As I lay out in my post about how and why to plan your summer before the semester ends, summer break tends to sneak up on faculty, professors, and graduate students. During the hectic semester, we long for the days when we will have fewer responsibilities. We fantasize about how much writing we will get done once our piles of work to grade disappear. We imagine that our productivity will skyrocket.
And yet, we often set ourselves up for failure.
We underestimate how long writing projects will actually take. We overestimate the amount of time we actually have during summer break. Most importantly, we forget that writing does not just happen on its own–that it takes regular, consistent effort to finish projects.
We finish summer break in a state of panic, regret, and frustration.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The first step is to get real about how much time you will really have over the summer, what your general work week will look like, and when summer will start for you. After you have done those things, though, you need to do the following writing-specific planning. Doing this now will save you time and energy when the summer starts.
Decide What, When, Where, and How You Will Write this Summer
Using the deadlines you put on your macro summer schedule, map out which projects you will work on this summer.
Then, review: where do you write best? When? Make your plan now and put it in your full swing summer time map.
Decide on the Metric You will Use to Track Your Writing this Summer
Will you write a certain number of words each day? Write for a set number of minutes? Some other metric?
Many scholars find that the summer is an ideal time for getting writing projects down on paper. Then, the possibility of submitting it for publication becomes its own intrinsic motivation. But, of course, you need to decide on a metric that you know works for you. If you’re not sure, pick one now and set a reminder in your calendar after about three weeks to review whether it’s working for you or not.
For more ideas, see why I recommend setting product-focused weekly goals during the semester, and how tracking my goals and writing sessions has helped me write more, consistently.
Choose Accountability Systems and Create a Support Group to Keep Your Writing Consistent this Summer
Many academics suffer from the lack of support and connection during the summer months. So, take steps now to create your own support networks. Consider establishing two or more of the following.
An Accountability Partner
An accountability partner’s sole job is to hold you accountable for keeping your writing sessions. So, your accountability partner could be anyone. S/he need not be an academic, from your field, or in the same career stage as you. All that matters is that s/he hold you accountable for writing.
You might feel most comfortable asking a close friend or acquaintance to be your accountability partner, but this is likely a mistake. The best accountability partners are people you know fairly well, but to whom you don’t feel comfortable making excuses for missing writing sessions.
Your accountability partnership could work in real life or virtually, but you should plan to meet or update each other frequently (daily is best).
Before working together, you should establish ground rules. For what will you both hold each other accountable? What will happen if one partner slips? How frequently will you reevaluate how well your partnership is working for both parties?
A cohort is a group going through a similar process. You are all likely to have similar questions and benefit from hearing others’ experiences. A cohort can also be extremely motivating. Seeing others achieve their goals can push you to accomplish yours.
Cohorts can be virtual or in-person, but should be working toward a similar goal or at a similar stage. So, for instance, if you’re working to publish your first book, consider starting a cohort of first-time book authors from a variety of universities. Or, you could create a formal cohort of pre-mid-tenure faculty in your college. 6-8 people is an ideal size.
The cohort should establish a regular routine for checking in at least once every two weeks. During these check-ins, you should share progress, celebrate milestones and accomplishments, ask questions, and offer advice and encouragement.
A Draft Exchange Partner/Group
Having external deadlines often motivates us to finish projects. Consider starting a group that exchanges writing on a regular basis. The best draft exchanges take place within one discipline or subdiscipline.
While belonging to a draft exchange group is a greater time investment than belonging to a cohort (you must read others’ writing), it has significant benefits:
- You create external deadlines for yourself.
- In getting others’ feedback on your writing, you practice separating yourself from your writing.
- Your groupmates’ feedback can reignite your passion and enthusiasm for a stalled project.
A Formal Mentor
The best mentors are a few steps ahead of you on a similar career trajectory. You likely have mentors from graduate school, but you should also seek out mentors at your institution and advanced junior scholar mentors, who have recently been through the processes you are about to experience. Personality is important here: you want to identify someone who is invested in your success.
You do not need to meet as frequently with a mentor as you do with your cohort or accountability partner. Once every two to three months is plenty. But, your mentor should be someone who is available to answer quick questions (by email) that pop up in between these check-ins.
Assemble Your Writing Tools for the Summer
After you decide when, where, and how you will write and establish the social networks that will set you up for success, you also need to ensure you have the right tools for the job.
If you are working on a book project, I highly recommend Scrivener as your word processor.
Do you struggle to stay on task? Try Mytomatoes.com, a free web platform based on the Pomodoro method (25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of breaks).
Find yourself tempted to check email during writing sessions? Try Boomerang, which lets you pause your email during certain times. Or, consider installing an internet blocker such as WasteNoTime.
Looking for a way to listen to academic articles (PDF or Word files) in your car, on walks, or in the airport? Then you must try Voice Dream Reader!
Have a hard time tuning out distraction and noise? I almost never write without the NatureSpace app (free)–my favorite track is “Riverwind Dreaming.” It drowns out all (and I mean ALL) background noise and helps me stay calm and focused.
Ready for More?
Head on over to my third post in the summer productivity series, which walks you through how to harness the power of the summer clean slate to set yourself up for long-term success.
What writing projects do you plan to work on this summer? Do you have questions about summer productivity for professors? Faculty: what other summer writing planning tips do you have? Are there any summer productivity strategies have worked well for you in the past? What has derailed your summer writing projects? Let me know in the comments below or by email.