I was talking to a client about her summer plans. She wants to get a lot of stuff written this summer. She has lots of data. She wants to apply for a grant in about 18 months time. And heck, she finds it hard to write during term time and wants to prioritize that over the summer.
She’s experienced enough to know that the summer isn’t as long as it seems when you finish your grading in April. We talked about the importance of scheduling the time for writing and fitting other things around it. We talked about making concrete and sensible goals. And then I said something that would make a big change in her writing practice: Don’t aim to finish articles in the summer.
Summer goal = all that’s left is short finishing tasks
The final stages of finishing an article can be done relatively easily in short chunks of time. You don’t want to waste that good thinking time on tasks that don’t need it. The kind of writing you want to prioritize in the summer is the kind that really benefits from long stretches of time and intense focus.
- Generative writing
- Shitty first drafts
- Literature reviews
- Getting the argument figured out
- Figuring out if this is 1 paper or 2
- Analysis of data/interpretation of texts
- insert task that requires deep thought here
Your goal for the summer is not to finish that paper but to get it to the stage where all the remains is stuff you can do when you are also teaching.
How many articles could you get to this stage this summer?
Look at your calendar. Schedule a vacation (2 weeks + maybe a couple of long weekends). Block off the last week before term starts for beginning of term chaos. Consider how much teaching and other work you must do.
Schedule time to work intensively on each one. How many 4 day mini-retreats could you do? How much of an article can you write in 4 days? Now that you have a number, decide what those articles will be about. Give them titles. Make folders for them. Or Scrivener projects. Or however you like to work.
Once you’ve got a decent draft down (not a submittable draft but all the big thinking parts are solid), make a list of what remains to be done.Things like
- fixing short sections
- prettying up the language
- checking footnotes
- checking references
- making tables
- insert finishing step of your choice here
Remember, you might not look at that list for a while so make sure you write down everything, even if it seems obvious now. Sort the materials into folders related to each task. Put things away that you are unlikely to need again. Clear your desk for the next project.
Schedule time in August to review this paper and your list. During that August meeting with yourself you can schedule time in your autumn calendar to work on the things on the list, probably in short blocks of time. You can also make a list of “things I can do if I have 15 minutes” to keep on your desk for when no one shows up to office hours or whatever.
Support for your plan
The Academic Writing Studio provides resources (including a recording and handout to guide you through the planning process), a community, and regular sessions of A Meeting With Your Writing to give just enough structure to your summer. Learn more and join by clicking on the image.
This post was edited 7 May 2018.