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Write Your Heart Out This Summer: 4 Common Obstacles to Academic Writing During Breaks & How to Overcome Them

If you want to make the most out of your summer, spend a little time thinking about what has kept you from writing in the past. As I wrote in a previous post, “There are many things that could be mentally keeping you from delving into your inner scholar–insecurity, exhaustion, distractions, just to name a few. Now is the time to be honest and address these concerns–both real and imagined.” Here are four common obstacles to academic writing during the summer and how to overcome them.

Obstacle #1: Lack of Structure

The most common obstacle during the summer is the lack of structure. From the moment that you submit your final grades, you shift from being overscheduled to having virtually unbounded time for writing. The sudden change can throw even the most disciplined person into a tailspin. For parents, summer also means helping your children adapt to the sudden lack of a daily routine. And before you know it, it’s time to start working on syllabi for the fall semester and you haven’t put nearly the amount of time you had hoped into writing.

This is why it’s so important to create a daily writing ritual. The goal being to write more frequently but for less duration. It also helps to develop systems of accountability, whether it’s regular check-ins with a colleague or participating in a writing accountability group.

Obstacle #2: Lack of Focus

Many professors also struggle with a lack of focus. You sit down at your desk and realize that you have no idea where to start. It’s been weeks, maybe months, since you’ve looked at that book chapter or journal article you’ve been trying to write, so now what? You might also be juggling multiple writing projects. Where do you even start?

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I recommend creating a list of potential writing projects and consider your motivation for each project. Use your list to identify one or two “big” goals for the summer and then create a plan to make it happen. But not just any plan; you need one with specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Then break those goals down into smaller monthly, weekly, and even daily tasks.

Obstacle #3: Distractions & Disruptions

Similar to lack of structure and lack of focus is dealing with distractions and disruptions. Whether it’s your phone, travel, or the lure of the great outdoors, summer time is filled with activities that seem infinitely more fun than sitting at your computer. However, I think being distracted is often related to a lack of motivation

For many scholars, it’s hard to prioritize your academic writing and treat it with the urgency and respect it deserves. But that’s exactly what you need to do in order to meet your goals. Revisit what made you excited about your research project in the first place. Think about how you are uniquely qualified for this work. Then imagine how you will feel when this project is completed.

Obstacle #4: Burnout

It is not uncommon to feel exhausted even after a “normal” school year. Add to that two years of teaching during a pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for serious burnout

My last piece of advice is to take a break! Schedule time off and give yourself time to recover and refresh. A break can be anything from taking long weekends and only working Monday thru Thursday throughout the summer or two weeks of dedicated rest and relaxation. Whatever it looks like for you, be sure that it is guilt-free and intentional with clear starting and ending points. If you invest in self care now, your future self will thank you, and you’ll probably end up being a lot more productive in the long run.

I hope these strategies are helpful as you plan for a productive summer break. If there’s something that I’ve missed or you have ideas for additional strategies, please respond in the comments. 

Happy writing!

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