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3 Secrets to Doing Well this Summer, Even if You’re an Academic

Untitled DocumentAh, Summer! At last, many of us academics have the promise of unstructured time……… and the peril of unmet goals.

Yes, we were often the children who loved school. After all, we kept on going for years! Yet we treasured summer vacation for its slower pace, tempting activities, exciting adventures, idle laziness.

Summer in an academic life holds such promise! Many of us have put off all of our writing goals until this magic season. We anticipate:
  • Fewer external commitments!
  • The chance to structure the days as you wish!
  • Extended time in library or lab!
  • You can finally get that project fully under way!
  • Opportunities for projects!
  • Time with friends and family!
  • Vacation! Travel to family or exotic locales!
But summer brings perils as well. Summer break for an academic writer is not the same today as those glorious memories of childhood summer vacations.

The promise of limitless time to accomplish our greatest dreams often is not fulfilled.

What happens? And what can you do about it?

The following simple tips will help you enjoy your summer while remaining productive. You’ll thank yourself in September for giving some thought to summer writing.
  • Family responsibilities. They don’t vanish, and they may become more challenging during school vacation.
  • Backlog of chores. Clean your office, clean your house, finish that report…. Your own list is even longer.
  • Impossible ambition. Your writing goals, unfettered by teaching or administrative responsibilities, grow huge.
  • Isolation from colleagues and even your advisor. Yes, the quiet is great, but it can be hard to keep moving forward without familiar cues. When you are stuck, there may be no one next door to bounce an idea off.
  • Time slips away. The most terrifying peril of summer. What stretches endlessly in May can become panic in July.
But you can achieve the promise of summer! You can avoid its perils! You can make this summer the very best ever. Here are the “Three Secrets for Doing Well This Summer, Even if You are an Academic”, which summarize much of what we’ve written about in the Academic Ladder Newsletter for the past seven years.

Secret #1:  Write Well (Write the right way, not “write beautifully”)
  • Write every weekday. This is a basic tenet of The Academic Writing Club. Why?
    • Daily writing is successful. Professional writers write every day. Research on successful academic writers finds that they write every day.
    • Daily writing keeps your project fresh in your mind. You start where you left off, mid sentence or with a note about your next step.
    • Daily writing adds up.
  • Write in brief sessions. Finally, you do not have to squeeze writing sessions into those bits of time between responsibilities. But brief is better.
    • Often find 25-minute sessions, with 5-minute breaks, work well. You may prefer to work in 15-minute sessions, or you may be able to focus for 45.
    • Have more time? Write in more sessions! But keep each session brief.
  • Take a break every week. And remember, a planned day off is MUCH more effective respite than a day where you planned to write but just procrastinated for 8 hours. Whether it is a mini-vacation or a routine weekend, days off are refreshing and rejuvenating.
  • Record time and progress.
    • Log how many minutes spent writing and reading/researching.
    • It’s fun sometimes to graph your progress and see those hours add up!
  • Include at least 2 types of academic work and one non-writing activity each day.
    • Your writing goals include both focused, intense, concentrated work and tasks that are more routine. Keep them both moving forward, for better variety and choices.
    • Apply the principle of “brief, regular sessions” to those non-writing tasks that have accumulated. Devote one session each day to cleaning your work environment, or learning new software, or exploring scholarly resources. 
    • Not everyone can work on multiple projects at once. You may need to work on two projects on alternate days. An important key.
Secret #2: Plan Well
  • Plan your writing success. Start with the end of the summer and chart realistic goals backwards to your official beginning date.
  • Try a planning tool, like a workbook with weekly assignments. Ones we like include
    • Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher
    • Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text by Peg Boyle Single
  • Plan for Fall. Yes, it is only May. But the time does creep up. Something will face you at the end of the summer: course preparation, a big file, job search materials.
    • Designate time for fall preparation. Plan it the way that is best for you: do a bit each day, or get it over with now, or put it off until a particular date. What matters is that you are intentional.
Secret #3: Live Well
  • Stay connected as you write. Build a writing group with colleagues; plan coffee dates for side-by-side writing; recruit an accountability partner.
  • Take an authentic vacation. Academic work can be flexible. Too often, that leads you to feel that work hangs over you all the time. You need time off.
  • Build balance. Just as it is important to include self-care and family/friend priorities during intensely scheduled times, it is important to stay in touch with your scholarly self when the balance shifts.
This will be the best summer ever! You can meet its promise and avoid its perils!

Please comment below with any tricks that you have that make the summer (or any unscheduled free time) work well for you.

*with apologies to our many members in the Southern Hemisphere, and thanks for your routine translation of seasonal comments



From our friend Kerry Ann Rockquemore, President and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, A series of columns in Inside Higher Ed during summer 2010:

Single, Peg Boyle, Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text, Stylus, 2009

Belcher, Wendy Laura, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks:A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, Sage Publications. 2009.


  1. I just wanted to say thank you for these bite-size hints and goals.

  2. Hi Casie,

    We try to make our tips bite-size and not overly academic in writing style. So I appreciate your taking the time to let us know we're on the right track.


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