Category : Publications

Organizing a Difficult Draft

“Is anyone else having trouble focusing?” I’ve talked with a few people these past weeks and months who’ve had difficulty with their writing. “I sat in front of my computer for three hours and only wrote one sentence,” someone noted on an online writing forum I follow. “Same,” another chimed in.

I’ve been stymied by an article on wilderness and literature that I signed a contract to write over a year ago with a deadline of May 30, 2020. But anything, everything, seems more important than writing. A fly landing on the curtain rod. The hum of the air conditioner. The dishes stacked in the sink. That old trunk I’ve been meaning to clean out for the last ten years. The easy chair on my front porch. Maybe I’ll sit there and read for a while. I plop down and my eyes close instantly.

DJ Lee writing space outdoors

My front porch writing space in Oak Park, IL

As the days pass, the article recedes into the nowhere of pandemic worry. I swallow my shame and loathing and write repeated messages to the editors—people I admire—requesting extensions. More than once I’ve struggled with dark moods that left me disoriented and paralyzed. When that happened before, I broke my work down into small segments, baby steps.

Which is how I’m finally able to get through this task. My process:


I first did a long free write without looking at notes or books. It helped me take stock of what I know and don’t know, helped me find a voice. Then I mapped it out.


Everything in one folder, previous writing and notes along with articles I’ve annotated.


I approach outlining like it’s a piece of art. I don’t outline everything I write, but when I do, I use OmniOutliner, which lets me move things around easily. With this piece of the outline, I didn’t care too much about the hierarchy. I was mostly interested in grouping ideas and quotations.


In between many naps and online shopping for things I don’t need like moss from Etsy and coyote urine to keep the squirrels away from my plants. This kind of radical editing takes a week or more. I also cleaned up the footnotes.


I read aloud several times to make sure the rhythms are just right. I also find a lot of repetition I can excise.

When I’m finished, what I realize is this: I love the discoveries, both intellectual and personal, I’ve made in the struggling and the writing.

What small, incremental steps are you taking to keep moving forward in your writing and work?

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A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures

My nonfiction essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures” was published by the fantastic Superstition Review.

Letter to America

Letter to America, published in Terrain: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments

Life After Life

My essay “Life After Life” was named finalist for the 7th Annual nonfiction essay contest at The essay was also a finalist for The Offbeat nonfiction contest.

The essay appears, along with a photograph and audio reading, in


She Opened a Space in the Wilderness


Storyteller: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams

Click to read the interview

Literature, Science, and Exploration

"Literature, Science and Exploration," Cambridge 2004.
Literature, Science and Exploration,” Cambridge 2004, 2007.

In 1768, Captain James Cook made the most important scientific voyage of the eighteenth century. He was not alone: scores of explorers like Cook, travelling in the name of science, brought new worlds and new peoples within the horizon of European knowledge for the first time. Their discoveries changed the course of science. Old scientific disciplines, such as astronomy and botany, were transformed; new ones, like craniology and comparative anatomy, were brought into being. Scientific disciplines, in turn, pushed literature of the period towards new subjects, forms and styles. Works as diverse as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Wordsworth’s Excursion responded to the explorers’ and scientists’ latest discoveries. This wide-ranging and well-illustrated study shows how literary Romanticism arose partly in response to science’s appropriation of explorers’ encounters with foreign people and places and how it, in turn, changed the profile of science and exploration. This book, co-written with Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson and published by Cambridge University Press, looks at the intricate network of forces that shaped literature and science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Read a review in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Ponies of Caldbeck Commons

This is a story about the Lake District, England.

Ponies of Caldbeck Commons was published this Fall in Newfound