I am, at times, one of those folks who feel like they can't get to writing unless they have a good stretch of time in which to do it. I need my setup to be just right and I need time to get in the groove, I need time to write for awhile to get some significant chunk done. (Usually I can write three or four pages of fresh prose at a stretch before feeling like my brain needs a rest). However, with the semester back in, I realize that I am down from seven leisurely (summer) mornings a week in which to coffee up and get in the groove to only two - the weekend mornings. Days are busier; I'm spending office hours on campus, in which I can't always rely on sneaking my own work in, and then there is the running my daughter to her after school classes and supervising her homework, and such.
So what is a writer to do if there's no time to get in your groove and write for a good stretch? I was discussing this with a friend in the academic writing group I referenced in this piece about writing in community, the other morning, and our discussion reminded me I'd read something about this long ago, arguing that more prolific professors have learned to make use of snatches of time in which to make progress on their projects.
In other words, the groove is a lie. (Kinda like perfection). Waiting for the perfect setting, the ideal stretch of time, the muse to arrive, the groove to set in--all of these can mean that most often we're just . . . waiting. And of course, that can mean making little to no progress during a semester, when there are so many other things competing for our time. I'm willing to bet that many of us have short periods of time throughout our weekly schedules that we could convert to writing time. And that by the end of the week, all of these small chunks of time would add up to something significant. I'm going to go ahead and argue that waiting for Saturday, and the quiet morning or afternoon that it brings, is not a good plan. Because what has also had to wait for Saturday is laundry, grocery shopping, batch cooking, or even in my neck of the woods historic flooding events that have you watching water levels from your balcony and then checking on and helping flooded out friends for days.
As you can see, saving up all your words for the ideal time just isn't a reliable plans, because things happen, whether they are exhaustion and Netflix bingeing or errands, or serious unforeseen circumstances. How can we make good use of short stretches of time, then, in order to have them add up to something significant by the end of the week. How can we make sure that the daily classes, meetings, office hours, and errands of the semester don't become an endless string of excuses about why our real work isn't getting done?
Start with your planner. If you don't have one, I'm going to take this moment to ask you: just what is your life? Get you a planner and get your entire life in order. You'll have your office hours blocked out, maybe teaching hours, your own course meetings and other things like maybe committee meetings or standing appointments. You should also set aside blocks of time for writing. If someone tries to rope you into additional service or just anything that doesn't sound appealing with all that you have going on, you can say to them, "I'm sorry, I have an appointment at that time," and you won't even be fibbing. Your writing time should be a standing appointment. It is crucial to mark out times during the week that you plan to write, so that you can stay in a pattern. You'll be seriously dating your work, rather than showing up out of the blue once a week or every two, looking rumpled and having forgot your bouquet. This semester, my standing writing time is 6am to 9am, which represents the time my daughter leaves for the bus and I drink coffee and work at home until I need to get ready to head in to campus for office hours.
Bring your materials with you. Now, of course you can't have all of your necessities in your over-the-shoulder bag, all those comforting books related to your current chapter or article. "Needing" to be surrounded by these things in order to write, however, is part of that groove lie. You can still get things done and make notes, if need be, to reference such and such a text when you get back to your writing desk at home or in the office. So your materials may mean your laptop, a notebook, a printed copy of your work to make notes on, a small bunch of pens and highlighters. Enough that you could sit down and get a tidbit of something done if you find yourself with 15-30 free minutes between meetings or if a student no-shows to office hours. These days, I'm carrying around a paper draft of my current dissertation chapter, my flash drive so that I can work on my office computer throughout the day, the primary text my chapter is about, and some pens and highlighters. My notes and plans for revision are in a document on my flash drive.
Which brings me to office hours. We have to have them, we have to book things in them, we have to realize that we'll be interrupted from our work when we are trying to sneak it in. But we can still use office hours to get our own stuff done, if we make a point to really try. If you've gotten emails checked, tasks completed, have no students planning to pop by, and you still have to be there for an hour? Get cracking. Ask yourself, "What can I get done in an hour?" Look to thy planner for a list of writing tasks that you've recently ironed out to determine if any of them can be accomplished, or mostly accomplished, in an hour. You may not be able to conceive of a new section of a piece and draft it out completely, but you may be able to outline, work on notes, mark revisions, complete some revisions previously marked, draft an abstract, etc. All writing tasks do not require the same level of attention, but even small things are good to get done when you make the time. Yesterday, I produced three pages of prose in my scheduled morning writing time, and was able to produce another in an hour on campus that was broken up between two thirty minute writing sessions. You do what you can.
Track your time. I'm not talking about elaborate systems of productivity that take more time to use than it does to actually be productive. Just try going back to your planner and quickly jotting down what you accomplished in the time that you blocked out to write, and also in the time that you suddenly found to write. You'll be able to look back and see what you're able to do throughout the week, and you'll also see how much time you had that you might not have initially realized you had. All those small blocks of time can add up to many hours of time by the end of the week. Sitting down and saying, "what can I do in twenty minutes" then doing it, can really allow you to make significant weekly progress.
Try this for a week y'all. Repeat to yourself, "the groove is a lie," and make sure to commit to your scheduled writing time and jump at the opportunities to write in short bursts throughout the day, as openings in your schedule come up. I approached the impending semester with not a little bit of dread, considering the range of things I have going on this semester that compete for my time. But in this, the first week of instruction, I've already been able to meet a major writing goal and move on to a new one. The feeling of accomplishment is driving me to keep at it, and I'm feeling much more in control of my time and my productivity than I thought I would. Have hope, hang in there, and start ironing out plans ASAP to squeeze writing in there throughout your week.