Reflections from My Academic Writing Diary

Scrivener has become my
good friend this year
I have completed my teaching duties for the academic year 2015-16! What still remains is to celebrate with my students their achievements and hard work. These are exciting times to reflect on what was accomplished and on what could have gone better.

For me, this academic year was my first since completing my doctorate. I have felt an enormous sense of conclusion that was much needed. But the close of an intense time in my life also came with the desire to start new projects and rekindle my research in new directions. I had a few projects that I wished to complete this year and so turned to my writing diary to pencil in my goals.

As it turned out, I had organized in my writing diary to have the year end in April. This originally came about without much thought and resulted simply because I started a writing diary in April 2014. But over this past year, I have come to realize that as an academic, April is actually one of the best times of the year to "finish" something. I like it because it gives me a chance to aim to finish a project within the academic year, in time to start a larger project that might take more time and energy over the summer months. It is also nice because many people are celebrating the end of their achievements and I can join in with the celebration. For me, it keeps my objectives clear and motivation high.

So, what did I achieve last year?

In my five year plan, I keep a list of achievements at the top of each year. I find it helps me see clearly in which months I was actively researching and in which I was able to present work that I had done in quieter months. Recording the difference in positive terms has helped me understand better how I work on a daily, monthly, and now, yearly basis.

This past year, I presented my newest research on 14th-century English music theory at two major conferences, one in Brussels another at Yale. This project was directly connected to my doctoral thesis and as I worked on it I thought of it as the 7th chapter that I never got around to writing. This made the research a nice project to work on immediately after getting my PhD.

I had been asked to write a chapter for an edited volume back in April, 2015, but because of family circumstances that came up unexpectedly, I had to decline. After my first presentation in Brussels, I realized that I had some time to write up this chapter and asked if a late submission would be acceptable. I knew that I already had a good amount of research for this project finished, and that what I had would likely fit into their edited volume nicely. The editors were gracious enough to allow me a second chance and set me a generous deadline.

Over the late summer and early autumn months, I made it my ambition to prepare this chapter for submission. This was also when the US job market opened up for next year so I had to direct some time and energy towards putting together cover letters and brushing up syllabi to send to schools. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to interview, which took time away from my other writing projects. The experience, however, was well worth the time and thought that the process required.

By the new calendar year, I was able to send off two pieces of work: my chapter for the edited volume and a an article for peer review, which was a revised version of my presentation from earlier in the year. I wanted to make sure that these projects would be wrapped up by January in order to prepare for my class in the spring semester.

Because I knew that some of my time needed to be devoted to class preparation, I decided to take on a smaller writing project, to keep things manageable over the winter months. I had been working on some letters that I found in the Library of Congress for over a year but could not figure out exactly how I wanted to present them in an article. There were many issues, foremost that I have not worked with primary sources from the 20th century as much as I have worked with sources from the 14th century! However, I felt rather silly in the end when it became very clear that although the subject material may be different, archival research is still archival research. Lesson learned. One weekend, I simply decided to start writing the stories contained in the letters. Over a month has passed and I now have an article that needs a few more edits before it can be submitted to a journal.

During the spring semester, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to be a guest lecturer and traveled to West Virginia University. The topic of my lecture was nothing related to my current work but this made preparation for it fun, if only because I could take my mind away from other things that I was currently working on.

Somewhere in the middle of these events, I was asked to revise an encyclopedia article that I had submitted last year. This took the good part of half of a day to make sure that I understood the German it had been translated into well enough before making changes to the suggestions that were asked from me.

In addition to presenting at conferences, teaching, guest lecturing, and writing, I also volunteered my time as a local organizer for a chapter meeting held in my city. As with anything good, event coordinating that works well takes time and effort. Even though this was not a writing project, it took time away from my writing. So, in the column where I list my achievements for the year, I put down conference organizing.

All things considered, according to my writing diary the achievements of note this year are:

- 2 articles prepared for peer review (1 submitted for peer review, 1 almost there)

- 1 chapter for edited volume, prepared and submitted
- 2 conference presentations
- 1 organized conference
- 1 guest lecture

I have learned a lot from my writing diary but these three things stand out most to me:

1. I have learned when I can actually get work done. For me this is an important realization that will help me decide how and when to work on projects.

2. I have found that my writing diary motivates me and keeps me true to myself. My writing diary does not lie. But it does reward me with numbers which then turn out to be articles and book chapters. When I have not written anything my writing diary shows me 0, when I have, the number is considerably higher.

3. I have learned that 0 words one week does not mean that I have not been processing ideas. In fact, in the weeks that I didn't have any words on paper, I was thinking through the problems in my head. When I made the time to sit and write, I knew what I was going to write.

A New Plan for the Summer

This summer is my research and writing summer which means I will not give any conference presentations. This "off" year will allow me to prepare a body of research that I can then present in the autumn and spring. However, without any deadlines, it will be difficult to stay focused.

Inspired by my friend's blogging journal during her study leave, I have decided over the next 18 weeks to write a small weekly post about my progress, struggles, achievements, and challenges.  I like my new system very much but feel that adding one more element of accountability will keep me on track with the goals that I have set for myself. It will primarily be an experiment for me so that I can learn better how I write under different situations.