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Writer’s block

November 27, 2008

The more time I spend away from the Ivory Tower (a.k.a. universities), the stronger my knee-jerk reaction becomes to fluff and fancy language.

I’m supposed to be writing a chapter for a book on the benefits of alternative energy to rural economies, and I’m having the darndest time trying to make it match the 30 to 40-page treatises submitted by other authors.  I make myself nauseous using catch-phrases such as “the triple bottom line” and “innovative approach” to dress up the housing model I’m trying to describe. 

Don’t get me wrong.  The model I’m writing about is a good idea, but to me it just seems so simple and straightforward:  pay tribal employees to pre-fabricate a home’s kitchen and bathroom, then use volunteer labor to erect a strawbale shell that envelopes the kitchen/bathroom core with a cozy living room and bedrooms.  The pre-fabrication element provides jobs, the volunteer element saves on labor costs, and the super-insulating strawbale shell saves on utility bills down the road.

There.  I just described the model in 54 words.  Of course, I’d need to add a bit more detail on the balance of input costs and energy savings, but that wouldn’t take me 29 ¾ pages.  Why the need to fluff it up with elaborate language and detail?  Anyone with an ounce of common sense could see that the model is a good idea and is worth a try.

What is more, most people who rely on common sense rather than academic arguments  are turned off by fancy talk and big names, including me.  Show us something that works and we’ll try it; show us something that works dressed up as a bundle of “concepts” and “strategies” and we’ll eye it with suspicion. 

There is a huge disconnect between academia and life as most of us live it and know it.  I feel connected in my work on the rez, but as soon as I sit down to try to write about it for publication, my roots shrivel up and untie me from the ground beneath my feet.

Which, in turn, leaves me with a formidable case of writer’s block.

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