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Writing's Labour's Lost
July 4, 2011 - 8:15pm

Let’s take one piece of e-paper, optimistically opened on your computer’s desk. This is the beginning of any contemporary relationship with your words nowadays. (Once upon a time, I was still using classic paper but I discovered that it was too time consuming while collecting my notes from the computer - and as I’m always in a big hurry - I needed a radical improvement of my time management.) And, once done with this very simple operation, I start thinking about my next academic article and look for some good inspiration.

I have in my mind almost all the ideas I want to address, including the development plan. Previously, I had done some documentation and I have (apparently) enough time to meet the deadline. I even included in my daily plan a little bit of procrastination where I can find new ideas for another new article.

And the work goes smoothly for one week, with 2-3 hours each day exclusively dedicated to translating, refining and rearranging my words into ideas. I am almost happy with my progress: I find new things about my topic, lots of new information and possible new turns for the overall development with new angles and aspects I want to cover. I download new books on my Kindle that are relevant for my bibliography and through including points from new, interesting articles and podcasts, I try to clarify my concepts. My knowledge progresses but as I go into more (and more) documentation, the writing does not advance at all, perhaps a maximum of 10 sentences in one hour, with increasing time dedicated to finishing the apparently infinite amount of documentation and notes. I devote more time to the article – or better said, to the idea of my article – but I feel that I’m getting very far away from the end of my piece. As for the deadline, 48 hours before, I am still enjoying the pleasure of reading, without getting closer to a conclusion (of any kind).

And this goes on and on. Later on, only seven hours before the deadline I am still hoping for a successful happy ending. A bit of denial and a bit of optimism encourages me to continue the “documentation,” meaning continuing the intensive reading and enjoying the pleasure of discovering new aspects and ideas.

Reasonably enough, while the deadline clock was ticking I had the revelation that, in fact, I would not be able to have an article decent enough to click the “send” button of my e-mail with a smile.

Was this the unpredictable end of an apparently wonderful idea? A clear failure? Obviously, not a success; although after a couple of days of intensive study I knew my topic better, and I can freely talk and present various faces of the same coins. My knowledge advanced, although my writing lagged far behind. After a couple of days of break, spent quietly chewing the fact that I missed another opportunity to improve my CV and hence, to pave the way for a successful application for a wonderful post-PhD scholarship; I made the decision to finish my article in the coming weeks and prepare it for submission to another publication or maybe for a conference.

The lessons learned? At least once a year we need such a failure as a test of our determination to continue a work, whatever the medium and the deadlines. This is something I should think about seriously over the summer; after finishing the article, of course.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science. She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.


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