Gaining Time, Losing Structure: Hello, Summer

Finding time to write in the midst of teaching presents a number of challenges. This always makes the time between semesters seem especially appealing – oh, the things I could accomplish with that much time! The end of the semester, though, brings with it a loss of structure. For me, this makes establishing a routine crucial to ensuring stead progress over the summer months. Normally, I try to find some means of employment over the summer, but as my goal is to defend my dissertation in the fall (!!), I need as much time as possible to write and revise.

How to do this?

I’ve heard others discuss an array of strategies; some treat writing like a 9-5 job. They “clock in,” get to work, and when five o’clock hits, they “clock out.” I tried this approach for a few weeks, and I would categorize my success at this approach as mediocre (at best). Others have told me they have set days and a set location to work. For the three or four days that worked best for their schedule, they wrote as much as they possibly could. Again, I attempted to adopt aspects of this approach, but any interruptions to the schedule proved frustrating.

What I do need, though, is structure. I like to self-impose deadlines (finish drafting X chapter by X date; revise by X; submit – wash, rinse, repeat). I also agree that having a set location to work is crucial. Whether it be a coffee shop (which are just too noisy for me), a campus office (which are usually too busy with socializing), or a home office (my preferred setup), an established place to work is key. For awhile, I found myself bouncing between work stations, and it was a very unproductive experience.

One thing I did learn about myself when I attempted the 9-5 writing schedule is what hours proved to be the most productive. For me, 10-2 is ‘prime time’; for some reason, writing comes easier within that time block. Others have said that writing late at night or early in the morning is best for them. Finding that time that works for you can be tricky, but once it is established, stick with it.

Two o’clock is the true doldrums of the day. (Image credit: “*head-desk*,” [insert nifty phrase])

With time and place nailed down, it’s just a matter of doing it. My goal is to write every day; it doesn’t always happen, because life doesn’t necessarily fit with my schedule. Still, to write something each day is a way to hold myself accountable. When I do write, I aim to reach 500 words. This is something that resulted from a post written by LD Burnett on her blog, “Saved By History.” In what she called “The Grafton Line,” Burnett found that setting a word count goal that was manageable for every day writing resulted in great progress. After reading that post I determined to try to write 500 words per day; that roughly translate to a chapter per month. If I stick to this goal throughout the summer, there is no reason why I should not be in a good place to defend in the fall. Hopefully, it will also result in a steadier stream of blog posts, but only if dissertation progress occurs.

This is simply my take on ways to find structure in what can be structure-less time. What tactics do you use to research or write in-between or during teaching assignments?

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4 thoughts on “Gaining Time, Losing Structure: Hello, Summer

  1. It’s a simple thing and perhaps too obvious, but I find my writing productivity improved dramatically after I started turning off the wi-fi on my laptop on days when I’m writing. Having no internet access forces me to just keep writing and skip over any bits than need further research, etc.

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    1. Well, I gave it an honest shot, but I don’t quite have the willpower. Plus, with so many resources online, it is tough to axe the wifi for even a few hours. Still, thank you for the suggestion! On days when the lure of social media is strong, I will make sure to employ this tactic.

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  2. I think you’re exactly right that writing productively stems from you establishing a routine that works for you. Some people like to work in noisy, busy locations; others prefer quiet spaces. Some people prefer to work in the morning; others like to jot their ideas down at night. The key to being productive is to find the method that works for you.

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    1. Absolutely. So far, this has been the only way I have been able to get any writing done this summer. Every day (sans the weekend), I force myself to sit at my computer and knock out 500 words. Some days go well, others can be a struggle, but with one chapter drafted and the other well on its way to completion, the progress is proof enough. After a certain point, routine becomes a habit. Here’s hoping it can continue once the semester begins.

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