Strategies for Writing Every Day

27 June 2016 by Kristen Moore

A few years back, Meredith Johnson and I started an academic girl gang [AGG]. Our motto was Aut Vince Aut Mori: To conquer or die. The premise was that we would write 15 minutes a day–she reported that she had gotten tenure on 15 minutes of writing a day, and I could too. Since then, I’ve been more or less successful writing nearly everyday. Thanks, Mer. #mentoringmatters

Since then, I’ve been teaching a lot of grad classes, wherein–as per usual–we give the advice that we should write every day and write in small increments, but we don’t give strategies. Sarah Tracy’s amazing book Qualitative Research Methods [highly recommend, y’all], tells students

  • Not to buy into writer’s block;
  • To write in shorter increments;
  • To not reward windfall or binge writing with days off;
  • To write nearly every day;
  • To set goals.

But even as many of us give and take this advice, we often fail to operationalize it. That is, most of the talk we do about writing is about “articles,” or “proposals” or “papers,” big genres that don’t actually help students see how we write in short bursts, for 15+ minutes everyday. What can you do in that short period of time? How can you wrangle your writing? How can you discipline yourself to write?

So, let’s be clear: I hate the 15 minute writing segment. I love the 2 hour frenzy; hate the 15-30 minutes. In order to keep myself going, I’ve had to make a list of the kinds of writing and work I count as writing. I have given myself particular “Small Writing Activities” that I can use to fill my slots when I’m underwhelmed, underprepared, unmotivated, and distracted. [Frankly, this is about 50% of the time]. So here’s my list:

  • Read an article and write a summary of what I’ve written or a critical response;
  • Choose a quote that seems particularly important: contextualize the quote;
  • Come back to a quote that’s been contexualized and respond to it critically or in terms of the article I’m writing: why does it belong in the paper? Where does it fit in the argument?
  • Revise or rework just a single paragraph
  • Edit 3-4 pages
  • Draw a picture of a concept
  • Write about a picture of a concept
  • Write researcher’s notes and memos [should we talk about this? This is a field work thing.]
  • Read several abstracts from a current issue of a journal and summarize the trends that seem to be discussed or the disparities among the topics
  • Re-read conclusions from earlier articles, proposals that haven’t been accepted, or articles that still need a home and begin redrafting or drafting a new

Most of these activities, of course, take more than one 15 minute segment. But not always. Sometimes they’re just one-off activities that keep me writing, thinking, and habitually committed to my research. If you’re not sure about what these look like, let me know. I’m happy to share samples or talk them out. But these small writing activities can be helpful prompts for keeping your writing practice going, even in the face of…life.

Summer and the Little Things

20 June 2016 by Lisa Meloncon

As we’ve all started to settle into our summer routines, I was recently reminded of the importance of small things and the impact they can have. So I thought I would get y’all caught up on some of the small things going on.

• Part of the WomeninTC summer routine is that we’re trying out some writing groups. You asked for them so we worked on getting them set up. Those that expressed interest should now be coordinating with their groups to work on the best strategies to help everyone get to their goals. In some ways this is a small thing. WomeninTC just coordinated the meet-ups. Sometimes it’s the simple process of accountability that makes all the difference in a project or said another way, just knowing someone else is toiling away and experiencing the same things can make the writing and other work tasks just a little easier.

• WomeninTC is also taking a summer break from Mentor Mondays. We’ll be back in early August so if you want to talk about a specific topic let us know. Sometimes a small break is needed to rejuvenate!

• I know we say it a lot, but if you need to talk about something, you can do that through Twitter, Facebook, the contact form on the website, the Slack group, or simply email us. Summer is a great time to do short and long term planning so if you have questions or concerns, just know that someone is always there to help. The little things.

imagesI have always loved the summer because it gives one the extra space that is often necessary to take stock of life. Summer has been the time I’ve always paused to re-evaluate plans and goals and what it is that I want from this academic life. Even though we’re all still working (whatever that may look like to you and your position), the added space that summer brings is the little thing that can make all the difference in planning.

I’ve taken my own advice and not over booked or over planned the summer. This small change in orientation has allowed me to do some long overdue reading, as well as have the time to engage with that material in a way that makes the work richer and more meaningful. This was one of my own personal goals, and it’s been a small victory to be able to do this.

And next week look for a blog post by Kristen Moore on strategies to get un-stuck when writing. One of them is surely to be just the little thing you need to keep your project moving forward!

I’ve also done a host of little things that I’ve put off throughout the year. Things like getting my online identities updated, cleaning up electronic files and clutter, adding more information to my bibliographic software so that’s usable, organizing some long-term projects so they don’t feel all scattered…all of these little things have cleared away some of the both literal and figurative clutter that seemed to be bogging me down.

I’ve also reflected on the goal and accomplishments (and failures) of the last academic year. Not just the big things, but all the little things that we sometime forget about but make up a large part of this job and why it can be rewarding.

Summer, too, should be the time to take some time off because it’s important to re-charge. These moments of rest and relaxation are the little things to remind us that we all need to strive for a better balance.

I write this from Florida where I am so fortunate to be spending time with people who are so dear to me. We’ve slept late, worked, and then done fun things every day. It’s the little things like a different schedule that can make all the difference to both productivity and peace of mind.

So I leave you with the thought that taking stock of the little things can often times bring the greatest rewards.

And of course, the biggest little thing of all, always wear sunscreen!