This semester I'm doing something I haven't done in a long time: I'm keeping a notebook. Sure, I've always taken notes--I buy legal pads in bulk for my reading and research and endless to-do lists--but not since the days when I thought I was a creative writer have I carried around a notebook for jotting down disconnected observations and ideas.
I just never saw the point. For 10 years, I was working on one big project: my dissertation-turned-first-book. I published a few unrelated articles in that time, but each one was a well-defined project, often in response to a commission or CFP, and each one, like my book chapters, had both physical and digital files into which I could dump any ideas I had on the spur of the moment and refer back to at a later date. And as a matter of temperament, I dislike having too many things going on at once. I want to bore down into one project at a time, and I like to finish one thing (or one part of a thing) before starting another.
But as my first book began to approach its final form, I started to feel at loose ends. I didn't have much on the back-burner--stuff that I was eager to write conference papers on or work up into an article. Even after the parameters of my second book project started to take shape and I wrote the better part of the first chapter, I had the nagging feeling that that wasn't enough: Book Two might take me five years or it might take me ten, but however long it took, I'd need to be publishing more than just the one or two articles I could profitably extract from it.
I needed, in short, to be having ideas.
"But I'm not an idea person," I told some friends. "I'm basically not creative. I don't have a fertile mind. I mean, I'm insightful and whatever, and dogged as hell. Once an idea comes along, I can do more with it than most people. But they don't come around all that often. I can't make something out of nothing, ya know."
It was suggested to me that I was protesting too much, and that what I really needed was to pay attention to ideas as they arose.
Thus, the notebook. And thus my extremely ambitious research plan for the semester: read everything I've assigned my students. And have thoughts about it. And write some of those thoughts down.
It's so crazy, it just might work.