Tag Archives: writing

Summer Slam!

2017-06-10 05.58.04-2

Summer is moving whether we like it or not and my summer writing plan was nothing short of lofty. Six grants, two-four manuscripts (other authors collaborating), some work travel, my endless summer reading list, funded grant work that needs attention, and VACATION. I mapped it out by week and gave myself some measurable and very manageable goals in order to stay motivated. I made adjustments as needed and didn’t feel bad pushing one thing back and pulling another forward or vice versa.

So far, so good. Four/six grants submitted. One manuscript mostly drafted, another in editing mode w co-authors. Other two manuscripts are resulting from a post-doc project, we’ll see if the post-doc comes through on their writing responsibilities (hard to know sometimes).

I cut down the conference circuit in a big way this summer. I had planned for three, I ended up going to one. While I know there’s trade-off’s with this, there were several factors that helped make my decision to stay put. 1: money. Some of this is getting way too expensive. 2: time. I’ve got plans for my personal and professional life and they don’t involve traveling for conferences. 3: value. Value? As in, what value is this adding to my dossier?

I’ve got my eyes set on a big conference next year that’s abroad, so it will take some excellent scholarship and pooling of resources in order to get me there. It’s also a conference where my research can really take off and I can learn a ton, so I’m willing to sit back for a summer and do the legwork at home. Not slamming myself with conferences has given me the time, space, and permission to plow through more research and writing. It also opened up some more time to do my favorite thing: GO HOME. An extra week is like finding a billion dollars in your winter coat when you pull it out of the closet the first time it’s cold. PRICELESS.

I also love my college town in the summer. With fewer students in town, it’s really quite lovely and I forget to take advantage when I’m on the road all of the time. Between paddle boarding to happy hours with friends and hiking, it’s really quite lovely. I need to leave more DURING the semesters when the kids are all here 😉

Funded projects are getting the attention they deserve and my endless summer reading list has added up. I amass articles and books all year and once the summer hits, I download, print, check out, and read. I try to break my days up into halves or thirds, spending each chunk writing manuscripts or grant submissions (usually mornings when my brain is really fresh), and then reading and/or grant work in the latter part of the day. I do not work weekends in summer as a personal rule and shy away from evening work as well.

Have I found the magic formula yet? No. But I like how this summer has shaped up. While I’ve adapted to changes in travel and scheduling, it’s really been all for the better. It’s opened up more space and time to slow down a bit and really think about some things. It’s given me time to do some things I enjoy besides work in the town I call home. It’s given me the gift of permission. I will likely never have another summer like this, life has this funny way of doing what it wants, so I’m taking the gift of less travel and more space now instead of trying to arm wrestle it into submission.

I hope you’re having a great summer, no matter how much you’re reading, writing, or relaxing!

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

30 Minutes a Day

writer-605764_960_720

source

Writing. Your best friend. The bane of your existence. The bread and butter of an academic. Seeing your name published is rewarding but mandatory if you want to play in the game, dance with the devil, whatever crappy figure of speech you’d like to insert.

After getting almost nothing from a grad student after a summer worth of payment, I had to tackle a manuscript and go it alone. (that issue is a ball of wax that i melted in a prior post) Filled with vitriol, caffeine, and fortitude, I opened the file and got reacquainted with my writing. I had set it aside to give the student ample time to write on it and had given myself the deadline of a trip to get the draft drafted and passed off. A month later and with sparse additions from said student, I ripped it open like a bandaid from my skin and took the nestea plunge.

Since no one eats an elephant in one sitting, I knew I wasn’t going to bang the rest of this out in one sitting either. I then consulted my calendar, said several curse words, and decided that the weekly email I get from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity was correct and that 30 minutes a day was a lot more manageable than the 83 hours it was going to take to get this one out into a journal’s hands. I’m no dummy at this point and I’m aware that I will not and cannot sit down and write on something for hours at a time.

