No More (Writing) Excuses


Hate all the advice you read about finding time to write as an academic? Me too…especially the “write every day” advice. Teaching 300-plus students who wrote every day in class (and hence I had to grade their writing every day), plus lots of institutional service commitments, and trying to see my husband who was also a faculty member – well, there were days I was lucky to remember to shower or wash my hair. Write? Ha…wasn’t happening. Sometimes I even resented those whose workload allowed the luxury of daily writing.

No, I was a “I need blocks of time to get writing done” kind of person. For me, it wasn’t worth starting if I didn’t have at least four hours of writing time. Nearly all my publications were written during winter break, spring break, or the one month in the summer when I wasn’t teaching classes, so clearly, my system worked for me.

Well, guess what? I retired in four months ago. Put differently, I now have lots of blocks of time! Yes, we’re building a house in another state and I’ve starting to pack up for the move. But I have to confess, I have not written anywhere near what I thought I would have, a few months into retirement. And I have gotten not a word written on the new book at home. I do nearly all my writing (well, actually, it’s a chapter by chapter outline of a book) at Starbucks. I arrive 30 minutes early on Saturdays before meeting with my best friend and I pour out my thoughts.

I’m both embarrassed, humbled, and being honest. I realize I was burned out of the grading grind and needed a break. It’s also been hard to be retired when, during the summer, my husband was still teaching. And since his retirement at the end of July, he’s still been going in to pack up his office. But that ends today (the packing up), he swears, and we’ll both be ‘done’, i.e., completely retired from our institution. He’d come home and talk about the hall talk and so neither one of us felt ‘disengaged’ to the degree we thought we wanted to be.

There were a few days when I’d sit down to write and would just stare blankly at the screen for an hour or more, with no words coming, not even a ‘the’ or ‘a’ to get the writing started. Sometimes there were even tears. That’s just not been me, not about my writing. It’s always been hard, but never this long a drought. But today I got excited to write, to get down my thoughts about social norms, political discourse, and the consequences of what’s happening in our country. I’m finally ready in my head, to write again.

So forget all the writing advice you’ve heard, whether it makes sense to you and your workload or not. Find your rhythm, your writing ritual, and be at peace with it. Follow it. For me, that means for at least two hours, several days a week, starting today. I’ll be writing on the death of civility in US culture, with a Broadway musical playing in my headphones. Yup, that’s my writing ritual – I find a musical (every single publication has a different one!) and just keep hitting “play.” The writing starts to flow when I can sing along while also writing. First up, I hope to finish drafting outlines for the last two chapters and then start writing. Come November, I’ll once again join AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month). I’ll announce my personal goals on Halloween. What are your goals?

This is my writing process; it’s a work-in-progress, as I enter this new stage of my academic career. Every academic has to find her own. And know there are lots of us who are in the struggle and are here, ready to support you. I am…and I have lots of time now! Hit the comments and share what your writing ritual is and how it’s going for you this academic term.