i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgi-0e7dc85b440b3b1fd25ceec4d60299d8-atnfm.jpgI’ve taken some of the last week to try to practice what Boice calls “actively waiting” in preparation for writing on a project I’ve been avoiding. See the project plan here and a discussion about “actively waiting” here. Some of my thoughts on this exercise from the last week are below the fold.

Full disclosure: I didn’t manage to do the 10 minutes every day, but I think I did it more days than I didn’t do it. I think.

I found it pretty tough to just sit with my notes “in the moment.” I kept worrying that I was “doing it wrong” — did I have the right notes? Should I open up the old data files on the computer? Should I be reading the text, or just thinking about it? In addition, I kept grasping little ideas, and then flitting to other ideas, and sometimes following the network of ideas to something completely not associated with the writing project I was supposed to be contemplating. Bad dog. My therapist would say this was more evidence of my mind sabotaging me, allowing me to avoid thinking about this project. I actually think that is true – the paper I have been trying to focus on is the gender part of my dissertation, and it’s too important to get wrong. As a result, I can’t even start thinking about it – my mind becomes plagued by self-doubt and imposter fears, and I retreat into avoidance. Much simpler that way.

I did find useful the practice of sitting on my bed first thing in the morning and telling myself that I was going to find 10 minutes to think about this gender paper. I tried to think about where I would work on it, or when during my busy day. And the days I did “precommit” were days where I was more likely to actually find the time. Making the time slot only 10 minutes made it more likely too; anything longer and I was more likely to go find lunch, and only 10 min made me feel virtuous, as even though it was only 10 minutes, it was 10 minutes more than I would have done otherwise. I also tried to do the waiting chunk in the morning, right when I got in to my office (or before I came in, even) and before I let the computer open up the email. Then I felt like I could feel virtuous for the majority of the day. 🙂

Over the week, with these short 10 minute chunks, the prospect of picking this project back up is less scary. I sat myself down in front of my printed dissertation, and flipped through the pages, reminding myself of what I wrote and the decent transplantable ideas and chunks that already exist on the page. I also allowed myself the luxury of writing different ideas associated with the project down, and so when I returned to the 10 minute-spot the next day, I could remember where I left off. And now I have a page of notes of ideas on how to start, whereas last week I was still strongly in avoidance.

My new problem is that I want to try the 10 minutes of focus on a couple of other projects too, to help advance them. But I think then I’ll get back into the avoidance mode on this particular project. So I think I had better keep them on the back burner for a bit.

What are others’ experiences about trying to practice “actively waiting?”


  1. #1 ebw
    August 28, 2008

    I really struggle with making Boice’s brief daily sessions habitual and with the active waiting especially. But, when I’m able to be consistent, I find his suggestions great for keeping ideas percolating in the background. It seems like it’s just a skill that needs lots and lots of practice and patience.

    A few years ago Boice gave a talk I attended and I asked a question related to your “new problem”: How many writing projects should one be working on at a time? His answer was 2-3. More than that and you’re trying to keep too many things in your head at once to really be effective at any. And, as you say, it’s too easy then to avoid the difficult ones.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    August 28, 2008

    Interestingly, this is the complete opposite of how I “actively wait” to write. It is when I am doing something completely different and distant from the writing–cooking, showering, working out, waking up, falling asleep, etc–that complex structures of the writing pop into my mind: outline of the piece as a whole, paragraphs, and even sentences.

  3. #3 Lab Cat
    August 29, 2008

    I plan my writing similarly to PhysioProf. I spend a lot of time just thinking over what I want to write about and how – without putting any words on paper. Usually I then write a whole section straight out.

    I’m dipping into Boice’s advice for teachers as I am starting a new teaching position on Tuesday. I’m not too bothered about following his advice to the letter as I have been teaching a while and know how I work, but some of his ideas might help.

    I really need to sit and read the chemistry textbook which is the required textbook at my college. But it is so boring. And I like chemistry.

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