I spent much more time writing during sabbatical than I do in my regular life. Without teaching and meetings, and with decreased emails and responsibilities, I had many more long dedicated stretches for writing.
But sabbatical reminded me of something else about writing. I don’t need a full day ahead of me to get writing done. In my office, if I have a 1 hour break between meetings, I often fill that hour with email responses, a course-related task, or a task for someone else. But on sabbatical, with fewer of those obligations, I often filled small blocks of time with writing. And guess what? You can write a lot in one concentrated hour. I knew that – but I forgot.
I’ve been thinking a fair bit about how to leverage this reminder about the importance of using the time I have to write.
For the past 3 years, I have organized an exercise challenge. Everyone who participates comes up with a personal goal for the number of hours they will exercise that year. Each week, they log their hours exercised, and the system (I use a google spreadsheet for easy sharing and calculating) computes their percentage for the year so far. It has helped me reach my exercise goal each of these 3 years (though as with last year, I’m cutting it close at the end here). Thinking of it as a big picture annual goal, rather than only daily or weekly goals, helps me reach the goal without getting discouraged. Some weeks life slams you, which can interfere with meeting a weekly goal. By tracking annually, you can compensate for a crisis-filled week during a less busy week. It also helps that others are logging, too. The shared nature of it helps with some public accountability, and the weekly percentage helps me stay on track.
So, for 2014, I am going to try a writing challenge, and I hope that you will join me. Here are the parameters/guidelines. I can provide more details by email to anyone who joins:
- If you are interested, comment here or email me, and I will send the google spreadsheet link to you.
- Everyone is responsible for adding their own name and 2014 goal to the google spreadsheet.
- The goal is for the year, so think about your weekly goal, and multiple it out. I like to multiply by 50 instead of 52, because it allows me a cushion for holidays and sick weeks.
- There will be one column per week. Daily, or weekly, add your writing hours to that week’s column.
- The spreadsheet will track your total # of hours and % of your goal for the year. It’s easy to see if you’re on track by noting what week we are on. If it’s week 10, you should be at about 20% of your annual goal.
- Set a goal that’s realistic for you. No judgment from others. If you’re working on your dissertation, you’ll likely set a high weekly goal. If you’re in a brand new tenure track job with 4 new preps, set a lower goal. Set something challenging but achievable. The people who have dropped out of our exercise challenge have tended to be people who set something unrealistic – e.g., someone who rarely exercises and sets a goal of 6 hours a week.
- Make it flexible. If you’d rather set the goal that you write at least every day, rather than a certain number of hours, think of your goal as daily, and set it as such.
- Define “writing” however you choose. For me, I’m including anything I’m first author on: manuscripts, chapters, and grant proposals. I’m including first words to paper and editing. I’m excluding co-authored papers and other types of writing.
- Worried that others will judge your goal? I hope that won’t be the case, and I hope that everyone understands that different people have different work/life circumstances. But if you’re really worried, join with a fake name, or disguise your actual goal with a multiple of your goal (e.g., if your goal is to write for 2 hours a week, write it as 10 hours and give yourself 5 credits for every hour). Of course, we could then all feel guilty that everyone else has such high goals, so if possible, be honest.
I hope some of you will join me in this challenge. But I also know that this type of structure doesn’t work for everyone. When, right before I left for sabbatical, I showed a colleague my excel spreadsheet, structuring my tasks for my 6 months of sabbatical, he broke out in hives. This type of structure and external pressure won’t work for everyone. But if it might work for you, please join me!
“The post Join the 2014 Writing Challenge first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on December 18, 2013.”