Employing the 30 minutes a day has worked. REALLY WORKED. I’ve been able to do it the first few weeks of the semester almost every day with the exception of weekends and the weekend I dipped out early to go see my sister for my birthday. I can be taught and I do listen most of the time. Here’s what I’ve done, maybe it will work for you too:

  • picked the morning, morning works for me cognitively. if i can’t do it in the morning, i do it before i leave. it’s like my exit card.
  • closed the door or eliminated distractions. we’re a friendly group, but a closed door means “try not to disturb.”
  • left a printed copy of the manuscript on my desk, front and center to remind me
  • keep a log on my desk so i can track it, the reward is worth it of being able to write it down (screen shot below)
  • selected a piece to work on each day, a chunk, not the whole thing
  • weekly email check in’s with a virtual writing group

Screenshot 2016-09-05 09.57.53

I made my planner in a word doc, but it was after going to an Anthropologie store and seeing one that was put together neatly, coveting it, but not wanting to spend $18 on it. My colleague was with me as we were traveling for work, and she purchased one. I came home and made my own, printed and stapled together. It sits on my desk in a booklet, much like the one from Anthro, but not quite as pretty. It serves as an excellent reminder to write each day.

There are days when I do go over 30 minutes. But if my schedule is tight, I know I can spare 30 easily and will often leave a note in the printed out copy of the manuscript of where I want to pick up the next day.

Thirty minutes a day. I can do almost anything for that amount of time including writing. If your strategy isn’t working, maybe give it a try?

Tagged , ,

Asking Questions to Manage Expectations

5327564-medium-300x240

source

Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.

 

Tagged , , ,

Steamrolling Into Summer

2016-05-13 13.20.49

source: I took this, that’s Henry!

I feel like I’ve barrel rolled right into summer. In case you’re wondering, it was a very clean barrel roll with no big rocks on the path. I don’t know how it happened but I thought I just got back from overseas…. A quick trip home helped my mental state but it added up and the driving alone was a pain in my ass (really, my lower back was screaming). A quick trip to the chiropractor straightened me right out (pun totally intended)!

Alas, graduation and the pomp and circumstance (pun intended again) that goes with it is in full force. Taking advantage of the time to not be on campus, I started to pretend an adult lives at my house who cleans things. The the ritualistic nature of stripping the covers off of the couch cushions, the shame and pride of vacuuming a semesters worth of crumbs out of the couch, and the nice smell that the febreze has when I deodorize the couch and love seat is my internal trigger that the seasons have changed and so has the semester.

There’s other things that trigger the changing of my academic seasons. Move out will and has taken full force, summer happy hour emails have been sent for standing invites with friends, and conference season kicks off in just over 48 hours. Why enjoy that first week of summer when you can get on a plane and hit up your first conference? Relaxing is for quitters…..

We don’t realize what a frenetic rush we put on ourselves as young faculty members. I had not been sleeping well since coming back from overseas and while I could only use the excuse of jet lag for so long, there were so many things to take care of. This coupled with taking a month off to go abroad, on top of whatever else I’ve been up to made sound sleep this elusive thing I chased. I even hung some Tibetan prayer flags over the bed hoping it would catch some good prayers and they’d turn into good dreams or good sleep. It took the internal ‘click’ of the semester for me to sleep like a log for the first time in weeks for a solid 8.5 hours before I stirred and heard Henry moving in his crate to let me know it was time to get up and play.

USDA grant season has slowed, I’ve got a NSF due next week, a NIH in June, and another one (can’t remember the acronym) in early August. I feel like I have one more but honestly, I can’t remember…My pubs for the calendar year are published-looking shiny and real and I am already scheming of what to push out for 2017. I have plans to push out two more this summer for hopeful publication next year. Gotta keep the wheels turning right?

I have blocked out my summer calendar now that summer projects have been decided on and blocked out travel. Two conferences, a week in CO, and then home to the farm. In between, I have plans to read, write, evaluate, work on grants that are currently funded, work with undergrad and grad students that have been hired, and heck-NOT work weekends, evenings, or before a normal time of day (normal is defined as “when the sun gets out of bed”).

All the pre-planning is letting me do one very important thing: it’s giving me permission to slow down. Blocking out the time gives me space to think, write, and read. I ordered 14 books the other day so I better have some time to read (and yes, they’re all for work). Slowing down in summer doesn’t mean productivity lags, it means I actually have time and give myself permission to do the things I can’t afford to do when there’s a room full of students, a pile of things to read, and researchers all staring at me for answers. The grant work alone I’ve neglected is enough to fill several weeks.

