Imagine walking through a bookstore and browsing the section on writing guides. You come across a title, How to Write Your Book in 90 Days: A Writer’s Manual. You roll your eyes and laugh. “What a ridiculous idea,” you think to yourself, “nobody can write a book in such a short amount of time.” A few days later, you see one of your colleagues and you discuss your summer plans. You tell her that you’re writing your book.
You know summer is just about 90 days, right?
Writing a book is a tremendous undertaking with a lot of moving parts. Even to say you’re “writing your book” is a bit disingenuous, because there’s so much besides writing that must be done. You have to:
- Develop an idea
- Read the relevant literature
- Conduct research
- Analyze your data
- Craft a proposal
- Write multiple drafts
- Decide if you’ll publish articles based on that same material for your book
- Submit sections of your book for feedback
- Wait for feedback
- Revise based on feedback
This isn’t even an exhaustive list! Even under each of the items in this non-exhaustive list, I’m sure you can imagine all the tasks associated with each. To say that you’d be able to complete all of this work in a single summer is unrealistic.
Even the actual writing of the book takes time. Suppose all your research and reading is complete, and you’re ready to write. Let’s say an academic book is, on average, 300 pages (roughly 75,000 words). In the 12 weeks of summer (give or take), you’d have 60 weekdays to write. That’s 5 pages a day, with no time to revise. There would also be no time to take a break, prepare for your fall semester courses, or work on other projects. Does that sound realistic to you?
I explain all of this work in detail to make a point. We often set ambitious writing goals for ourselves without taking the time to operationalize those goals. We don’t identify all the work necessary to complete the task of “writing a book.” As a result, we don’t realize that we’re planning for something that’s impossible – writing a book in one summer.
You can, however, commit to devoting significant time to writing your book this summer – and you should. Writing a book requires the kind of deep work that you rarely get an opportunity to undertake during the busyness of the academic year. But, how can you structure your summer writing in such a way that you can do that deep work without getting burnt out?
It takes foresight and planning to make the most of your summer writing time. This is especially the case when your goal is to make significant progress writing your book. Below, I outline some tips to follow to make the most of your summer writing time.
Develop a plan and a schedule
This is essential. It’s also what you should do first. Remember, “write” is not a plan. A plan and a schedule will help you determine (realistically) how much you can get done. I suggest you start your plan with a general list of what you have to do. This list might include tasks like “code interview transcriptions” or “write chapter 1.” These are fine initial goals that you can break down into even smaller parts. Once you do that, put a time estimate next to each task. Then, schedule those tasks and write them down in your planner.
Here’s a tip: for however much time you predict it will take to complete something, give yourself 50% more time. This may sound impossible, but do it anyway. We (meaning humans), dramatically underestimate how much time we need to complete a project (search “planning fallacy” in Google Scholar and you’ll see what I mean). These poor estimations not only throw off our timeline but are also extremely discouraging. You’re left feeling like a failure because you didn’t write at a superhuman pace.
You might be stressed out at the idea of dedicating too much time to a single task. If so, remember there’s no harm in this exercise. If you find yourself finishing closer to your originally estimated time, the only consequence is being pleasantly surprised.
Don’t make every day a marathon writing day
Marathon runners do not run 26.2 miles every day. They switch up their runs and even intersperse other types of workouts. You should apply the same thinking to writing your book. Once you’ve made your list of writing and writing-related tasks, think about how you can alternate activities on your calendar or develop a repertoire of routines. For example, maybe you write in the morning and edit in the afternoons. Or you dedicate 2 days a week to day-long writing sessions, and spend the other three fact-checking, reading, editing, etc. The purpose of this variation is not only to prevent burnout but also give you time to complete the myriad tasks associated with writing.
Give yourself easy wins
It’s hard to stay motivated when your end goal seems very far away. Setting goals for smaller tasks can help you to build momentum and stay motivated. It’s gratifying to check items off your to-do list. Create goals that you can accomplish daily, like writing 500 words or taking notes on two articles. Celebrate your achievements, as each of them brings you one step closer to completing your book!
Participate in a community of practice
There are many reasons to participate in a community of practice while writing your book. You can combat the loneliness inherent in the writing process. Or, you can seek out the feedback necessary to think through your ideas. Here are a few ideas for how to work with others:
- Get a writing partner
- Seek feedback – others will see what you don’t
- Attend a writing retreat
- Work with an editor or a writing coach
- Participate in a writing group
Give yourself breaks
Plain and simple: you’re not a machine. You deserve to take breaks. Plus, your writing will be better for it.
Don’t work exclusively on your book
Most of the time, my best writing ideas come when I’m away from my writing. I think this holds true for many people. You might just hit a wall, intellectually, and need time to recalibrate. This is normal. That’s why it’s important to have a secondary project. Given today’s publishing demands, it’s probably impossible for you to work exclusively on your book anyway. Even if you’re working on multiple projects, you’ll prioritize them differently. So keep your book on the front burner, so to speak, but switch to a different project when you need a break.
Embrace what you love about the writing process
The process of writing your book can feel long and overwhelming. You might forget your passion for your topic and your joy for the writing process. Be sure to remind yourself of your “why;” you’re not just writing a book to get tenure! Create an environment where you can reconnect with everything you love about your work. If you love the solitude of writing, find a spot where you won’t be disturbed. If you get excited at the prospect of buying fancy stationery on which to write your notes or plan your writing, then go and buy it. Perhaps telling an important story or solving a puzzle is what motivates you. Whatever it is that makes you excited to get in the chair and write, do it. Remind yourself of what you love.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to writing your book. That does not, however, mean that the process has to be riddled with stress and uncertainty. I’ve helped my clients thrive with the right combination of planning, dedication, and support. You can too.