Are you already dreaming of all the writing you want to do this summer? It’s probably not going to happen, says Dr Cathy Mazak, a writing coach for academic women, tenured professor and good friend of mine. Learn about her 3-step process to set and accomplish realistic writing goals this summer while having enough time to recharge for the next semester.
Ah, summer. After the end-of-semester push, the wide-open brightness of summer makes everything feel possible.
But let’s do a little reality check. You have big, big plans for summer writing: finishing projects that fell to the bottom of the list, putting some energy into new projects, maybe even doing some pre-semester course prep.
But remember what happened to you last August? When you thought “oh crap, where did my summer go?” and you had accomplished about 25% of what you dreamt of doing?
Let’s make this summer different! You need a solid plan if you’re going to get your summer writing done. In this post, I’ll be walking you through the creation of that plan. Get your pencils ready!
Step 1: Approach your writing like a project manager
The list of helpful career skills they don’t teach you in grad school is long. One of those not-taught things is how to be a project manager.
The very nature of our jobs as academics involves managing multiple projects. We need to do the three pillars of teaching, research, and service, but that doesn’t mean we only do three projects. Within each pillar, there are multiple projects (SO MANY), and this means we need to manage multiple deadlines, timelines, and workflows.
To get important things like writing done, you need to ramp up your project management skills. Here’s how to do this for summer writing:
Make a list of all the projects that you want to work on this summer, in no particular order.
Now identify the three most important ones. When you make this decision, evaluate: What role does this project play in my next career move (going up for tenure, full, going on the market, etc.)? Which projects will help in my development as a scholar? Which projects am I excited and energized to work on?
On three NEW sheets of paper, write one of the three most important projects on the top of each. Now make a list of the tasks needed to complete this project.
These lists represent the writing you’ll do this summer.
Step 2: Map out your summer calendar
Now that you have a sense of what writing projects need your focus this summer, it’s time to do a big-picture look at your summer calendar. (Notice that there are only three projects? Bye-bye all those other projects. They’re not important enough for summer writing.)
For this exercise, I use a separate calendar, not my normal planner. In fact, I just google “June calendar” and print a blank calendar for each month so that I can use a pencil, mark it all up, erase, etc.
Here’s how you’re going to mark up your calendar:
Plan rest. Yes, I said it. Right now, you are going to plan to NOT work on your writing for one week after you turn in grades. This is mandatory. You need to rest in order to do better writing this summer. Mark those days now.
Block off all work or family travel. Mark all the vacations and conferences you will travel to this summer. Then mark the day before and the day after. These are ramp-up and recovery days. Do not write on these days, nor during any of the travel days.
Decide on your writing blocks. I teach a particular method of writing that relies on finding your most energized, focused times of the day and ONLY writing during those times. You can read about it here and find your time. Note it down in your calendar.
Schedule your writing blocks. You’ll want to schedule 2-6 hours per week of writing during your best times. Mark them on your calendar.
To sum up, summer writing is not about big blocks of time. Writing for hours and hours per day might happen on a writing retreat when all the other demands of life are taken care of for you, but summer isn’t actually like that.
You need summer to feel slower than the semesters. You need to rest. More rest equals more (and better) writing! Small, focused blocks scheduled on your calendar about three times per week will get you farther than thinking you will write all day every day for the whole summer.
Step 3: Put it all together
Now that you have your task lists and your calendar blocked out with writing times, you can use the two to have a super-productive writing summer. Your strategy should be to work on ONE project at a time. Don’t try to do the “buffet” method of summer writing: a little on this project, a little on that one. You won’t finish anything! You want to work on one project at a time and make significant progress on that one before moving on to the next.
To help you do this, you can use a sprinting technique. This is helpful to keep you from burning out or getting tired of one project, especially if it seems to be dragging on and on. The idea is to rotate through projects every two weeks. During that two-week period, you focus only on one project and significantly move the needle on it.
That’s it! These three steps will take you about an hour or so to work through, but the result will be a solid plan that will mean more writing and a happier summer.
If you’re struggling to fit writing in to your schedule not just this summer but all year long, click here to get my free PDF cheat sheet “10 Ways To Make Time To Write”!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cathy Mazak is a tenured, full professor and academic writing coach. She is the host of the popular Facebook group "I Should Be Writing!" and blogs about academic writing at https://www.cathymazak.com.