Over the past year, I’ve committed myself to helping junior scholars in humanities and social sciences tackle their first book project. Many book-specific tasks trip these scholars up, especially getting a handle on their project as a whole and breaking it down into manageable chunks.
But what first-time book authors struggle with more than anything has nothing to do with their books per se and everything to do with managing such a large project.
The #1 question I’m asked is: “How do I find the time to write my book with all my other responsibilities?”
Most advice for first time book authors assumes writing the book happens in a vacuum. It ignores the fact that you must write the book while teaching more classes than ever before, adjusting to a new institution, and engaging in service activities.
In this environment, you must also manage yourself, which thwarts most people in even the most optimal conditions.
Most first time book authors do the best they can, and many finish the book even without optimizing their productivity habits.
But the tragedy is how much stress, anxiety, self-loathing, and shame they experience along the way.
What if things could be different?
What if you could set yourself up to focus more of your precious mental energy on your book’s contents and less on beating yourself up for not doing enough?
I’m here to help you do just that.
Introducing “Finding Time to Write Your Academic Book”
This post marks the first in a 10-part series: Finding Time to Write Your Academic Book.
I’ll show you why trying to change yourself and your habits without changing your environment and thoughts cannot lead to the sustainable writing required to finish a book. Then, I’ll teach you the most effective ways I know to write regularly and consistently.
Ready to get started?
The road to the type of self-mastery begins with self-knowledge.
Read the descriptions below and select the one that most closely resembles you. You will use this first piece of self-knowledge throughout the series to tailor the strategies I offer to your particular challenges.
Profile 1: The Vicious Cycler
The Vicious Cycler is one of the most common profiles I see, but it manifests itself differently depending on how long you’ve been in this circle.
If you’re a Vicious Cycler, you frequently seek out new productivity systems. Each one begins great. You start off enthusiastically and things feel different. You find yourself writing more frequently and with greater ease than you ever have before.
And then week four of the semester hits. You have 73 essays to grade, 14 emails to respond to, and two lessons to prep for tomorrow. You skip one (or a few) writing session(s) to put out the fires, telling yourself you’ll get back to your plan once things ease up. “The upcoming break will change everything,”you think. You’ll “clear the decks,” as Joli Jensen puts it, and then you’ll finally have time to write. But the decks never get cleared, and you end the semester disappointed with yourself.
Over the break, you decide you had adopted the wrong plan. So, you read more and find “the one.” You change everything. “This time is going to be different,” you think. But then old patterns emerge, and you find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle.
Maybe, after being stuck in this pattern for so long, you’ve given up. You’re convinced that planning works for other people, not you.
Over time, you come to believe that the problem is with you. It’s permanent and inherent to who you are. But, as I’ll show you during this series, neither is true.
During this series, your main work will be challenging these beliefs you’ve developed. You must first understand that it was your ways of planning that failed you, not you that failed your plan. You must also recognize that by continuing to believe that the problem is with you, you are resigning yourself to inaction. Rather, when you begin to see that your environment and the way you plan dictates whether you can stick to the plan, you regain control.
Profile 2: The Sisyphean Struggler
Unlike the Vicious Cycler, who goes through intense periods of overhauling her productivity habits (which only last a short period), you, the Sisyphean Struggler, mostly stick with what you know.
As a result, you have been able to sustain mostly regular research, teaching, and service for much longer periods than the Vicious Cycler.
But you’re miserable, tired, and stressed. You feel like you’re barely hanging on, and desperately need a break.
You feel like you’ve white knuckled it to this point, but think there’s no way you can sustain this pace for much longer, even though, by all reports, you’re “on track.”
Something has to give. And usually the first “something” to give is your research.
The good news? The simple (but definitely not easy) techniques I will teach you during this series will revolutionize how you experience regular research and productivity.
Your main struggle during this transformation will be to trust that you can experience balance. You must also learn to believe that adding more things to your schedule does not mean adding more time.
Profile 3: The Situational Responder
Unlike the Sisyphean Struggler, you, the Situational Responder have been told–either explicitly or implicitly–that you are not “on track.” You desperately want to change, but you’re paralyzed with fear.
The good news is that your situation can be temporary. You can get back on track. But, it will take effort and a firm commitment to new ways of doing things.
The name I’ve given this profile reveals what most likely caused you to find yourself in this position in the first place: a reactionary–rather than a proactive–stance in new situations.
When you began your job, you most likely let your new environment dictate how you worked. Put another way: you did not actively find time to write or proactively plan your time; rather, how you spent your time “just happened.” And you likely never even considered that there could be another way.
You will battle two main struggles during this series. First, you must shift the focus of your thoughts from worrying about what might happen to things you can control. Second, if you have not intentionally planned your time before, this process will not come naturally to you. Before continuing this series, you need to articulate an empowering “why” for committing to change. Fear (of not earning tenure) might motivate you in the short-term, but will exhaust you quickly.
Profile 4: The Solid Productivityist
Unlike the other three profiles, you, the Solid Productivityist have a generally strong productivity foundation. You already make time for the important work of writing your book and are frequently able to avoid abandoning your plans for seemingly urgent tasks. You probably even schedule your time around your own focus and energy.
This series will help you build on your existing habits. You should focus most of your time on monitoring and reframing negative thoughts and optimizing your environment for maximum productivity.
Conclusion & Your Turn
Knowing your profile will help you focus on the most impactful activities.
The techniques I teach you during this series are not magic bullets. While simple and effective, they are not easy.
You will experience slip ups along the way. But you’ll make far more progress on your academic book than you have, with greater ease. And the benefits will compound themselves over time.
So, I challenge you commit to working on your productivity habits for the next 10 weeks. They are the foundation on which academic books are written.
Working to make these changes with a supportive community amplifies your progress. So, I’d be grateful if you’d share this article with your writing partner(s), groups, or friends. Let them know which of the above profiles most closely matches you.
Humanities First Book Author Inner Circle
Writing your first academic book in a humanities or qualitative social science discipline? Wondering how to manage such a large project? You don't have to struggle alone! Sign up, and I'll send you resources and advice to help you get a handle on your manuscript, find the best publisher, and develop productivity habits to get the book done.