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Writing Thoughts

On (sort of) not writing

By October 4, 2015No Comments

We’re a month into the semester, and I’m still not submitting any new writing. I’m down to nine pieces in my queue. I’m kind of excited about letting that number go down to zero for the first time in two years, though there’s no telling how long that’ll take. Here’s what I’ve been thinking and doing in my (sort of) writing-less life:

– I’m not submitting and I’m sort of not writing, either. Of course, I’m writing right now. Blogging is partly how I got back into writing in the first place. It’s a nice kind of writing to do when you can only steal small moments of time. It’s an easier, conversational kind of writing.

– I’m also revising my sociology of gender textbook. It’s a big revision, going through chapter by chapter. I’m updating information, but also cleaning up the writing. The good thing about this process is realizing that in the six years or so since the first edition, I’ve become a much better writer. I had a tendency to repeat myself a lot, I guess for the sake of clarity. I just felt the need to say the same thing over and over again. It was like I was stuck in a reiteration rut. You get the idea.

– There are moments when revising a gender textbook is really interesting. You learn new things as you go along. Here’s one interesting, random factoid—there are average differences in bone mass and rates of osteoporosis between women and men. Generally, women have lower bone mass and are more likely to develop osteoporosis as they age. But biology isn’t destiny. Within Orthodox Jewish populations, girls have better bone mass and lower rates of osteoporosis than their brothers. This is because Orthodox Jewish boys are expected to spend a lot of time sedentary, studying religious texts. The lack of activity at a young age affects their bone development. There’s an increasing sense that biology is not hard-wired, but malleable and shaped in important ways by social life. Learning those kind of facts is interesting to me.

Marking all the places that need some attention for the next edition.

Marking all the places that need some attention for the next edition.

– There are other moments when revising a gender textbook is kind of boring. Sometimes it’s boring in a comforting way. It’s doing research. Lining up citations. Finding statistics. Making sure the terms all line up.

Other times revising a gender textbook is boring in the way all writing can be boring sometimes. This week, I got stuck in Chapter 3 trying to figure out how to talk about gender theories from a global perspective. I spent at least an hour trying to put together two sentences. That was as far as I got, and that never feels good.

– The thing about revising a gender textbook is that there are people out there who are going to read it. Students like mine. There’s a built-in audience and a lot at stake if you care about your topic, which I do. I wrote the textbook in the first place not because I’m some kind of expert on gender. I didn’t feel like an expert on anything when I sat down to write the book, though I feel much more like one, now.

I wrote the book because I know that I teach a good sociology of gender class. I’m a good teacher. Shouldn’t that translate into a good textbook? I hope so. What’s at stake for me in the textbook is trying to share the experience students have in my class, which I think is a good one, with as many students as possible.

– I miss other kinds of writing. My mind drifts to stories and essays I might write. My husband is making his way through the draft of my mystery novel. I think about how I’ll revise it. I think about the next thing I’d like to write. I think about the characters in my chapbook, The Face of Baseball.

– It’s a nice feeling, this missing. Working on the textbook is restful. It’s a vacation from all the uncertainty that comes with other kinds of writing. When I finish the revisions, they’ll go to the publisher and then they’ll become a new edition. At the end, I’ll hold a book in my hand and other people will read it. Certainty like that has been rare in my life as a writer so far.

It’s also good to know that eventually, I’ll get back to the other stuff. The writing that has no definite home waiting for it. It’s good to give yourself the space to miss something every once in a while.

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