It is a truth universally acknowledged…
For nearly every scholar, professor and graduate student, the end of each semester brings with it an enormous, ambitious, and totally and completely unrealistic to-do list. Ever since I joined a writing group (which offers both academic, professional, and emotional support), I’ve found myself totally capable of creating far more specific and manageable to-do lists.
How to Manage
I started my summer to-do lists with the first priority on my writing; that is, research, outlining chapters in my prospectus, completing book reviews, and other commitments I’ve already made. This list takes priority for me because I am about to embark on a year-long research fellowship, wherein I will no long be in sunny New Mexico, but instead gloriously dreary Ireland, Scotland, and England.
That’s right, you heard me: Lists
Yup. More than one list never killed anyone, right? In fact, I find that by compartmentalizing each of my summer goals by theme/topic–say, writing, reading, and moving (yeah, can’t wait for that)–I am better able tackle one terrible, difficult, challenging thing in a week if I’m allowed to flip-flop to the other list and do something easy or even, gasp, fun.
My friend and writing group gal pal, Diana, wrote a great blog post about this very subject in the Blue Mesa Review. In particular I like that Diana is willing to confront the summer for what it is: about eight weeks of work time. This is not a lot, particularly when you consider how hard you’ve worked throughout the academic year.
This one is tough for me. I’ve been doing lots of research about how to make realistic and practical goals for myself. I checked out Paul J. Silva’s book, How to Write A Lot, and I was struck by the interesting and often obvious advice he gives on staying productive even when it’s easier to sit around, consume beach reads and Twizzlers, and just not give a damn. Some of the more intuitive bits involve writing nearly every day, including reading as a practical component of writing, expecting that you’ll fall off the wagon eventually, but finding people who will support you to get up and get back on. I feel fairly comfortable with these components (maybe too comfortable with that whole “You’ll fall of the wagon eventually” bit), but being unable to shake self-doubt and disappointment in goals left uncompleted is a powerful tool in academic self-sabotage.
One bit of advice that stuck with me from Silva’s book was about how to create realistic goals. He suggests, of course, backward planning and a fairly strict writing group. When I say a”strict” writing group, I really do mean that there must be consequences for someone who does not complete their goals; for example, Silva goes so far as to suggest that members who struggle to set realistic writing goals–and subsequently not meet them–should eventually be kicked out of the group. My group, however, has not needed to do this. Instead, we meet once a week and encourage each other to add or subtract from weekly lists as needed.
The real trick with a writing group is finding people who you trust, respect, and make you feel comfortable. I’m not sure I’d take advice from anyone else.
How to Create a Writing Group When You Don’t Know or Like Anyone
This is something I’ll have to deal with in the next year–well, hopefully I’ll like people. Since I’ll be moving around various archives and libraries away from my academic institution next year, I will be missing my writing group. We’ve discussed various options for our long-distance relationship (maybe that’s a pathetic/creepy way to describe my writing group…) such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google.doc, but I am counting on some issues, such as time change and my schedule not fitting with the rest of the folks’ in the group.
There are several online writing groups, such as The Academic Ladder’s Writing Club (which costs $70, but boasts serious participants) and even a Professional Nagger, who will contact you at the beginning of your writing time and make you clearly and succinctly state your writing goals for the day. Also, at my university the Humanities Library holds writing bootcamps and accountability workshops for folks who want the face-to-face, but also a relative sense of anonymity.
These options may not be for everyone, but it’s nice to know that in just about every configuration of accountability and writing support (or nagging) there is something for you.
Feel free to share your writing summer plans and how you plan to stay accountable to those goals!