pieces fit together? What is the thread that connects these items in a way that would make you say, “Aha! Now I know what that box is for!”
For me right now, it’s mostly a matter of staring at the box (er, my computer screen) and plenty of time spent not staring at the box. I’ve always been the kind of person who does her best thinking while doing something that doesn’t look like work: chopping onions, jogging in the park, laying in bed and trying to fall asleep. When I sit down at the computer, I’ve already written half of what I’m going to say. But what I find really exciting is that I don’t know the other half of what I’m going to say—that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I feel like I am really, truly writing—spinning something from nothing. It’s exciting! In those moments, I can’t believe that I’m getting paid to do this. I have to do a lot of work before I can sit down to write something—and I have to chop a lot of onions—but for a few precious moments, I am getting paid to write. And that’s pretty awesome.
This month, I’m going to Michigan to see my family for the holidays. I’ll be gone longer than I would have planned, had it not been such a headache to book my flights out of Texas. While I’m on “vacation,” it’s going to be a bit of a working vacation because I’ll be trying to make some headway on a grant proposal that’s due in February. And you know what? I’m looking forward to it! I love seeing my family and I love that we’ll have lots of time for morning coffee drinking, ice skating, holiday baking, shopping, and general merrymaking, but it’s also good to take a break from all that togetherness. I live alone, and it can be hard for us hermits to spend days and days with other people without taking a break. My goal is to spend at least two mornings or afternoons at Panera, working on the grant. I figure if I can get 4-6 hours of good, deep-thinking work done on this proposal, then I’ll be in good shape when I come back to Texas and we’re really under a deadline to crank this thing out.
I’m grateful that writing projects are portable in a way that my experimental work is not. I won’t be dragging flies or video cameras with me to Michigan, which might freak out the security people at the airport. Instead, I’m taking just my computer, and no one will bat an eye at my Dell. Most importantly, I’m trying to be as upbeat and positive about these writing projects as I can. We may not have a very good chance at getting one or both of these grants funded, but like I said to my boss the other day, if we don’t apply, we have a 100% chance of not getting funding.
The other thing that I am reminding myself these days is that no matter what happens in the next 6-12 months, I am going to learn a lot. And that is a very good thing. It’s the same thing I told myself in graduate school when I was applying for a grant, and in the end, that situation worked out quite nicely. So I’m going to keep the faith and believe that in 2012, things will work out. I don’t know all the details, but I’m going to keep the faith. Even scientists need faith in something, even if it’s something as ambiguous as the Universe and Its mysterious ways…
Writing friends, how do you keep the faith during the more ambiguous parts of your process? How do you stay calm when your work is giving you reason to freak out?