Getting Writing Done With a 4/4 Load

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Some helpful thoughts here from Deborah Cohan, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina Beaufort:

One of my beloved colleagues with whom I exchange a lot of office banter often quips, “Gosh, Deb, do you ever sleep? Are you ever not writing?” Another dear friend tells me, “You’re like a publishing machine.”

It was not always this way. For too many years, I was cobbling together contingency employment across state lines, zigzagging all over Massachusetts and Connecticut seeking an elusive tenure-track position. People encouraged me to write and publish as much as I could in order to have a better chance on the job market.

But the truth is, you do the best you can when you are just trying to survive, landing visiting gigs and trying to get settled in a new place while already applying for a job for the next year to ensure you can feed yourself, pay your rent and utilities, repay student loans, get some health care, and keep your CV looking like it is in forward motion. Gap years are highly recommended for students after high school, but they look treacherous on a CV of someone with a doctorate.

So I really couldn’t get into much of a writing routine until I landed my current job. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, writing is not at the foundation. That said, fast-forward and I now see my writing life as, in fact, foundational — a measure of how well life is flowing and feeling.

I have learned some things along the way that have helped me write more regularly and publish with greater frequency, even on a 4/4 load with over 110 students in a semester, summer teaching and no teaching or research assistants or dedicated administrative assistance. I want to pass along my hard-won lessons to you.

No. 1: Let go of the tyranny of perfectionism. All my life I’ve been plagued by this. There are ways it served me well, but when it comes to regularly getting work out, it is detrimental. Perfectionism is not just a thief of the present and the future; it is also a thief of creativity. It keeps us stuck.

Getting our work out there means we are vulnerable. We may change our minds, our data, and our perceptions of concepts and trends may shift and evolve over time, and we need to be OK with letting our work go even as it is in progress. All intellectual and creative thought — if it is indeed intellectual and creative — is shifting and evolving, and it is fine to write and publish and later be open to new ideas that subtly or profoundly alter our perspective. And if we wait for our ideas to feel so rock solid, so right (whatever that even means), they may actually lose some currency and become stale.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed.