In a few weeks, the balance between teaching and research is going to change.
Some people respond to this by shifting into teaching mode now, focusing on preparation. Others make a mad dash to cram in as much writing as possible before the curtain falls.
Another option for transition
What if you thought of these last couple of weeks as being neither one nor the other? Think of it as simultaneously winding down your summer work and gearing up for term. The two modes overlap.
During term time, it is much harder to find those longer stretches of time when you can lose yourself in generative writing. Instead of doing all the fiddly things that need to be done at the end of the process, why not use this time to get a new writing project started?
The idea is to get a few projects to the stage where you can work on them in short chunks of time during term. Finding 15 minutes or 30 minutes is pretty easy. Sometimes you can even find 2 or 3 of those a day. What you struggle with is finding something meaningful to do in 15 or 30 minutes.
Create task lists for your writing projects
Go through the draft and make a list of what needs to be done. Break those tasks down into the smallest steps you can. Estimate how long each step should take.
Break your list up into “15 minutes”, “30 minutes”, and “60 minutes” lists. Go through that 60 minute list and break things down even further. If you can create a “5 minutes” list, even better.
For each of those drafts, create a folder (virtual or paper; whichever works best for you) and put the lists in the folder with the draft. The idea is that if you have 15 minutes between classes, you can quickly find a research or writing task for the time available.
Also, if you have office hours and no one is turning up, you can do short tasks and drop them when someone knocks on the door. No more frustration about “wasted” time when students don’t come for office hours.
Build a sustainable habit
The other thing to do in this transition period is figure out when you’ll be able to fit writing into your term-time schedule and starting writing in those times now.
If you don’t teach until 11:30 on Thursdays and you work well in the morning, you could block an hour or two first thing Thursday morning (perhaps before you go in to campus). Start writing in that time-slot now so that once term starts, it feels like the normal thing to do first thing on Thursday morning.
You might want to (re)read my recent post on the value of putting appointments for writing in your calendar.
Find it hard to keep writing appointments with yourself?
You are not alone. It’s like exercise. Some people can make a commitment to exercise, figure out what they’ll do, and do it regularly at home, by themselves. Personally, if I don’t sign up for a class, I don’t do it.
It often feels self-indulgent to put your writing and research ahead of students and colleagues even if for just a few hours a week. That makes it hard to keep your appointments, too.
I’ve decided to run a group thing to address this problem. We’ll meet (by conference call) Mondays at 10 a.m. Eastern from September 10 to December 17. We start with an exercise to get focused and figure out what to write. Then we hang up and go write for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Then we phone back in and celebrate before getting on with whatever else is on your agenda for the day.
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, put the dates in your calendar now (2 hours, every Monday). I’ll have the mechanism in place early next week to register. I’m keeping the introductory price low — $120 for the whole term.