August will be here soon enough, but today, May whatever it is, I’m going to slow down. Downshift my internal engine, sleep through the night without interruption, and work through the massive pile of books that will be delivered when I get back from my conference. Now that the couch is clean and my house looks like a living, breathing human who doesn’t hoard a pile of shoes somewhere near the door lives here, I can steam roll right into summer.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Writing is Never Done

A Lull in Writing? {New Faculty}

source

I’ve had a lull in manuscripts lately. There’s a few reasons for that. Some are out to co-authors to write/edit/revise. I’m waiting for grad students to light fires under their keyboards and I’m also in the middle of reporting season for a few projects.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s writing happening  every day, but it’s not necessarily the manuscript type. Reporting on grants annually is equally important, getting my undergraduate researchers headed in the “right” direction has been important, but I noticed I went almost two weeks without a manuscript sitting in my files or inbox needing work. Two came in last week and I’ve already put a dent back in one, but the luxury of time gave me the opportunity to do other things:

  • catch up on grading
  • contribute to a new NSF proposal
  • read new articles and new books I’d purchased this fall that had been sitting in my pile
  • time to reflect on work, the direction I wanted to head
  • pick up new grant work

The time is not time wasted. Even though I wasn’t actively banging on the keyboard every day, it was nice to reflect, it was nice to read chunks of a book uninterrupted, and it was nice to have a smidge of time to contribute to new work that I want to do, but had not had time to previously look at.

The writing has trickled back in and will trickle back out. I’m mindful of several things:

  • writing for publication is important but so is writing for reporting in order to keep grants and/or get more.
  • writing for a grant proposal is very academic in nature, but the nice part about the collaborative nature of my last proposal was that I wasn’t tasked with all 15 pages, but about 5-7 per say.
  • not banging on a manuscript helped refresh my brain. When I picked one back up that had come back in, I was much more efficient and got through it. The  writing was distant enough where it was a little “foreign” in a sense, I had forgot about it some.

As we race toward the bottom of the semester and a break is near, it’s important for me to set myself up well for that break. I will take some time off from work in general but I want to be set up to return to work and get my boots back on the ground starting with day one. A conference proposal is due right away and I will make an effort to start that before I leave for the holiday.

Planing ahead, using a writing calendar, and making sure I’ve got the pre-work done will be key to hit the ground running post-holiday. The writing will never be done, but it’s nice to try and keep up with it.

Tagged , , , ,

Reminder: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Work Smarter, Not Harder: A Reminder {New Faculty}

source

There once was a manuscript I hated.

It made me feel bad and jaded.

So I hired an editor to fix it.

And submitted it before I quit it.

Cool poem huh? 😉

I kept forgetting to write a post about this, due to my loathing, hatred, and general vitriol to this manuscript that’s been the bane of my existence for far longer than I’m willing to admit in general. I had started this manuscript, almost finished it, dropped it like it was hot, and then failed to return to it.

Until this summer.

I said to myself, “self, you can finish this and send it out, so just do it.”

So I did.

And then it came back-APA.

So I fixed it.

And sent it again.

And then it came back to me AGAIN for APA.

(Unlike the poem about “if you set something free and it comes back blah, blah, blah,” this mostly kept annoying me).

So, I’d looked at this thing for months, come to almost no more conclusions on it and did the only sensible thing left that I had in my arsenal.

I hired an editor to fix it.

I wasn’t seeing my mistakes. I wasn’t seeing the good or the bad. I was only seeing a bunch of words on the paper. So instead of making myself miserable again, I made the rationale decision to spend a little money on it and get someone else to look at it.

How do you put a price on scholarship?

I think this piece is worthy of publication. I sent a note to a person who I know, trust, and work with and offered a nominal price per page. He said “yes” and I sent the file back. Knowing I was low balling him, I didn’t give a firm deadline but I knew my 20 page document was a walk in the park for APA formatting. He had it back to me in two days. I had it sent out two more days after that and it hasn’t bounced back again.

So, was it worth the money? YES! I had to remind myself that hiring an editor to put it to bed wasn’t lazy or me not being a “good enough” scholar, it was being smart. I was clearly not seeing my errors anymore so it was more of a sound business decision to outsource the last bit. I probably won’t do this for every manuscript and generally don’t, but on this one, I was stuck.

