One of my clients is well advanced in her career and currently managing a very large research project. By anyone’s definition, she is successful. She has written and published before. She has things to write about. She knows how to do this.
She has experimented with different ways of writing over the course of her career. After much experimentation she knows that writing every day just doesn’t work for her. She needs to block off several days for writing, days in which she can focus solely on writing. However, one side-effect of success is that she’s finding it increasingly difficult to do this. She has so much going on it’s hard to find blocks of 3 or 4 days to write, even if she includes weekend days.
It turns out that even though writing and research is incredibly important to her, she was fitting writing in after everything else was scheduled. The problem is with finding time for writing.
This what I was getting at in the post I wrote about treating your research like a hobby.
Schedule writing blocks first.
I suggested that she turn this situation around: Schedule the writing first and then “find” time for meetings. You could do this, too. I have suggested elsewhere that you go through your calendar for the term before it starts, taking into account that your weeks will vary considerably.
That other post focused on finding an amount of writing you could do every week, and then scheduling Minimum+. You can use the same Minimum+ model to schedule longer writing blocks if that’s what suits your writing better.
How many days it would be reasonable to spend writing during this semester?
Now, block off that many days in your calendar now. If blocks of 3 or 4 days work for you, as they do for my client, then schedule 3-4 day blocks. If whole days work, schedule all-day meetings for writing. Because there is no typical week and it is unlikely you can really devote 12 whole days of a semester to writing, this is not going to be a “Fridays are my research day” kind of thing. Do the whole semester rest of the term now. Work around the stuff you know will happen and can’t control (like grading final assignments) and work with the stuff you can’t control but offers possibilities for more writing (like reading week or that break between the end of teaching and the exams/final assignments being due). Put a note in your calendar at the end of semester to do this exercise for the next semester/summer. Add another note a few weeks before the next term starts to do it for that term.
Now, when you need to book a meeting, or respond to a request to take on a new committee or other task, those times are already showing as unavailable. You will book things around writing. Or, you’ll find it easier to say no because you can see that you don’t have time.
You can move your writing appointments if necessary but you will be doing it consciously. You will be aware that by taking on this commitment or holding the meeting at this time, you are using your writing time.
How it worked for my client
A few weeks later, my client reported that she was really pleased with how well this was working. She’d had one of her writing blocks and got things done! She noticed that, although other things did intrude on that writing time, the level of intrusion was much lower than it has been in the past.
Even better, she felt “that feeling” coming back. The calmness and feeling of loving what she does. She described it as “like a deep breath”. Extra bonus: a “writing block” is now something she looks forward to!
Be careful how you use the term “binge writing”: what I’m proposing is not binge writing.
Schedule writing retreats: you can think of your writing days as mini-retreats. Plan the days so you get periods of intense focus, real breaks, and don’t binge.
Moving beyond “binge” vs “snack” writing by Katherine Firth
A version of this post was published on July 17, 2012. Most recent edits April 11, 2016. Additional related post added July 6, 2017.