(Project Description: This post is the second in a short series between Stacey Pigg (see her blog here) and me. Check out the previous post here for a more thorough description. Otherwise, enjoy Stacey’s great post below!)
If I get down to what is most central to structuring my workflow, I realize that I have built work practices for mobility and to help organize the work of multiple projects, and I draw on objects that facilitate this without me having to give them much thought. So, for example, I put together a new home work station when I started writing my dissertation, reclaiming the desk in my attic from underneath a sewing machine and huge stack of papers that need to be filed. I use it often, but the place itself is not central to how I do things. Even in the new dissertation station, the things that matter most to my workflow are the mindset that goes with the space (the idea that it is THE dissertation space where good things will happen), and the objects that I use there but also carry with me to the other places I work (the WIDE center, my office in Olds Hall at MSU, coffee shops, places I travel). So, here’s my shot at reflecting on a few of these objects and why they matter:
When my laptop quit working this summer, I freaked out. It was a known Apple glitch and fixable, which was lucky because all of my work is assembled there in one way or another. I carry the poor thing everywhere I go, even when I really should leave it. But I love that feeling of finding 15 minutes to accomplish something during an unexpected time: waiting on an oil change, getting a prescription filled, waiting on someone who’s late for a meeting. And, while I can recreate a lot of work from files that live online in Gmail or Google Docs (and now from my backup system), my laptop is still the main piece of technology that takes me there. When I am working without my laptop, it is on purpose—because I want to take a moment to see whatever I’m working on in another way, or to not be distracted by all the other projects I’m working on.
Printouts For Revisualizations
[pullshow]I know in my heart that I am pretty old school when it comes to writing process, but I think one major place that shows up is in the revisualization techniques I like to use for seeing and understanding my writing. I just can’t always understand what I’ve written on the laptop screen. I almost always benefit from seeing it in a different way, and with the tools I currently have, printing out and rearranging on paper has been the easiest way to make that move. There are a couple of different techniques that I use for this. First, [pullthis]I like to print out copies and revise with a pen directly on the printouts. Pretty simple stuff, but, again, something is magical for me about seeing writing printed out[/pullthis]. Second, I like to make print outs, cut them up with scissors and use big pieces of brown packaging paper as backgrounds for rearranging my writing. This is one of my favorite revision techniques, and something that my roommates are always pretty amused by—free abstract art for the walls. You can see where I’ve been revisualizing a couple of dissertation chapters in the photo of my attic work station.
Gmail as Correspondence Archive
I use Gmail for correspondence, which creates archives of all of the projects I’m involved with. In this way, Gmail becomes a central memory tool. I keep documents filed in a pretty organized way on my laptop, but often it is still as quick for me to search Gmail and locate something someone has sent to me as it is to search it on my hard drive. And when I find a document in Gmail I also find the correspondence that contextualizes the piece as well, which is often helpful as I try to remember exactly what I’m looking at. Gmail also offers me a record of how work unfolded in the past, which is often very useful to me as I try to keep up with work in multiple projects.
Onscreen Sticky Notes for Organizational Writing and Short Drafting Space
I use onscreen sticky notes extensively for writing to organize and for short drafting space. I am sure there is a much more technologically savvy way to deal with the fact that I work on multiple research and writing tasks at once. But, I am not a gadget person or a fast adopter of new technologies. For me, I really don’t want to change setups every time something new comes around or to spend the time investing in an infrastructure that I might not like or that might disappear in six months. So, until I am convinced otherwise, online sticky notes are just fine for keeping up with to-do lists; writing, research, and revision plans; notes from meetings; reading notes that I have yet to consolidate into word processing files. These sticky notes are one reason my laptop is so important. I also use them as a space to draft short pieces: a paragraph that needs to get integrated into a report, an email, stuff like that. And, I assume that my way of using them must be at least somewhat unusual because people always comment on them and my organization of them (in a neat row alongside the left of my laptop screen) when I project things from my laptop screen. (As an aside, I really don’t use physical post-it notes very often, only when taking reading notes from a print book.)
La Croix Sparkling Water for . . . well. . .anxiety?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I have an addictive personality. It’s more like compulsive. When I write, I chew things: pens, fingernails, books, the neck of t-shirts. The whole chewing thing is funny–to me and to everyone who knows it about me–but in terms of being practical, the chewing has led to some problems over the years. There are the pairs of jeans sporting the whole leaking-pen-in-the-back-pocket phenomenon, the t-shirts that look like the collar has be gnawed by my new puppy, and so forth. Over the years, I have gotten better about this by trying to chew more constructively. I usually keep almonds or granola by my desk. But, lately I have found that drinking fizzy water while I work is kinda magic for the whole writing/chewing issue. No, I do not chew the cans. I drink it fairly normally, but at pretty alarming rates. I can’t completely account for why it’s such wonderful work tool. But, I can go through five or six cans during a work day. Kroger is happy; I am happy; my jeans, t-shirts, and pens are happy.
(images by Stacey Pigg; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License)