As fall fades away, along with the semester, I encourage you to think about where you can work smarter, not harder. I tell this to my students and one of them actually recalled my bit of advice last week. If I’m doling out advice, I have to be willing to take my own advice and this was a great time to take it.

 

**the manuscript was eventually rejected but this does not change my opinion**

Tagged , , , ,

Third Time Isn’t Always a Charm

The Third Time Wasn't the Charm {New Faculty}

source

The third time did not yield anything but a rejection. I have had no success with a manuscript and finally said “enough” this week, throwing in the proverbial towel on it. The journal I sent it to was still not happy with the format and syntax on it, so I paid an editor to work on it. It got sent back again and you know what?

I’m over it.

Completely over it.

It was not an article I wanted to produce but was asked to and then told that they project had “changed direction” several times over. I’m taking this one as a ‘sign from above’ that I just need to drop it and walk away. I’m not making excuses, I could NOT FIND THE ERRORS. I hired an editor. They fixed everything they could find and it simply wasn’t up to par. I’m over it. *Let’s out a sigh of relief* I sent a note to the other authors on it, saying that it had been pushed back again and I would not pursue it again.

I share this not to not take blame or to just “let it go” but because as a young scholar, sometimes we need to be reminded that not every manuscript will be publishing gold. People don’t talk about their rejection rate, they only discuss their CV lines. I’m here to tell you: rejection is more popular than acceptance.

I was having coffee with one of my mentors and we were lamenting about publications and her response was given amidst laughter, “oh dear, if I put the rejects against the acceptances, I’ll never be at .500.” Ain’t that the truth?

This manuscript will remain in the folder in my dropbox account. Maybe I’ll use it one day for parts, like an old car, but for now, it will rest there. The money I spent getting it edited was not wasted, I don’t consider it a loss, but I do consider it closed as a viable publication for that journal. I’d love to shop it to another journal, but at this point in the semester, I don’t have the time to do that and my undergraduate researchers are all very green and this would take more teaching time than it would be worth. I’ll tackle that task on another day.

I’m not giving up or giving in. I’m accepting it for what it was. An exercise in writing, the opportunity to be a better writer, and learn that not every manuscript is a winner. Until next time…

Tagged , , , ,

An Hour a Day or Bust: Writing

Changing the Writing Game {New Faculty}

source

The semester is in full swing. I’m trapped. Mostly by grading, but I’ve become paralyzed by something else this fall: writing. My paralysis has been manageable thus far until I looked at my writing goals and realized: I’m three weeks behind. I know how this happened and I know how to fix it.

The semester has got me like **whoa** in a big way. Classes, students, new research projects, and new responsibilities have got me all over the place. In between packing in meetings, class time, prep time for class, and research, I have failed in a big way at WRITING. I have an R&R that needs to get RRRRrddd (revised) and another manuscript that’s been crying for some attention too. In my faculty life before, I could set aside large chunks of time to work on writing, but this semester has me rethinking my current strategy. Even if I have a block of time on my calendar, I can’t devote it to writing. There’s too many other things to do. Don’t get me in the busy contest, I know we’re all busy, but legit tasks to complete.

So, I started something new last week: 1 hour a day devoted to writing. Lo and behold: it worked! I could carve out 50-60 min. each day for some writing. I could allot that amount of time and it felt like it had a start and a finish. I beefed up the lit review on the R&R that has been sitting since August and then moved onto the feedback in the methods section.

I can do one hour a day.

Like exercise, cooking food at home, or any kind of practice, learning how to be a good and prolific writer is going to take some time. I had a lot of luxurious time over the summer but it quickly evaporated once August 24th hit. Since then, I’ve not gained anymore hours in the day either. I allowed myself proper time to wallow, panic, and then to figure out what my next move was.

I share this with you not to gloat, but to say: life is change. 

It can be changing up your writing strategy, switching up your schedule, or trying something new. Whatever it is, if you’re not changing, you’re standing still If I’ve learned nothing in this game it’s that you have to continually adapt. Call it problem solving theory (KAI anyone?), call it a simple life lesson but if you’re not changing, you’re not adapting, and you’re not moving forward. While I think “innovation” is an overused word, changing up my writing habit wasn’t innovative, I’m simply figuring out how to make this work for me. I may get to break and have to change it up again but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Tagged , , ,

Letting Go of Perfection: Hitting Submit

Hitting Submit {New Faculty}

source

It’s taken me years now to start to erode away at the perfectionist, imposter, omigod feelings I have about hitting that “submit” button. Almost crippling to a point at some times in my short career.

