I received this query at the end of August:
I’m writing you today because I’m looking for some coaching for writing my first academic book. I have a fall sabbatical and a book contract to write a book on the research that I did over the past two years. I’m feeling overwelmed by all the writing in front of me and how to organize all my free time!
I suspect this person is not alone. I’m sharing my response in case it helps you. I’ve edited a bit for flow and added a few links.
The basic advice
Congrats on the book contract! I guess it feels like all that free time to write is one of those “be careful what you wish for” things — seems like a good idea in practice but when you get it …
There are 16 weeks from the beginning of September until Christmas. Let’s assume 4 of those get taken as holiday, conference travel, and prep time for next semester. If you wrote for 24 hours per week over the remaining 12 weeks, that would be 288 hours of writing. I’m going to assume that’s enough to get a substantial draft of a book done, with things remaining that you can do in smaller chunks of time.
My approach would be to trust that you will have something substantial to show for your time and then focus on establishing a writing practice that ensures you spend 24 hours per week writing. Instead of starting with a phone consultation, I would suggest joining the Academic Writing Studio to help you develop and maintain a writing practice.
What 24 hours/week looks like
24 hours a week looks like 6 hours a day for 4 days. You could spend 30 minutes at the end of each day checking email if you really wanted to, though I think you could set your out of office message to say “I’m on sabbatical until January 3 and focused on writing. I will be dealing with email on Fridays. Thank you for your patience.” Then treat Mon – Thurs as your writing week, Friday as a day to deal with all the other stuff that comes up and plan your next week, and weekends for weekend stuff.
Six hours is 4 X 90 minute slots a day, which allows a reasonable start and end time, a decent lunch break, and a coffee break morning and afternoon. Evenings get to be non-work stuff, too. Obviously, you know your best creative time, so you can adjust accordingly. For example, if you work best afternoon and evening, then adjust your day so you maybe go to the gym or whatever in the morning and then start your day, and finish later. If you have kids in school you can build in walking them to school and hanging out with them after school. And your best continuous stretch might not be 90 minutes, but you can experiment to figure out what that is.
The important thing is to get up every day, sit down, and write. (Anything that moves your project forward counts as writing. So those 6 hours a day might sometimes involve reading. Or doing more analysis. Or revising what you’ve already written. Or going for a long walk while you process what you just wrote.) The other important thing is to look after yourself. Don’t push too hard. And enjoy the writing (at least some of the time). This sabbatical is not punishment.
How to organize the actual writing
Although your gremlins probably think there is some super-efficient process for writing, in my experience it helps to just write. When you start, you are mainly focused on the cognitive process of turning your thoughts into words and then some kind of structured narrative. Once you have something on the page, you can start to think about the book and the reader and make it into even better prose.
I recommend Scrivener (or something like it) to get started. It allows you to write chunks and sort them out later. So you can just write the bits you want to write until you have a big pile of stuff written. (Apparently this is how Joss Whedon works.) Then sort it out, work out some structure, and start filling in gaps, revising things into chapters, etc. One of my clients moved her work into Word once she had a more or less complete chapter draft and did all the revisions there, but she liked Scrivener when things were still more fluid. (The 30 day trial is 30 days you actually open the program. The tutorial is worth spending the time on.)
What would support you?
By joining the Academic Writing Studio you can come to A Meeting With Your Writing for a bit of structure. There is also a self-study class (MP3 + PDF) called Establishing a Writing Practice, that will help you figure out what’s going to work for you. You can also use the Planning Your Summer class to plan your priorities for the sabbatical (it is for any long period with no teaching responsibilities). I have a Short Guide to the Scholarly Writing Process booklet published and the ebook version available to Studio members. It has prompts for getting unstuck at various stages of the process.
Studio members also get a ⅓ discount on the price of Wayfinding and Confidence Boost coaching. So if you join and get your practice going and think you would also benefit from talking to me about some of the specifics of your situation, you can book that from inside the Studio and we’ll sort things out.