Assess and Adjust
It's hard for me to believe that this is the final installment of my 10-week series on summer writing. It seems like yesterday that we were drafting our summer plans and trying to decide what type of support systems to put in place. But here we are, at the end of ten weeks of daily writing and having survived a multitude of resistance to writing including perfectionism, disempowerment, hyperactive inner critics, unclear goals, and our own fear of success. Whew! Compared to all that, the last step of the process is a simple one: assess and adjust.
Assess Your Summer Progress
At the end of the semester, it's incredibly important to pause and assess your progress. This is not an invitation for you to beat yourself up over what didn’t get done. Instead it's an opportunity for you to honestly evaluate the effectiveness of your new writing habits, the scope of work that can realistically be accomplished during a summer term, and the patterns of your resistance to writing. I typically begin my assessment by pulling up my summer plan and then answering the following five questions:
- What goals did (and did not) get accomplished this summer?
- How consistent have I been in my daily writing routine?
- When, where and how did my resistance flare up?
- Was my support system effective and if not, why?
- How do I feel about my answers to the previous questions?
If you have been consistent throughout the summer in updating your progress each week, you will very likely feel that an enormous amount of work DID get done, even if it wasn’t everything that you imagined back in May. While I may not have accomplished all of my goals, I did produce 60 pages of new writing, completed a book proposal, took a 10-week course, started a new organization (www.FacultyDiversity.org), ran a successful twelve-week Faculty Success Program, gave 5 workshops, cooked 10 new recipes, ran 30 times, and had 10 amazing date nights with my husband. I did not learn how to use new accounting software or improve my salsa dancing, but all in all, I'm declaring it a successful, productive and fun summer.
In addition to appreciating all the work that you did accomplish, reflecting on the moments that your resistance flared up (and what it looked like when it did) will help you to identify some important patterns. For example, this summer I realized that my resistance is strongest when I am just about to send something out. I get scared of what my readers, reviewers and/or co-authors might think of my writing, so the final stage of completion is when things got ugly around my house. That’s great! Every piece of insight we gain about our resistance patterns makes it easier for us to manage our bodyguard in the upcoming semester. And finally, if your support system fell apart, that’s also perfectly fine -- it’s all data for your future decision-making.
What Worked and What Didn’t Work?
Now that you have data about your summer productivity, you can begin to analyze it and use it to make decisions about your fall semester. It’s important to start off by identifying what DID work well for you. That list will help you to clarify what practices to build into your fall schedule. For example, if morning writing worked better than evening (or vice versa), then build your schedule in the fall around your optimal writing time. Next, identify what is NOT working. For example, if your voluntary support system fell apart, then consider experimenting with a different type of support system (and it may be time to experiment with paying for the support, services, and accountability you need).
Make Necessary Adjustments
You’ve assessed and analyzed, and now it’s time for a new semester plan! When you’re ready, just follow the same steps you took for creating a summer plan: 1) list your writing goals, 2) outline the tasks necessary to achieve each of your goals, 3) map the tasks onto each week of the semester, 4) commit to executing your plan on a daily basis, and 5) set up whatever support and accountability system will help you move forward day-by-day and week-by-week. Thankfully, planning gets easier every time that you do it.
Reconnect With Your Mentors
This transitional time between the end of the summer and the beginning of the semester is a great time to meet with your mentors. You can share with them all of your progress and achievements (mentors love to hear good news) and you can discuss your fall semester plan to get their feedback. I find these meetings are the most useful when I have anticipated the challenges I will face in the upcoming semester and can ask my mentors for concrete advice and support in these areas. Having structured exchanges with your mentors will not only elicit their valuable wisdom, advice, and feedback, but it also communicates the message that you are a serious, organized, and productive scholar who has clear goals and concrete plans to achieve them.
This week I challenge you to:
- Write every day for 30 – 60 minutes (why stop now?)
- Pull out your summer plan
- Answer the reflective questions provided above and congratulate yourself for all of the work that DID get accomplished
- Analyze your answers and figure out what IS and is NOT working for you
- Create a fall semester plan that is responsive to your needs and builds in some new experimentation
- Set up a meeting with at least one of your mentors to discuss your summer progress and your fall research and writing plans
I hope this week brings each of you a spirit of gratitude towards yourself for all the things you have accomplished this summer, a sense of curiosity about your own patterns, and the renewed energy that comes from planning a new semester.
Peace and Productivity,
Kerry Ann Rockquemore