Submitting a manuscript, a draft, or a conference proposal can be a fear filled, anxiety laden activity, but for some reason, I’ve let it go (cue FROZEN song).

I still read and edit carefully, I write like a good scholar should, but somewhere during my summer trips and my summer writing goals, the fear began to dissipate. I don’t know where it went. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s in the form of “i don’t give a f*^&^” grumpy cat style meme, but somewhere my fear and trepidation began to be replaced by the attitude that I can’t get accepted, I can’t get feedback, and I can’t get published unless I begin by hitting submit. I think it also has to do with the fact that if I’m not pushing things in, I’m not gaining on my CV, my scholarship, or my life in general. Life isn’t measured by pubs, but it does matter in this game.

When I was in grad school, my stats study group and I would meet each week to complete our problem sets. Our university had a saying for football games that was, “push it in, push it in, push it in,” and while probably quite crass, I still say that phrase to myself when I get stuck.

Whatever the underlying reason, I have learned to let go of some of the fear this summer. Whether out of sheer desperation, necessity, or lack of sleep, documents have gone into the queue with less hesitation and less anxiety in general lately. I will say that the conference submission that was due last week also got written the day it was due, so I think it also has to do with the fact that I’m just swamped right now. No time to overthink, only time to work, swim, and sleep.

 

Tagged , , ,

Reviewing & Reflecting on My Summer Writing Goals

Summer Writing Goals Revisited {New Faculty}

I set some lofty goals at the beginning of summer. I was diligent in my writing, but also managed to keep time set aside for some summer enjoyment: vacation, the great outdoors, and seeing friends near and far.

I joined a summer writing group in my department that another pre-tenure colleague graciously organized. This helped me get organized, put my thoughts and goals on paper, and then helped me stay accountable. I could reference my sheet anytime to refocus my attention. It was a worthy and successful endeavor.

How did my summer shape up? As I write this, one article has gone out and come back: rejected. Another out and come back: edit. The third: out for review. The fourth article: waiting to be sent due to some politics that were beyond my control (it’s finished, that’s what matters).

Not a bad summer and one I’m quite proud of. It would have been easy to falter, to take lazy afternoons, or to just ignore things altogether, but it really helped me to have it out on paper to see and to check in weekly with the writing group (whoever was available) to say “What did I do this week? What am I doing next week?” I didn’t realize how useful it would be to have to answer those two questions on a regular basis. I see how valuable they can be knowing that someone will be looking at you and asking those things.

The rejection was hard to swallow. It was my first since joining faculty in 2011. It had to happen sometime, but it’s always a bitter pill. I did a lot “right” on that paper but the data just wasn’t good enough. I’m ok with the outcome at this point and am working on the “positives” to keep working on the final manuscripts.

As I print out my syllabi and prepare for the upcoming semester that will bring back teaching, advising, meetings, and committees, I’m going to reign in my writing a bit. I won’t push for four manuscripts over the semester, that’s an unattainable goal at best. We collected some data at the end of July I’d like to get written up and sent out this fall. That seems much more manageable. I’ll also edit and resubmit the article that’s been accepted.

I hope to continue with a check-in group as well. It’s going to be a good challenge for me to see if I can continue with the good habit and see how I can grow it. I have colleagues and friends who are trying to set anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours aside each day for writing. I’d like to start that practice as well to see if it can become a habit. I’m worried that my time will get sucked in other places but will give it a good try. I may opt to stay home to try and write as well. While not as convenient, there’s no one here to bother me. I’ve been sprucing up my place as well, making it more attractive/livable/making use of the space I’m paying good money for. I don’t have an office because I refuse to buy anymore furniture, but I do have the luxury of a quiet space, plenty of coffee, and ambient noise.

Learning how to become a prolific writer is a process for any faculty member, young or old, fresh out of grad school or seasoned veteran. I’m proud for committing to it this summer, following my lofty goals through, and now am excited to make my calendar for fall to do it again.

Have a great first day of class!

Tagged , , , ,