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A Big Writing Summer? How to Set Yourself Up for Success

May 10, 2021

Amy Benson Brown

After the craziness and added burdens of teaching through the pandemic, so many of my writers are looking forward to making real progress on journal articles or a book manuscript over the summer.

It may seem like the summer stretches out before you full of possibilities. At the same time, you may be remembering, with some anxiety, past summers when your actual productivity did not match what you hoped for. What makes for a realistic and truly productive summer writing plan?

Estimate Weekly Work Hours Realistically

You may be tempted to plan on a 40-hour writing week. But, in my experience, no one can research and write 8 hours a day for months. So, what’s actually realistic? Research, structuring arguments, and crafting prose all take intense concentration. It’s much better to spend 4-5 focused, productive hours a day—Monday through Friday—on your project than 8-10 staring at the screen or berating yourself for trouble focusing. Each day, perhaps 3 hours are spent actually writing and another 2 on research and work-related emails or meetings with co-authors. If you can put in a total solid 20—25 hours a week over the summer, you will be amazed at your progress.

Establish a Daily Work Routine

Many of the writers I work with find it most effective to write at the same time each, 5 days a week over the summer. Early mornings are best for many people. So, you might consider writing for 90 minutes first thing in the day while you are fresh. Then take a 15-minute break. Work for another hour before lunch. Break for an hour or so. And repeat the process after lunch. Save tasks that take less focus, like emails or finding articles you want to read for later in the day. This is important: Many writers are tempted to start the day with those—but that’s wasting your best energy and focus.

Schedule Breaks, Vacations, and Self-Care

This schedule for writing is still rigorous. You already may be exhausted from the past year. Plus, summer is the time to re-fill our tanks to face the fall’s demands. So, don’t neglect to schedule down-time for yourself over the summer. Give yourself a week off after grades are done before starting your summer writing schedule. And plan for some actual time off during the summer. Maybe a week in June and another in July or August. Completely check out from intellectual activities during this down-time, and you’ll find your focus and productivity will soar. Moving the body is also a great way to move the mind. If you’ve been meaning to get back into regular exercise, summer is a great time to get back into that routine.

Plan for Transition Time Back to Teaching

Sometimes we tend to underestimate the time it takes to prep for new courses or get syllabi ready to go for the Fall. You may find it helpful to wrap up your summer writing schedule two weeks before your classes start to give yourself dedicated time to focus on making the transition back into the classroom. This is also the perfect time to plan for how to continue your writing during the school year. As you map out your schedule for fall, look for 5 hours spread across each week that you can build on what you’ve accomplished over the summer. I encourage writers to schedule their other activities during the school year around 90 minutes of writing / research time 3 mornings a week.

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