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Sunday, March 27, 2016

How I Have Been Reaching My Acadmic Writing Goals Lately

It feels good to check items off the list.
by Ann Abbott

When I made my March writing list, I tried to be realistic. I knew that March included spring break plus travel to Phoenix for the LSP Symposium. Still, I completed every item on that list by March 22.

While I'm happy about that, it's not because of anything special that I have done. There's no secret. I just simply sat down and wrote for about 60 minutes almost every day.

It wasn't every single day.

And it wasn't always a full 60 minutes.

But I just kept advancing. Slow and steady.

Here are a few things that help me stick to that.

Passion. I am passionate about the things I write about. I to want to share ideas and experiences with the world, and writing is the best way.
     Are you writing what you're truly passionate about? I sometimes see people who think they "should" research and write something that doesn't match with their true passion and area of interest.

Mental strength. I try to remind myself to write from a place of power. In other words, I say things to myself like, "Ann, you know a lot about this topic; own it!" Or, "I enjoy reading and learning from other people's work;  there have to be people out there who would feel the same way about what I want to share." That might sound corny, but I even write notes to myself ("Dear Ann,") to give myself pep talks.
     Say positive things to yourself. Out loud. On paper. There are too many negative messages all around us; make your words to yourself kind and encouraging.

Relaxation techniques. Still, I don't always feel like I'm writing from a place of power. There was something I needed to write this month (that's not on the list because it came up last minute), and I felt a great deal of anxiety about. I was too worked up to focus. So I named it ("Wow, I'm really anxious."), lit a nice candle on my desk, took some deep breaths, and just dove in. I know writing can make me anxious, and I know some of the things that I can help me lower the anxiety.
     Would closing your eyes for a few minutes help? Would downloading the app called "Calm" calm you down? Would some stretching exercises limber you for typing? Would writing by hand in beautiful, slow cursive help?

Buddies. I have standing writing appointments with a couple of friends. We Skype. They write. I write. I know myself, and I know that if I were trying to do this alone, I wouldn't do it.
     Pick up the phone and call your most supportive friend. Tell him that you rarely ask for help, but you really need this. They don't have to write, but you'd really love it if you could Skype while they work on one of their own goals and you write. (Honestly, this was the hardest part for me. It was really tough to find someone.)

Concrete goals. As you can see from the picture, I try to break the projects into concrete phases. When I sit down to write each day, I more or less have an idea of what I want to accomplish. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But those times when it does work, that means that I'm advancing toward the big picture. It adds up. It simply adds up over time.
     Get out a nice piece of paper. Write something big and bold at the top. Then write down some realistic goals. Your goal might be to simply think and plan your next project. That's a good one to start with!

Experience. Experience equals confidence. I know I can do. Because I have done it many times. Each project is different, of course, but previous success builds your confidence.
     What have been particularly successful at? Sticking to a workout regime? Cooking homemade meals most nights? Fostering friendships even when people move apart? Analyze those successes and use the same techniques (if possible) in your approach to writing.

Helping others. I have a friend who is getting back into the swing of writing, and we talk a lot. We talk about her progress, her challenges, her questions, her fears, her patterns, her goals...everything. I'm not claiming any special sway over this person--she is a full-fledged professional, capable of ruling the world if she decides to--just saying that being a support for another person who is writing makes me feel good and makes me feel good about writing.
     Who could you talk to about writing? Who is open about both the good and the bad? 

Visibility. I tape my writing schedule and daily to-do lists on the wall opposite my writing desk in my home office. I see the lists every day. (I also like using markers and nice papers.)
     Should you tape your list to the bottom of your computer screen? Could it be your screen saver?
This is my latest project, and as you can see 
I plan to write about 20 pages. So I simply 
assign a topic per page (more or less). There 
is wiggle room because the journal accepts 
longer articles.

Time and space. Through experience, I now know better how long something will take me to write. But last year I made a breakthrough in terms of "space." It was the first time I calculated ahead of time how many pages I would write for each section of my paper. In other words, knowing the page limit, I simply divided that number by the sections of the paper and the number of points I wanted to make in each section. What a difference that made! In the past, I often wrote too much then had to cut. Similarly, I would write without having a really good sense of exactly where I was within the limits of the manuscript, without knowing how much time I could spend illustrating a specific point without going over. Now that I have a better (though not perfect) sense of "the space" of a manuscript, I often simply tell myself, "Today I'm going to write about X for one page."
     Read the journal's author guidelines to find out the minimum and maximum length. Remember, 250 words is about one double-spaced page. Then splice your outline onto the page length you're shooting for.

Last year I submitted five article manuscripts, some of them co-authored. While on the one hand I was happy about that, on the other hand I thought that I should slow down, relax, since I am non-tenure track. For tenure stream faculty, the norm in our department is supposedly two articles per year (plus a book before going up for tenure). And I don't think most of them even reach that goal. So I said to myself, why? Why did I submit five? I decided to write just two things this year--one per semester. But I continued to write for almost an hour, almost every day. The writing simply accumulated. I guess I'll stop thinking about it and just continue to write consistently and see what happens.

I love to read about writing and talk about writing. Any chance you could share about your writing process and practices in a comment? I'd love to read it. We're too alone and isolated in a competitive environment where everyone is sizing everyone else up instead of lifting each other up!

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