I took something of a break from research this semester. I'd written a ton of papers the past couple of years, and while I'd read some articles this term, nothing sparked any ideas. So, I decided to take a bit of a break and just focus on teaching. It was a good idea. A couple of weeks ago a big idea that had been percolating in the back of my mind crystallized very clearly, and I decided to write a book on it this summer.
I wrote a first, and not at all good, draft of the book's introduction and half of its first chapter last week, but got sidelined this week by my last week of classes. Which brings me to yesterday. Because Thursday was my last day of classes, I spent most of yesterday in my office during an extended batch of office-hours trying to start my book introduction over again. It was a disaster. I was there from 10 in the morning to 3pm, hardly got a lick done, and what I did get done was terrible. I began doubting whether writing this book is a good idea, and went home pretty deflated.
When I got home, I learned that my wife was heading out to happy hour with the members of her academic department, and decided to take my dog out to the dog park. As I've mentioned before, that's where I do most of my work. I spend almost all day there writing on days I'm not teaching, and it's where I've written almost every paper I've published. I wasn't going to take my laptop with me -- my wife said it's been a long semester, that I should be good to myself, and that I have all summer to write -- but I couldn't help myself. Off to the dog park with my laptop I was.
As soon as I got there, it was like a lightbulb switched on in my brain. I was focused -- in a way that I just hadn't been able to achieve at my office. I banged out a full draft of my book introduction in less than a couple of hours. And it was good. A first draft for sure, but one I'm satisfied with, at least for now.
It struck me on the way home that getting a dog is probably one of the best things that ever happened for my career. I'd never published anything as a grad student, and I frittered away my year as a VAP at UBC in the way I frittered away yesterday in my office: having trouble focusing, spending days, weeks, even months on end mucking around on paper drafts that never seemed to get done. Then, just before coming to Tampa, my wife and I got a dog. And I started doing work at the dog park. And everything changed. Complete paper drafts -- drafts that were better than drafts I used to spend months on -- would flow out of my brain in a mere matter of days.
I have to confess that I don't know exactly what it is. Maybe it's just being outside. All I know is that I've stumbled upon something very lucky. For me, at least, the environment in which do my work makes an incredible difference. I can't get stuff done in my office, or at a coffee shop, or at home. Somehow, just being out with my dog makes things "click." Strange.