It’s summer and that means it is the time when most faculty members (and a lot of graduate students) are writing a bit more often than usual. I’m one of those people that writes all year, but I kick things into high gear in the summer. The fact that I do not have to teach in the summer and there are fewer students on campus gives me significantly more time and the ability to concentrate at a higher level.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been finishing a new book with my co-author Nelson Bowman III. Although we conducted the research for the book over the course of the academic year, outlined the chapters, and read all the background literature, it was difficult to delve into the deeper writing of the book with all of my other writing projects, teaching, and administrative work. But alas, over the past few weeks, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of writing and it feels good.
As someone who writes consistently throughout the year—including books, articles, shorter essays, and these blog posts—I often get asked ‘what’s the secret?’ or ‘how do you stay motivated to write?’ I thought I’d write about writing today and answer those questions.
Everyone has a different approach to writing but these are my secrets. First, I am constantly reading. I read everything I can get my hands on from academic publications to pop-culture magazines to mainstream newspapers to classic novels. And I get ideas from all of this material. I find that all of these sources inform one another. If you don’t read, your ideas get stale.
Second, I dedicate large blocks of time on my calendar to writing and I don’t give up this time for other things unless it’s an emergency. I consider these writing blocks an appointment and a priority. I can write shorter pieces in shorter time periods, but for books or peer-reviewed articles, I need a four- or five-hour block. I prefer writing in the morning, but you have to figure out when your best time is.
Third, I hold myself accountable and get others to hold me accountable as well. Often times, I’ll post that I’m writing on my Facebook page. I like to make my writing time public for two reasons: 1.) If I say it publicly, I’m much more likely to follow through. It’s like exercise. 2.) If I say it publicly, then people know I’m busy writing and are less likely to contact me during that time. The other way I hold myself accountable is by making hard deadlines when I’m collaborating with others. We set up a timeline and stick to it, each holding the other accountable.
Fourth, I take breaks when my writing starts to get weak. For example, if I write for three hours and I can tell that I’m starting to lose steam, I’ll stop writing and take a walk or go on the treadmill. I find that I get a burst of enthusiasm for writing after exercise.
Fifth, I juggle multiple projects so I don’t get bored. I like to move from deeper book and journal-length article writing to lighter essays and blog posts. The freedom involved in blogging or writing op-eds helps me to feel more comfortable with academic writing; it also helps me to avoid academic-speak.
Sixth, I write about topics that inspire me and about which I am deeply passionate. Feeling this way makes writing so much easier. There’s a purpose behind my writing beyond merely contributing to academic journals. Having this purpose makes a difference in terms of my commitment to writing regularly.
And lastly, I write almost every day. Writing feels natural to me. When I used to write in spurts, it was much harder. I had trouble getting started each time I sat down to write. Writing every day is like exercising every day—you get used to it and it’s much easier the more you do it.
Good luck with your summer writing!