Sabbatical on the horizon: Thinky thoughts

Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

My sabbatical is only about a month away and my plans for it are starting to come more into focus. Of course, when I submitted my proposal a year ago, I had no way of knowing how much the world was going to change between then and now. So even as my overall plan has stayed the same, my vision of what my sabbatical will look like has had to change quite a bit and my feelings about it are a little more mixed than they might have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened or if the United States had gotten it under better control by now.

The truth is, this sabbatical was always going to bring with it things to be excited about and things that would be challenging. But there are a couple of items in each category that have been on my mind as the start date approaches.(1)

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What I learned about writing from Terrible Minds

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A few years ago, I somehow stumbled on Terrible Minds, a blog by bestselling author Chuck Wendig in which he shared writing-related wisdom and featured guest posts for other authors to share their reflections. These days, Wendig has shifted his focus to more personal and sometimes political topics, which are still very much worth following.(1) But there are some writing-related posts of his that I still go back to from time to time. I thought I would share them here. Obviously, this advice is most applicable to creative writing and fiction writing but some of his thoughts and ideas have also resonated for me with my scholarly and professional writing as well.

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Questions I have about the role of research in fiction writing

Image by Hebi B. from Pixabay

Recently, I spent some time reading 10 years’ worth of author interviews from Writer’s Digest in search of some insight into the role of research in the creative writing process. After discovering how seldom the topic of research comes up in popular creative writing books, I wasn’t expecting to find much so I was surprised by how often research was mentioned, either because the interviewer specifically asked about it or because the author brought it up on their own.

With a few exceptions, the discussions about research in these interviews tended to be somewhat surface-level if only because there’s a lot of ground to cover in a relatively small space. Because of that, the interviews helped to establish that research is, in fact, part of the creative process and even gave a sense of what that research might look like in some cases but in reading them I felt that for the most part they weren’t really giving me what I was looking for.

So as I’m starting to develop an interview protocol that I’m hoping to use with living, breathing fiction writers, it becomes necessary to consider: what is it, exactly, that I’m looking for?

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Initial takeaways from 10 years of Writer’s Digest author interviews

Image by Greg Plominski from Pixabay

So I’ve been spending some time lately reading through the last ten years’ worth of author interviews from Writer’s Digest magazine. This is a sort of follow-up to a project I did last year where I read 10 popular writing books in search for some insight into the role of research in the creative writing process. What I found as a result of that project was interesting but a few colleagues who read an early draft of the resulting article felt that more was needed.

My first idea for what “more” would look like was to identify and examine writing books that were more “academic” in nature. Unfortunately, that stalled when my access to my library’s print collection was disrupted by the pandemic.

I turned instead to Writer’s Digest for a couple of reasons. First, the Writer’s Digest brand is pretty explicitly aimed at helping aspiring writers learn the “how-to” of writing. Second, I had digital access to back issues through my library.

In all, I read almost 70 author interviews in search of information about research. I was surprised by what I found.

But not that surprised.

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Faculty activity reports and what I did this past academic year

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Every year by June 30, faculty on my campus have to submit something called a Faculty Activity Report which recounts their various activities throughout the year, from classes taught to special projects worked on to committees served and articles published. The exact purpose of this report, which is a long form rather than a narrative as in my past library job, is a little…vague. But it’s a good chance to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and set goals for the coming academic year.

This year, as you might expect, has been a little different. With the shift to working from home, my teaching stopped. Many of my work-related projects stopped. My committees kept going but learning how to do committee work virtually was a learning process, to say the least. My focus shifted instead to my writing and research projects.

While it’s always good to have writing and research projects to list on a FAR, I was afraid that the sudden halt to other activities would make my report look emptier than usual. It wasn’t until I started looking through my weekly notes on things I’ve been working on that I remembered just how busy last summer and fall were for me. It was as if the craziness of the last few months had given me some kind of amnesia for everything that came before. I couldn’t believe how thoroughly I’d forgotten the bigger projects I was working on less than a year ago.

Here’s some of the stuff I accomplished this year:

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Update on research and writing projects

Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Late spring and early summer are typically times when my focus shifts from teaching and service to research and writing. That shift got something of an early start this year due to the pandemic but amidst all of the weirdness, it took me a while to get myself organized. Now I’m on a little bit of a steadier track and wanted to share some updates on where I’m at with some projects I’m currently working on, including a book project for ALA, a follow-up to “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study,” and not one but two articles related to the role of research in creative writing.

Here’s what I’ve got.

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Going on sabbatical in uncertain times (and other first world problems)

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Strange as it is to think about now, it was around this time last year that I was starting to think about applying for my first sabbatical.

Though I’d heard other librarians at my institution talk about their sabbatical experiences, it wasn’t anything I’d ever thought of as a possibility for myself, mostly because I was so focused on the journey toward tenure that I wasn’t thinking much about what would come after. But as I entered the last stages of that process last summer, my department head suggested that I think about it and my dean was also supportive of the idea. If I scheduled my sabbatical to begin in fall 2020, the timing would be perfect.

So I put together an application that detailed a project idea related to my interest in the role of research in creative writing. It felt kind of weird since, at the time, my proposed sabbatical was over a year away and I had no idea what I would want to be working on so far in the future. I worried a little that my project wouldn’t seem important enough or closely related enough to my day-to-day work to pass the test. But when my application was submitted to the Provost’s office, I heard back the same day: I’d been approved for a six month sabbatical starting in September 2020.

I spent all of fall 2019 daydreaming about where I would be and what I would be doing in a year’s time. Fall is usually a busy semester for me and the thought of getting a one-time pass on all that stress to focus on a pet project was a beautiful thing. I thought about what it would be like to have the freedom to structure my own days. No teaching, no meetings, no requirement to go into the office. Just me and my writing and research.


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What I’m reading: May 2020

Between working from home and an upcoming sabbatical in the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

So here’s what I’m reading for work and for fun and some other little stuff as well.

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