When I first learned of Mardi Gras break, I thought; “wow, great, more time to focus on writing and research.” It will be like two spring breaks each year! However, ever since moving here it has been significantly more challenging than I expected. The whole town seems to somewhat shut down, and of course friends and family always want to visit. What it essentially comes down to is a complete and total distraction. A distraction from my type A scheduling and a distraction from my writing habits. I like to think that normally I am a pretty good sport, however this year the weather has also been bad and I have quite a few deadlines looming so it seems especially…in my way. Sometimes you just have to fight it out no matter the distraction.
Always have two out…
In grad school we were taught to always have at least two papers out for review, at least two projects in the pipeline, and to be thinking about two new ideas for future work. I think in light of the tighter job market this has increased to five. Personally, I can not really fathom having five papers out at once. My record is three I think, maybe four. However, this month I have managed to sign myself up for some serious writing deadlines. Cross that with the fact that I have two conferences to attend and another to help organize next month. I have to keep telling myself that it will get done…and it does, IF you sit down and do the work.
This actually brings up the main point of this particular post. You have to do the work. Over the past weekend, I feel like I lost my writing mojo. I have excuse after excuse for why I am not in the mood to write or why I can’t get to work. My schedule was disrupted, I don’t have access to that one thing I FEEL like I NEEDED to start, or the best is that an old friend is in town and I don’t know when I will get to see them next. But thanks to an email from a very attentive grad student late yesterday evening, I realized that it was just that all excuses and at the end of the day (so to speak) you just have to sit down and start writing. It is so easy to see when it is not you…of course the social psychologists know this, yet we still fall into the trap. I am actually very grateful attentive grad student emailed me looking for tips since zi was “beginning zis work on the paper for [name of course] over the break.” I realized we were in the same boat. “Beginning to work” that was the red flag.
I am working, and actually writing…
For me getting started is the hardest part. I am currently at a place where I am just “starting to” write about my latest work. For the past few months, I have been editing, revising older work, and writing abstracts for paper and panel proposals but now I need to actually write for some of those deadlines. Enough of this starting and beginning…its time to actually write and get back in the habit of writing from nothing. I decided to start with this blog piece. I could offer a few of my favorite tips for students and remind myself of how to find the mojo again.
Tip 1: Know thyself
For me this means I have to set the mood. I know where and when I feel the most productive. I knew I would look forward to coming to my fav coffee shop on this first beautiful day after a series of gray days and that a hazelnut latte would really kick me into gear. I also need my earbuds in–whether music is on or not. It’s all part of a writing tradition for me and a Pavlov’s response that gets me almost immediately focused. (In fact a parade just went by and I am still writing…also I just took a moment to realize there are children playing within 5 feet of me and I only just now noticed).
Tip 2: Be prepared to be focused and actually write
This means having everything you need to do your writing. In addition to your research materials, outline, etc., and making some time to write, this also means a charged battery or power source for your computer, a full stomach, and an empty bladder. Do not underestimate how distracting these things can be and what a damper they can put on your creativity and productivity.
Tip 3: Actually Write–Something, Anything…
Start by writing something, anything… On the worst of days, I have even begun by writing my reference sections or title page. Anything to get your fingers moving and your mind going. I also prefer to write something that I want to write…whatever I am most interested in writing first. Sometimes, if I am lucky, it is for that looming deadline, but other times it is for something bureaucratic or for fun (the mosquito that I have to kill before I can focus). And if none of these work for you, then just write a list and start with item one and go down from there (writing a list counts as writing too!).
Taming the wandering mind…
For me it is also helpful to not be so worried about the end product, not at this point just yet. That comes later. Although, I do need a clear outline or focus to start writing–otherwise I am a wasteful writer, as I like to call it. This means that I am likely to trash, delete, or heavily revise previously written words. This is not a bad thing necessarily, but this is usually what is most frustrating for my students. For some reason, they do not like to “delete” what they have previously written. However, if I have a clear focus, outline, or set intro I am able to be much more efficient and less wasteful of my time and productivity. I can keep my eye on the ball so to speak. With every piece we write there are so many interesting issues to discuss or avenues to explore it can become overwhelming. I have since learned that, for me, part of being a producing writer is making choices, editing yourself (much like Tim Gunn would suggest with designing clothing), and completing projects. Furthermore, you can always explore and expand on those “less appropriate for this piece” nuances in future papers…so write those ideas down elsewhere, save for later, and keep your focus on your current project. Caution should always be used when taming the wandering mind because we definitely do not want to squash our enthusiasm or microcreativity.
Tip 4: Recognize and Reward Yourself!
It is always great to end on this positive note by recognizing what you did accomplish at the end of the day or writing period. Even if it is just a mental note. I am always more excited to get back to work the next day if I have made note of what I accomplished in my last session once its over. Sometimes I may be so proud (or glad to be finished) as to boast on Facebook or Twitter. I also like to plan my next attack…this gives me a starting point for the next session which generally saves me a bit of time and keeps my focus on target. Also, remember to reward yourself. While I generally do this upon completion of a project, sometimes I also do it when I am having an especially hard time with a particular section or peice. My favorite reward is a massage or taking myself to see a movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I can be completely guilt-free even though I am not working. However, be careful when using rewards as it can be detrimental to attach them to every part, section, or thing…the real end reward should be the completed project.