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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. An Academic, Writing: Finding Time to Write

Nov 29, 2012 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

Some of you may know that November was Academic Writing Month. Inspired by National Novel Writing Month (when participants agree to write a novel, or at least a first full draft, in a month), AcWriMo is about encouraging daily academic writing, with public accountability through social media. I agreed to participate this year, vowing to write two Modern Languages Association (MLA) conference presentations. The two roundtables (which means shorter talking time) are in early January, and I know that after Thanksgiving, my time to write will be dramatically reduced because of grading and the holidays.

I did not accomplish my modest writing goals.

Finding Time to Write

I struggle to find time for my academic writing. This month, I underestimated the amount of time I needed to spend grading (I teach five writing-intensive courses during the fall semester). And I got sick. Then my husband got sick. Then my kids both got sick (consecutively, of course). And then I got sick again. November was tough, and my October and September weren’t that much more productive.

I have trouble setting aside sustained periods of time for writing on a consistent schedule. Twice a week, I teach all day, leaving me exhausted by the end of the day, unable to devote any time in the evening for long periods of sustained writing (or even reading). While I hoped that having the other days set aside with no teaching duties would lead to long days of writing, I have instead found it difficult to prioritize my writing in the face of all of the other demands on my time, from committee responsibilities to grading to course preparation. Even with the deadline looming, I always find an excuse to put writing last on my list of priorities.

A personal challenge I face is that I feel like I need to read “everything” before I start writing. I’ve spent most of this semester collecting books and articles that are potentially relevant to my writing. As the pile gets bigger and bigger, I become more and more daunted by the challenges of getting through the reading and then beginning to write. While I tell my students that research and planning are both important pre-writing activities, I know that eventually I need to just sit down and write.

Another challenge I face is overcoming academic perfectionism, described in a recent series of posts on Insidehighered.com. I convince myself that I don't have enough time to write what I want or at the level I think it needs to be. Keeping a blog devoted to my academic research has helped, encouraging me to publish my work-in-process, rather than focusing solely on the final product. It has also allowed me to solicit feedback during the writing process, rather that just at the end. 

I am looking forward to Academic Coaching and Writing’s Virtual Academic Writing Room as a way to have time, set aside daily, for writing. I will be able to schedule blocks of time and have an “excuse” to set aside my other responsibilities. I have a book manuscript due next October, so I need to start creating good writing habits now if I want to get it finished on time (bits and pieces are finished, but I need to start pulling it together). The Virtual Academic Writing Room (along with my coach) will help me set good academic writing habits, which include putting in the time.

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