The beginning of the semester brings a new opportunity to make a semester writing plan. For academics, late summer can have a New Year’s resolution vibe. But, just like the New Year’s plans that end up in the resolution graveyard, your writing plans can be similarly unattainable.
The problem of unattainable goals has two parts. From a strategic perspective, you focus and fixate on the wrong goal – what you want to achieve by the end of the semester, or in the next twelve months, or – for new faculty especially – the years leading to tenure.
Now, don’t get me wrong: long term goals are essential, but our fixation on them creates the second part of this “resolution conundrum” – you become overwhelmed by the enormity of these goals. Your goals become too complex to manage. As a result, you spend our time navigating your anxiety concerning your ability to achieve the goals. Even when you do sit down to work, you’re constantly worried about the next thing you have to do, because of your fixation on what needs to be done in the next 6 months or year rather than what you have to do today.
Of course, you need to take stock of your long-term goals. Being successful in academia requires running a marathon, not a sprint. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that you should fuss over your big goals every damn day. If your semester writing plan only consists of items like, “write my book,” or “finish two articles,” you won’t get very far.
What’s the solution?
When you create your semester writing plan, break those big projects down, and focus on the smallest task. Have a book to write? Think about a single chapter. Then, think about the sections of that chapter. Then, start a subsection. Write 100 words of that subsection or work on it for thirty minutes. The point it to identify a task you can work on at a specific time on a designated date. On that date, you focus on your one task. In this regard, you’re no longer “writing a book.” Yes, the book is the outcome, but the book is not what you’re doing.
Why does this work? There are a couple of reasons:
- You have way more control over 100 words than you do the tens of thousands of words that make up a book.
- You also likely have way more confidence in your ability to write 100 words.
- It gives you an easy entry point into your work.
- You have a tangible, quantifiable (dare I say S.M.A.R.T) goal rather than a complex, emotionally fraught goal.
When it comes to big, complex, long-term goals, my mantra is “set it and forget it.” Focus on the task at hand, and the single activity you can complete to move your work forward. The result will be a semester writing plan you can actually stick with.
If you’d like more tips for making an effective writing plan, join me for a 5-day training, starting August 12th, 2019. Each day, you’ll receive clear, actionable instruction that you can use immediately to create a writing plan that actually makes you feel better about your writing. Click here to join.