How Carolyn Goffman Works

HIW_Carolyn Goffman

Name: Carolyn Goffman
Location: DePaul
Current Gig:  Instructor, English Lit
One word that best describes how you work:  Absorbed
Current mobile device:  cheap Motorola smart phone
Current computer:  2012 MacPro
 What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?  OED
What’s your workspace setup like: clear desk, window, good lamp; computer, ipad (read texts on ipad, write notes on computer)

I write at my desk at home, in front of a window that looks out on my tiny backyard and over the alleyway. Its bleak in the winter, with bare branches and ugly backs of buildings (and, usually, snow), but in the summer the leaves from the big tree in my yard fill up my view.  I need to be alone when I write (except for my dog, who is always present). Although I deeply admire people who complete novels and dissertations while sitting in a coffee shop, I hate writing in public.  I have pictures on the wall that connect me to my work–one a 1877 print of people walking in Istanbul through rain to hear the reading of the Ottoman Constitution; the other a poster that captures the fleeting optimism of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. I stick postcards up around the windowsill that remind me of my travels. No pictures of family or friends on my desk — I need to NOT think about the people I love and take care of when I am writing.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day? 

I have a number of roles in my life and they all seem to require different speeds. For my caregiver role, I slow way, way down and I have to be careful not to get lost in that slow-lane vortex. For teaching, I go at medium to top speed, and generally feel energized. Writing is peculiar because it requires complete focus and creates its own pace, which is sometimes much, much too slow. My trick to speed up is to pretend that I have to turn the article in, or give the talk, in two hours. What’s the quick and dirty to put something in presentable shape really fast? Then I do that, and it jump starts me.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I use a classic engagement calendar (paper); supplemented by my Google calendar on my phone, and a notepad app on my phone, where I make plans before I go to sleep at night.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? 

The refrigerator.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

I’m good at making lists and getting things done. I’m also good at listening. 

 What do you listen to while you work?  

Depends on time of day and how hard the writing is.  My most used Pandora stations are Latin Jazz and Classical Guitar.

What do you do to stay inspired? Who are some of your favorite artists?

I listen to books while I walk the dog and do dishes — mysteries, recent fiction. Nothing too complex. I like a narrative that propels itself forward. I like reading and listening to books that are well written, no matter what genre.

What sort of work are you up to now? 

I am working on the story of Mary Mills Patrick, a fearsome woman who ran the Constantinople Woman’s College for 34 years, through wars, revolutions, massacres, and end-of-empire chaos. She went to Turkey in 1871 as a young idealistic missionary and stayed on, replacing her religious fervor with a determination to help women and promote education.

What are you currently reading? 

Different books in different rooms and on i-pad and in audiobooks:  Emma Ponafidine’s memoir of escape from the Bolshevik Revolution; Ambassador Morgenthau’s memoir about Constantinople during World War One and the Armenian massacres; Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love; Theatre Shoes, by Noel Streatfield, New Yorkers. Currently listening to Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both?

Used to be introvert, now I’m both. I like meeting new people, but I need more me/alone-time than most people.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I am perfectly happy if I get 6.5 or 7 hours a night, and perfectly miserable if not. Sometimes I don’t seem to need as much sleep and enjoy the alone-time of the early morning hours.  

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.  Why?

George Eliot. She is my god.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Write what you want to write.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?

It really helps to know that all writers work really hard. It doesn’t come easily to anyone. I admire people who write every day no matter what AND get work finished AND have a life and take care of people.


 The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series.   The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? 

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Author: Jessica Bishop-Royse

Jessica Bishop-Royse is the SSRC’s Senior Research Methodologist. Her areas of interest include: health disparities, demography, crime, methods, and statistics. She often finds herself navigating the fields of sociology, demography, epidemiology, medicine, public health, and policy. She was broadly trained in data collection, Stata, quantitative research methodology, as well as statistics. She has experience with multi-level analyses, survival analyses, and multivariate regression. Outside of the work context, Jessi is interested in writing, reading, travel, photography, and sport.

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