Joanna: Here are a few more resources that I've found helpful in organizing my writing time.
I love this simple to-do list as a practical and simple way to organize my day. I try to create a list the night before so that when I wake up, I'm already engaged with the structure of the day. The checklist helps me to go ahead and do the next thing, even if I don't feel like it. It helps me to be realistic with goals, and it easily adapts to my week where no two days are similar. Since each day is different, but each will generally follow a particular routine across weeks, I can fit my writing expectations around particular days. It also helps me to group activities together. For example, except for e-mail--which I check at least two times a day and answer immediately whenever I can so that it's off my plate--I have clumped most of my class prep and grading into one or two specified days during the week. This way, I can set aside my internal to-do list for the particular days that are not "class days" and focus my mind on research and writing.
Returning to the idea in my earlier post that much of our writing is done before we sit down in front of our screen to write, this is a great guide to prewriting techniques. This article outlines structured brainstorming (write it down so you remember!), journaling, free-writing, outlining and perhaps my favorite technique, clustering. I teach my students--many of them first generation college students--the art of clustering as a study technique. If you memorize fact-by-fact for a test, the information most likely will slip out of your mind. But if you bring the ideas together in clumps, your mind more easily retains the connected ideas. Those of us who make up ditties to remember grocery lists, or alphabetize to-do lists in our heads when we can't find a slip of paper to jot them down, know this works.
By clustering the ideas that you are working with in your research, you can see the relationships in fresh and illuminating ways. Physically do this. Grab some index cards and jot down your ideas, shuffle them and group them. Or if you're in a later point in the research, physically cut apart your paragraphs and rearrange them. Try giving each paragraph a few key words, and see what emerges when you compare the key words across the paragraphs. Perhaps the conclusion is actually a key part of the introduction, or what you thought was a subsidiary idea is actually the capstone that reorients your whole argument. Clustering can also help you to see what the central ideas are vs. the secondary ones, and encourage you to use your writing to organize and highlight those relationships.
The fabulously titled article "Like Pushing an Elephant into a Volkswagen" is a good capstone for this topic. It's a roundtable discussion between five authors who balance writing with their full-time jobs, in which they share their lives with candor and vulnerability. They stress the importance of networks, having people come alongside you as you put on different hats, not setting aside the important relationships in your life. Each one has their own way of finding time to write, and practical suggestions are scattered throughout. Some of what they discuss is incredibly encouraging--such as the ways that their family life, day jobs and writing intersect in positive, mutually beneficial ways. But there's real honesty about the emotional/mental/physical drain that happens as we are pulled in different directions. This needs to be acknowledged. Some of us have different seasons of life, and it is okay if there is a particular season where writing is not a major part of a particular season.
I'll write one more post in this series simply to sum up some of the best strategies I've found. Happy writing, all!
Joanna & Tim
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