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Writer’s block

This essay is the fourth or so that I started writing tonight. First, I started writing about the experience of seeing my summer research students present at SIGCSE [1], but I had trouble getting all of the context right. I also didn’t feel articulate enough about their accomplishments. So I set that essay aside.

Next, I decided to write about the problem of selecting summer students [3]. My first attempt in writing the introductory paragraph for that essay ended up veering far off track, far enough off track that I made it the starting point of a future essay about teaching at Grinnell. Why not just switch to that other topic? Because I didn’t feel like I had recently spent enough time thinking deeply about those issues. I also was less articulate than I’d like to be about those issues.

So I started writing a second essay about selecting summer students. The introduction started a little bit better, but I quickly found that I was unable to balance the various issues that I wanted to write about, including the benefits to the students, how Grinnell’s program is (comparatively) egalitarian, the different selection strategies of early-career faculty and tenured faculty, the department’s collegiality in selecting students, and more. That previous sentence [4] illustrates some of the difficulty I was having.

Given those problems, it’s probably best that I don’t write about other equally substantive issues, like codes of conduct, or about technical concepts, such as the next embarrassing essay in the Don’t Embarrass Me; Don’t Embarrass Yourself series. It certainly wasn’t the day to write a new introduction to this series of essays, inspired by conversations at SIGCSE. However, my muse was not enthusiastic about many less substantive topics.

Nonetheless, it’s important that I write every day, even if the writing is not always successful. And so we are left with this musing [6]. Getting things down has led me to realize that there are at three characters working in my head. As you know, my muse chooses [7] the topics I write about. While I’m writing, my internal Joe Williams asks me to think about my style [8]. But it appears that there’s a third character there, one who provides substance to the muse’s choice and a subject for the internal editor. That character appears to be on leave, as it were. And because it’s on leave, I can’t even come up with a name for it.

I expect that this issue is a symptom of what I regularly tell my students: If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t function as efficiently or as well. In this case, the lack of sleep was due to stupid travel plans, rather than the decision to continue working beyond limits, as I sometimes see students do. Nonetheless, the effects are the same.

I hope to be better rested tomorrow. I hope that this piece of writing inspires the anonymous central voice to return. Stay tuned [10].

[1] They were awesome, by the way. I believe that they were one of the few sets of undergraduates presenting in the main research track [2], and their presentation was on par with other presentations in the main research track.

[2] There’s also a student research track. Perhaps some day I’ll convince my students that they should also submit to that track.

[3] I have over twenty applicants for eight slots; in total, CS has seventy-five internal applicants for about twenty-four slots.

[4] That use of sentence probably deserves air quotes [5].

[5] Or is it air quotes?

[6] I was going to write essay with air quotes. Then I realized that even with the air quotes, I was still giving this piece of writing too much credit.

[7] At times, my muse suggests, rather than chooses, or collaborates in choosing.

[8] The internal Joe Williams is sometimes [9] quieter than it should be.

[9] often.

[10] Youngest son says Your students don’t think you sleep. They are incorrect. As this essay suggests, I don’t function well without sleep [11].

[11] Perhaps my students know that I don’t function well without sleep, and their comment suggests that they don’t think I function well. I’ll ask youngest son tomorrow.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-12.