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Megan Betz

This post was somehow saved to drafts & never emerged... so, here it is as a precursor to my real April 1 post: some reads to motivate my dissertation.

If you missed it, I spent the last three weeks doing our department's take-home version of comprehensive exams. This is the first year they've been an option, & while we all have complicated feelings about the idea, I was fortunate to have this version. Because let's be honest, my baby--now five months & increasingly demanding--would not let a closed-book test happen. Not the memorization required, & not three uninterrupted four-hour time blocks. (Is it an unfair advantage to take a break mid-exam to pump? The world may never know.)

I've learned a lot over the last three weeks. I've learned the hours of day I'm most productive, which coffee shops have chairs I can stand to sit in while I work (a more limiting factor than you'd think), how to coordinate four schedules (mine, my husbands, the baby's, and the baby sitter's). I've learned how I most like to read, how I most like to write (major outlining, figuring out all citations, inserting too many quotations, thinning it all out while filling in gaps, 48-hour break, proofreading), what music helps me focus (Gershwin, ambient, & The Decemberists). 

I've also learned that even with a five month old & a mess of a schedule--even while teaching, having a second job, & being home alone during bed time four nights a week--it is possible to write >3,000 words a week. That means I could draft a publication in a month. Easily. More than any theory, practical application, or framework, that has been the greatest take-away of this take-home process. It is possible to write. A few things made this possible.

I started taking Silvia's How to Write A Lot's suggestions seriously. To ruin the punchline, set a schedule, defend it fiercely, & log your progress. I'm not logging yet, but keeping a live feed of my writing process via Twitter helped me feel sane. It was mostly as a joke--which is how I treat Twitter, but it was good for my psyche. Mostly, though, scheduling helped. My husband & I share Google calendars. When we were putting our schedules together for the semester, I blocked in time that our daughter would go to the sitter's so that I could fully un-parent & go get writing done. I blocked off hours when I would be home, locked in a separate room while my husband parented until Madeline got hungry. I took it seriously. My Spark Planner--yes, I supported that Kickstarter & I love it--had me set a goal (I prefer mantra) for 2016. I put in, "YOU ARE A WRITER." It's time to use that word.

This is going to seem trivial, but I made sure I had loads of snacks available. Between breastfeeding, brain drain, & two jobs, I needed a lot of calories in little time. Snacks kept me going. Sure, some of them were crap--cookies, potato chips, frozen sweet potato fries. But some were good--cheese, almonds, granola bars, chips & salsa. Sometimes, they were all I could manage. Often, they were eaten while breastfeeding. That, though, was where I drew the line on multi-tasking.

I mono-tasked. School grading, e-mail, social media. None of these procrastionation-by-way-of-other-productive-tasks were allowed in my writing time. In those hours, I wrote. Did I do some swapping for hours when life required? YES. Because flexibility is far more productive than my old habit of falling apart when my hour-by-hour schedule didn't match the flow of my day. I was also more honest about what I could get done. Sometimes, the best you can do is erase anything remotely optional from the to-do list & triage.

Believe me, these are largely tips that go against my personality, but I'm learning. Which means you can, too. Because you are also a writer. The first step, it turns out, is using the word. Then, you'll start to earn it.

After a mental break & a massive reorganization of all my files, reading materials, & notes, I'll be back to share my new approach for my dissertation proposal this spring, three conference presentations, some upcoming research, & some good reads.