The pandemic in some ways changed the way I coach authors around productivity and the writing process. Many of the people I work with did get articles and book manuscripts submitted, revised, and accepted in the last two years. But for many others, the story of 2020 and 2021 was about disruptions, delays, and disappointment. Crises—from illness, to the demands of setting up online teaching, to losing all childcare or schooltime for their children—made sticking to planned writing times impossible. When a client’s weekly writing time plummeted from 10 to 2 hours a week, we figured out how to down-size goals to make slow but steady progress while preserving mind, body, and soul. The naming of specific goals and timeframes in coaching sessions often yielded to more pressing emotional issues, like:
--How to accept the reality of limitations.
--How to give yourself grace.
--How to deal with grief over postponement of goals about which you care so deeply.
As we approach the third year of the pandemic, everyone wants desperately to return to normal. It seems like time to recommit to firm planning of deadlines and making real progress on projects. But Omnicom is just the latest example of continued unpredictability. So, as I have the first meetings of the new year with my returning clients, I’m asking everyone how tightly they want me hold them to their intentions. Is it time to rededicate yourself to making substantial progress? Or is it still a time to extend grace to yourself and push back or scale down goals?
Clearly, this has to an individual decision by each person based on their circumstances. Here, though, are some questions you might ask yourself about whether it’s indeed time to take your writing progress back from Covid.
First, do a hard-eyed stock-taking of your general mental and brain health. Are you sleeping 7 or more hours most nights? Without consistent sleep, writing becomes next to impossible to do well over extended periods. People tend to downplay the importance of sleep. But in my experience in the last 20 years of work with authors, if sleep is uneven or poor, writing may be slow and frustrating. If your sleep is dysregulated, address that first.
If you are struggling, like most of us, with depression and anxiety, are you getting help with that from a mental health professional?
And what’s your down time look like? (I’m not joking!) We can’t push ourselves to be productive 14 hours a day, 7 days a week without burning out eventually. I encourage you to take 1-2 hours of down-time in the evening before bed and take at least one weekend day completely off from academic work. The authors I work with who give themselves a little downtime experience more focus and clarity and less anxiety about their work. Because of this, they accomplish better quality work in fewer hours. As with sleep, downtime seems to support the kind of cognitive high-functioning essential to writing success.
Next, take a hard look at commitments: what might you be able to let go of, back out of, or postpone to make more time for your writing project?
Take a similar hard look at your teaching philosophy and time commitment. If you must get your project accepted to meet tenure or promotion guidelines, you may have to dial down your time commitment to teaching until you reach that milestone.
Most of the authors I work with find 8-10 hours a week during the semester ideal to make substantial progress towards their writing goals. If you are only able to clear 3-6 hours a week to work on your project this year, can you push submission deadlines back to allow yourself to meet them with that slower but steady progress? Consider asking for extensions from journal and book editors. I think the people are especially open to such requests right now. And be realistic about the new date you set with your editor.
Finally, Covid has forced us to face a painful truth that extends to non-pandemic times as well: there are real limits to our control over the circumstances of our lives and work. The pandemic has underscored the contingent nature of all planning. Reflecting on how you have adapted and perhaps even thrived in some ways in the last two may help you see how to cope when your plans are overturned in the future. And if more disruptions and crises come in 2022 after the current Omicron crisis, give yourself grace when you really just cannot do it. The most important thing is preserving your overall mental health and well-being to fight and write another day.