Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Importance of Planning: Taking Charge of Your Writing Success and of Your Career

While I was writing my dissertation and during my first year as an Assistant Professor, I got my writing tasks accomplished. However, there was no method to the madness. I felt as if I was traveling down a river in a raft, keeping afloat, but not really in control of my progress or my direction.

I had heard about writing and accountability groups, but did not think those were for me. I finished my dissertation in a timely manner and, and had an article accepted my first year on the tenure track. I figured I was doing just fine, so long as I could keep up the pace.

The winter of my second year on the tenure-track, however, I found myself feeling a bit isolated and not very motivated. It was the first winter where my husband and I hadn’t taken a vacation to somewhere sunny since we met, and that wasn’t sitting well with me. One day, working in my gloomy office, I got an email from Kerry Ann Rockquemore inviting me to join an online writing group. I decided to give it a shot.

In the online writing group, each person states their goals for the month and reports their progress daily on the forum. It was eye-opening for me to sit down and map out what I wanted to do over the next month. I told the group I was working on my book proposal, and that I hoped to finish the proposal and one of the sample chapters by the time winter break ended.

Slowly, I learned to set reasonable goals for the month, the semester, and for the pre-tenure years. I enjoyed the support and community of the electronic forum, and found that my relationship with my work slowly was beginning to change.

Once I began to write every day, report my progress to the writing group, and keep track of my writing goals, I began to feel as if I was in the driver’s seat. Achieving tenure became something I consciously was working towards, instead of something I simply hoped I would be able to achieve.

By keeping track of my progress each day, week, month, and semester, I learned how much I could expect of myself. Logging in each day kept me conscious of how much time I was actually spending writing, and how much time I spent doing other things. Slowly, I began to realize that writing should be my priority, and that I could and should do it every day. It was a real revelation to me that I could write on my teaching days, and that writing at least an hour every day kept me connected to my projects.

Setting new goals for each month allowed me to approach each new month with a fresh attitude. I slowly learned to develop reasonable expectations for what I could accomplish in a month, and felt a sense of deep satisfaction each time I met my goals for the month.

At the end of the semester, I could look back over the semester and see how much I had accomplished. Taking the time to tally up my accomplishments each day, week, month, and semester allowed me to stop and reflect on what I had done, and to feel better about where I was going and how I was going to get there.

Keeping track of my progress allows me to set and achieve reasonable goals. Once you know how much you can produce in one semester, and once you become familiar with the average timeline for publication, you can develop reasonable expectations about what you can accomplish during an academic year or, if you are on the tenure track, within the time you have left before going up for tenure.

Now that I know my rhythm, my pace, and my average productivity, I can set reasonable goals for myself for each semester, each year, and over the course of the next five years. I can look at that plan and see that achieving those goals will fulfill the research requirements of my tenure case.

Planning for academic success takes out a lot of the uncertainty, worry and self-doubt that plague many academics. It allows you to be in the driver’s seat, and to be in charge of your productivity and of your career. Keeping track of what you can accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a semester, or a year allows for you to plan in the short and long term.

I find that planning for success takes out a lot of the anxiety over success. I know what I can expect of myself and what standards I can hold myself to. In my case, it turns out that those standards are in line with what my university expects of me.

What about you? How much can you expect of yourself? For those of you on the tenure track, how do your own standards for productivity line up with those of your university?

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