Finding time to write is always a struggle. The question of time is the No. 1 issue that comes up in workshops and classes: “I just don’t have time to write!” I’m sympathetic because I don’t have time either. Yesterday, I had email notifications popping up so quickly and what should have been the occasional ‘ping’ sounded like a continuous (ear-jarring) symphony. I’m teaching, collecting data, writing a major grant proposal, supervising many masters and doctoral students, chairing comittees… Just listing all this makes me feel exhausted. But alongside the busyness, I have a growing frustration about not being able to engage with writing as much as I would like to. So finding time to write is a ongoing struggle. I’m sure you can relate to this litany of woes. So what to do?
I mentioned in my book Productive Writing that in research we conducted with research-writing workshop participants, three groups of writers emerged. The first group were those people who identified as writers. These were faculty and graduate students who saw themselves as writers. They kept regular journals, wrote poetry, research articles, blogs, published on teaching, and generally wrote about anything. These writers would prioritize writing because they saw the world through writing. The second group were scholar-writers. These were writers who only wrote to publish and communicate their research. For these writers, research was the focus and writing the mechanism. This group also prioritised writing since it was a way to access further grants and to be part of the scholarly conversation in their areas. For both these groups, they used the tools provided in the workshops to springboard them out of whatever stuck place they found themselves in.
The third group we called the ‘I have no time‘ writers. These writers wanted to write but could not and lack of time became the reason. I was fascinated by this group (having been there myself at one point) and have my own theories about procrastination and writing in academic contexts. If you identify with this group, you can read my views and possible strategies here and here. Here’s a video as well.
Of course, these identities are not fixed – people change – and there may well be other identities but I think it’s useful to think of your writing identity, then to think about time and what you value in the time that you have. The point is not to beat yourself up about it (“I’m the worst person on earth because I can’t find time to write”) but to think about where you can make time to write if it really is important to you. And if you can’t, perhaps other things are more important at this point in your life, and that’s ok.
If you do want to make time to write, listen to the podcast below. I found it helpful and encouraging – she has sensible, do-able and kind ideas (no bootcamps here!):
Mary Allen — Harnessing Time: The Key to Writing podcast
The last two posts from me have been about writing productivity apps and how they can help to keep up a regular writing practice. While I see the value in using them (and I have been using one for two weeks now), I find the focus on ‘productivity’ unsettling. This may seem at odds with an academic life where producing texts is seen to be core business but I know that if I focus on ‘outputs’, I almost always end up writing-paralysed. Yet, if I focus on the message, who I want to reach, and just keep the writing process going, the product happens anyway but with less stress and angst. This morning, I listened to a podcast on this issue (see below) and although Lorsung is not talking about academic writing specifically, what she says makes so much sense to me. One final caveat: we all write differently. While the focus on productivity makes me want to hide in bed, it may energise you.
Éireann Lorsung — ‘Productivity’ and ‘Failure’ for Writers
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:33:14 -0500
Over and over I hear my students, my peers, and my own interior voice talk about failure as writers. Often this is linked to an idea of ‘productivity’, and in particular to a perception of others as ‘more productive’. As publication online increases the speed at which writing can appear in public, the distance between writing as a process and writing as a product closes. Consequently, the concept of productivity is measured more and more in terms of visible, finished objects, muddling the relation of publication to the act/process of writing. I’ll question the usefulness of these ideas—failure and productivity—for writing, and suggest ways of reframing our writing processes to accommodate work that ‘fails’ or is not visibly ‘productive’. In addition to talking about how what seems like ‘failure’ is an integral part of making writing that’s worthwhile, I’ll offer strategies and concepts—the multiple, the telescope—that help me keep writing despite unhappiness with my work or the feeling that others are ‘better writers’ (meaning ‘more productive’) than I am.
Read this blog for some creative ideas on how to re-generate interest in your research. Author Heather VanMouwerik has a bunch of creative suggestions to jump-start your research mo-jo.
Thank you to all of you who comment, follow this blog and subscribe to my videos. I really appreciate hearing that they help you. Many of you have asked where you can get my books. This is a tricky question since they were published in South Africa and are not on Amazon. However, the publishers have assured me that international buyers can get my books from Adams Books.
As far as I know, you can get both hard copies and the online versions from this bookseller.
These days just about everyone has a FitBit or a walking app to count how many steps they take in a day. Well, if you look here, and here you’ll find blog posts that list a number of online apps that can help you keep on track with your writing. They range from helping you to keep focused, counting words written to blocking distractions. I haven’t tried any of them myself but I think I will.
Mmmm, I wonder if there are apps I can use on my phone…
Although I firmly believe that writing is a social practice (we write to be read and in response to contextual conditions), a good portion of our writing time is often done alone. Many of you will know that I’m very interested in ‘procrastination’ in academic writing and what this means. Often procrastination is touted as a lack fo self-disicpline and I honestly think that poor self-disicpline is not a characteristic of most graduate students. The graduate students I see are, in addition to studying, working, looking after families, volunteering on student and other committees, and generally leading exceptionally busy lives. I think procrastination has less to do with individual personality traits and more to do with the nature of academic writing. I’ve made this argument several times – in my book “Productive Writing” and in various presentations.
Recently, I’ve become interested in what individual writing processes look like and what this can tell us about procrastination. By chance, I came across this YouTube video made by a student on his writing processes. It has made me think about the way I write: when do I pause? how often do I edit? when does writing flow? Have a look and see what you think.