At the beginning of every planning class in the Academic Writing Studio, I ask participants a set of questions about what they did in the previous period. We focus on writing, and I ask questions about how much time they protected, what they worked on, and how those projects advanced. I do this in the monthly planning prompts as well.
It’s easy to forget what you’ve actually accomplished in the face of all the things you need to do. Feeling like you are making progress motivates you to keep going. Noticing what you were able to accomplish helps you figure out how to set more reasonable goals, or where you want to try to change how you are doing things.
When participants shared one thing they noticed from this opening exercise, a couple of things stood out.
- People were surprised at how much they’d done.
I expect this. That’s why I encourage you to review what you’ve done regularly. Sometimes the surprise is because you’ve forgotten things. A recent crunch period, focused on some other aspect of their work (e.g. grading), has blocked out your memory of how much you had accomplished in your writing over a longer period.
- Some noticed that they’d been discounting some of their accomplishments.
They hadn’t forgotten what they’d done. They had been telling themselves a story about the work not being Real Writing. Your gremlins often frame this by chastising you for the projects you [emphasis]didn’t work on. While it might be true that you didn’t work on those specific projects, it’s not necessarily true that you didn’t do any Real Writing.
This month, I’m going to say more about other kinds of writing that your gremlins may be discounting.
Revisions after peer review
I wasn’t counting things I’d revised and submitted as “proper writing”.
I’m guessing that discounting the work of revision is happening in the context of apparently slow progress on another project. Doing this kind of review is a good way to remind yourself that you are competent. You had other projects competing for your writing time.
Perhaps you thought you were finished when you submitted the manuscript. If so, it’s not surprising that work done after that feels Not Real. It’s fairly common to treat “submitted” as “finished”.
It came up in a conversation I recorded with Katherine Firth when I first published my Short Guide about Peer Review. It also comes up periodically in Planning Classes in relation to how to allocate, or reallocate, your writing time after you receive your comments.
Your article, chapter, or book is only finished when it’s published. Submitting it to the publisher is a major milestone though. A milestone worth celebrating. And a milestone that lets you tidy the project away and focus on other projects while the manuscript is on someone else’s desk.
Even though it’s not finished, you don’t need to devote any cognitive capacity to the submitted project, while it’s under review. You do need to remember that it’s not finished.
Making a plan for when you receive an email notification about the decision, and maybe setting a reminder to check on the status after several weeks, might help you let go of it temporarily.
When you get the decision and reviewer comments, taking time to reprioritize your work-in-progress to allocate time to the project will make it more obvious that you have taken time away from other projects to do so.
Reframing submission as a milestone also helps you accept that revise & resubmit is the decision you expect. Reducing your frustration about having to do more revisions, reduces the amount of emotional work involved when that decision is communicated. I wrote a bit about that in Revision following peer review is a normal part of the scholarly writing process. It doesn’t eliminate it entirely, but less work is still less work.
Your projects vs projects with others
I wasn’t really counting the work I did with others.
I interpret this comment as a signal to look at your priorities. The work you do with others absolutely counts. Co-authored publications, publications in volumes edited by others, and other forms of collaborative work are not lower value than single authored publications. Similarly the work you do as a 2nd or 3rd author is not less important than the work you do as a 1st author.
However, your sole authored or first-authored work needs to be allocated time and effort. It’s not less important because you do it on your own. It’s not less important because you already have tenure and your co-authors are still trying to get tenure-track jobs.
A regular planning practice that includes reviewing what you’ve accomplished helps you spot this kind of imbalance early and enables you to correct it. The process for prioritizing work-in-progress that I suggested in Making Decisions About Your Writing will help. The thing you are frustrated about not getting to is meaningful to you. How can you make it a higher priority?
It might take some time to adjust your commitments to create space for the project(s) you consider “your own”. You might also want to consider declaring a moratorium on new collaborative projects. At the very least, switch your default response to requests to no and consider the impact on your own projects, before saying yes to others.
This is difficult!
The pressure to publish is considerable. Most academics have gremlins who worry they are not doing enough or doing the wrong things. And sometimes you do get off track. Noticing the stories and asking if they are true and if they are exaggerated can help you get some perspective. It’s still difficult.
- Developing and sustaining a planning practice isn’t easy.
Accepting that “submitted” isn’t “finished” isn’t easy.
Allowing yourself to prioritize your own projects isn’t easy.
There is emotional work involved. All these things require confidence. It’s difficult to judge the impact any of these decisions will have. They can all have an impact on short and long term career goals. They usually impact your relationship with a colleague in some way. And that’s before you even get to the intellectual work of writing or revising things.
The Academic Writing Studio provides support for this kind of thing. Quarterly Planning Classes provide a basic structure for your planning practice. Dealing with Reviewer Comments provides support for managing your emotions and making a plan when you receive a decision after peer review. Office Hours provide an opportunity to get coaching and support as you determine the risks of making certain decisions.
You might also consider which mentors and colleagues can help with which kinds of problems. Sometimes you need advice from someone with experience of specific journals, or of specific institutional processes that will be evaluating your work. Sometimes you just need encouragement or reassurance.
You can do this!