How’s Your Book Coming Along?: 5 Ways to Jump Start Your Big Project

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How is your dissertation coming along? Are you STILL working on that book?

You’ve probably heard variations of that question over and over again in your academic career. And the question can be uncomfortable because the asker might not understand the timetable for something like a dissertation or a monograph and you grow weary of explaining. OR the question can be uncomfortable because, well, you probably should have had it done a long time ago.

Writing is hard work. Writing something about which you care deeply and which will be used to evaluate you professionally for years to come is doubly so. But whether you’re working on an article, a dissertation, your first book, or your seventeenth, you don’t have to do it alone. Whether you want formal accountability or a casual, drop-in community, you can find a way to make your writing time more collaborative, more communicative, and more energetic.







Twitter: #acwri #amwriting

Twitter hashtags are great for figuring out who is doing what you’re doing, or into what you’re into. #acwri is both an ongoing Twitter chat about all things connected to academic writing, as well as a weekly essay that links to some element of difficult academic writing. There are people behind the hashtag, but the ongoing and free-ranging discussion isn’t moderated and doesn’t have any specific writing goal in mind. At any given time of day, academics of all disciplines will tweet with the hashtag #acwri to start conversations about hurdles, successes, strategies, etc.

#amwriting is broader than academic writing, although I know post-academic writers who use it when they’re in the midst of their new projects. I’ve found this hashtag to be most useful to let your followers know that you’re writing-in-this-very-moment, so it can be a way to have a casual check-in with people you already interact with on Twitter about your writing. Again, no accountability or goal, just a digital public statement that you are working on something.

The Academic Writing Studio: Jo Van Every has been running “A Meeting with Your Writing,” now the Academic Writing Studio, for several years. It is a call-in writing group that she facilitates at several different times during the week. As a participant, you block 90 minutes off in your calendar for your meeting, call in and participate with the group in some centering and getting-ready processes with Jo, and then hang up and write for 90 minutes. At the end of your writing time, everyone calls back in and completes the meeting as a group.

The Academic Writing Studio is an affordable way to make yourself commit to one or more 90-minute writing blocks in your week. Because Jo holds them at the same time each week, you can schedule writing time in like the immovable commitment it needs to be. The group and Jo aren’t there for accountability outside of those 90 minutes, but they are there to write with you virtually, which keeps you on track to meet your goals.

Energized Academic: When you work one-on-one with a coach, that coach pledges to hold onto and reserve space for your Agenda. My goal for my clients who are working on big writing projects is to help them make regular, enjoyable progress toward their goal. How that happens is something the client and I co-create. I help clients with mapping out both the content of their books and the process for getting them on paper. If having regular accountability and check-ins helps you stay committed to your goals, I’m there for that, too.

Your Own Writing Group: Having a real-time, face-to-face writing group can be a way to reserve time for writing, be accountable to personal deadlines, expand your knowledge, and make connections at your institution. A model some colleagues and I used when we were all pre-tenure was bi-weekly or monthly meetings where we scheduled time read and comment on at least one person’s work. We rotated through our small membership according to pressing deadlines: the need to submit an abstract by a certain date; an upcoming conference; a revise-and-resubmit date, etc. The meetings provided great feedback from intelligent non-specialists and kept the person whose text was being considered on target for their deadline. It also built lasting friendships and mutual respect.

Of course, you can replicate this virtually via skype or Google hangouts or any of the other free conferencing tools that are out there. And there are other models for group writing you could follow: brief check-ins on each person’s project and dedicated time to work through a few sticky parts for a few people each meeting.

Mastermind Groups: Much like the virtual writing model above, a Mastermind group is a small group of people involved in similar jobs, or on similar paths, who meet regularly to exchange ideas, build synergy, offer support and advice, and generally help each other reach the next step in their goals. I know other female business owners who have an entrepreneur Mastermind group that meets face-to-face once a month. I have a Mastermind group that grew out of my coaching certification program; we meet virtually every other week.

Your Mastermind group can follow any format. One possible format is a round-robin check in with the Working Well, Frustrations, and a Resource to share; or What you’re working on, What have you learned, What do you need help with. Another common Mastermind group format is a rotating “hotseat,” where the group focusses on one person’s issues for 45 minutes of the hour-long meeting. That person comes prepared with their drafts, their questions, their discoveries, etc. and the group collaborates on addressing them.

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