Research day? Is that what you call it?
You’re just staying home in your pyjamas taking a day off.
You’ve got more important things to do like plan classes, and prepare for that committee meeting, meet with students …
Recognize this little fella?
I certainly do. In fact, back when I was still an academic and decided to reduce my work commitment (and salary) to 80% I had a colleague say to me that he didn’t understand why I didn’t just take the time I needed and call it a research day instead of taking the pay cut.
It seems that we talk about the importance of making time for research but even our colleagues are suspicious of whether we are really working during those times.
No wonder it’s hard to keep your commitment to writing regularly.
Writing is part of your job
It is not your hobby.
You need to write articles and books.
You might write lectures.
You might write policy documents as part of your committee work.
You might write blog posts, newspaper articles, plain language summaries of your research for non-academic users, or any number of other things.
Not only that, you write to think. Writing is one way that you make sense of all that stuff in your head.
Dealing with that gremlin
Your gremlin wants the best for you. It’s worried that your colleagues will think you aren’t pulling your weight. That your students will get a raw deal. That you are going to screw up and make a fool of yourself.
Your gremlin doesn’t really understand how something that you do by yourself and that you only have to report on about once a year can be more important than preparing for that class tomorrow or helping that student that’s standing right there.
Your gremlin is not alone in this. Lots of people don’t understand how important writing is to your job (and your identity, but maybe we’ll leave that aside for now).
Here’s the thing. Your gremlin doesn’t really need to understand why this is so important. It needs to accept that it’s important even if it seems crazy. And it needs to go do something else so you can write in peace.
Gremlins usually agree to experiments.
Decide what you want to try — writing every day for 15 minutes, booking 1 hour appointments in your calendar for writing, booking a day or two in a block to work on a writing project.
Then ask your gremlin nicely if it will let you try this for one term. You can even decide on some criteria for deciding whether it’s working. And you can agree to evaluate your experiment in mid-December.
Make the criteria things that the gremlin is worried about: Were you unprepared for classes? Did you drop the ball on any committees? Did you look like a fool who couldn’t do your job?
Be clear about the evidence for these things. You might feel like you are unprepared because you are doing less. Is there any evidence that you were actually unprepared? The fact that you could have done better is not evidence that your performance was not good enough (or even excellent).
You don’t need to go it alone
I host a group called A Meeting With Your Writing. You can use it as your experiment: commit to writing every Monday for a couple of hours. You’ll have support. Other people will be expecting you.
Added bonus, your gremlin’s worries about you letting people down might work in your favour. Because you’ll have paid for this and it’s a group, the gremlin will want to make sure you make it to the meetings.
We’ll meet (by conference call) Mondays at 10 a.m. Eastern from September 9 to December 16. We start with an exercise to get focused and figure out what to write. Then we hang up and go write for 90 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, you can register here. (There are more details there, too.)
This post was originally published on August 27, 2012. It has been edited.