Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things That Work

After much dithering and uncertainty, I joined an online writing group this semester (many, many, many thanks to Dame Eleanor Hull!) and it has made a world of difference.  The uncertainty came from my love/hate relationship with the idea of being accountable to other people:  sometimes it inspires me, and sometimes it just makes me obstinate and cranky. 

Fortunately, this time seems to be heading in the direction of inspiration.  I've set up a schedule this fall that is conducive to writing - and indeed it has to be, because I accomplished this in part by shifting some of my duties off to the spring, and I really need to make some headway.  I've been sitting on a pile of research and ideas for entirely too long, and it's time to face the scariness of building them into a book manuscript.

I wanted to briefly note down the things that have worked best for me so far - many of them are things I know perfectly well, like the importance of writing a little bit every day, even though the knowing doesn't always translate into getting them done.  But whether they're new ideas or old, it helps to write them down, stare at them a bit, and remind myself from time to time of the secrets of success.

(In case it's not obvious by now, I am not one of these people for whom writing comes easily.  Back when I blogged more regularly, once in a while a story would pop into my mind nearly fully formed, but more often I had to wrestle with ideas to get them out.  While I think I'm a fairly good academic writer, it is a slow and uncomfortable process to link all those words together in the right order.)

Things That Work

Write first thing in the morning.
OMG, how often have I heard people say this, and yet I never tried it?  I'm not a hugely enthusiastic morning person, but I'm used to an early schedule, and I always schedule my classes in the morning.  Now that I'm only teaching once a week (don't get too jealous, I'll be paying the price in other ways) my mornings are open, and for the first week of the semester I utterly squandered them in dicking around online and taking way too long to complete simple tasks.  Once I set process goals for the writing group (at least 2 hours of writing a day) I started doing those first thing just to get them out of the way. 

Prioritize writing.
Lo and behold, my mornings got a hell of a lot more productive, and it's wonderfully rewarding to have the "hard part" of the day over by noon.  Something else I've learned is that I'm way better at administrative tasks and grading in the afternoon.  It's tempting to tackle them in the morning, because they're things that involve other people and are more likely to have deadlines, so I feel like they need my attention first.  But all the more reason to put them after the writing, because if they have deadlines, I'll find a way to get them done.  If I put off the writing, it's hard to get back to.

Keep note of what excites me. 
I spent one evening going over some articles that were relevant to my research, which reminded me of some of the ideas I wanted to write about, and when it was time to quit and make dinner, I wrote in my work log "Excited now about starting tomorrow morning on X."  Well, when the next morning came around, I was tired and cranky and my mind was full of other things that needed to get done, and when I opened the book file, I was not the least bit inclined to add anything to it.  But then I caught sight of that note to myself from the night before (which I'd completely forgotten about) and thought, wait a minute!  Last night I was looking forward to this.  There must be something fun about it.  What was that again?  ...and the more I thought about it, the more I remembered, and got all excited about it, which led to a great morning of writing when I thought I was going to be miserable.

That's enough for now.  I think on some level I knew all of these things, so I'm not sure quite what it was that put me over the edge to doing them - if I figure out that secret, it'll really be worth writing about.


  1. Good for you! This is helpful, as I am starting to strategize some upcoming sabbatical time and don't want to end up spending it all on naps. :-)

  2. Yay for sabbaticals! (And naps.) I had one two years ago that was easier to manage, because it was all research, which for some reason I am much more motivated to do. Structuring writing time is much harder. What do you have planned for yours?

  3. Thanks for the writing inspiration and for starting up your blog again!