Open notebook with sunglasses on top, coffee and phone on a table beside a sunny window

Summer writing: Getting real

First post in a series about summer writing…

Spring is an optimistic time of year. For many academics, the prospect of a summer without teaching and service responsibilities means precious time to conduct fieldwork, catch up on reading, and perhaps most importantly, WRITE. Ambitious goals abound. This is the summer I’ll finish my dissertation. I’ll get most of my book written. I can pump out a full journal article. But by fall semester, many of us are disappointed in our productivity. What’s worse, we’re not rested and rejuvenated, either.

Even though we probably know better, we tend to forget that there are a lot of pitfalls during summer writing time. In this post, I’ll talk about 5 traps to watch out for as you start to consider your summer plans. My next post will dig into ways to get real about your summer plans and avoid getting stuck in one or more of these traps!

Trap # 1: Unrealistic goals

Aiming high is great, but many of us set ourselves for failure (or what feels like failure) by setting unachievable goals. Admittedly, it takes a while for each of us to learn how to gauge what’s realistic over a three or four month summer. But sometimes we get carried away, even when we know better. To my mind, there are two main problems with unrealistic goals:

  • No matter how much you DO accomplish, you might feel like a failure if you don’t meet your original objectives.
  • The size of the goal is going to stress you out and prevent you from enjoying your summer.

Unrealistic goals are also usually connected to the next problem, which is an inability to get real about time.

Trap #2: Magical thinking about time

Many folks set their summer goals as if they will suddenly have a full 8 hours a day to devote to writing. Sure, many of us aren’t teaching and service lightens up a lot, but 8 hours? Really? The truth is that most people’s summers are A LOT busier than they initially imagine. Here’s a list of just some of the things that are probably going to dig into those mythical 8 hour days:

  • extra home and yard maintenance projects during warm months
  • children home from school/schlepping to camp programs/extra summer sports activities
  • professional appointments (dentist, bank, eye doctor, lawyer) that you didn’t have time for during the semester
  • visits to and from family and friends; weddings; reunions
  • actual vacation time and fun activities; exercise that you neglected for 8 months
  • admin work that was put off, i.e. curriculum planning, departmental retreats, program development

These things are going to eat into the work week, and I think they should! Many of us only get a few warm months a year and we need to take advantage of that for both practical and fun reasons. The other reality is that working for 8 hours a day on one thing, especially writing, is not likely to be sustainable or all that productive.

Trap #3: Unstructured time

Does anybody else feel like they get a lot more productive when they’re really busy? When I was in grad school, my daughter was a baby. Sometimes I only had an hour or so a day to do my work. But man, was that hour productive! As she got older and went to day care and then school, I had so many more hours at my disposal. And so many more of them were filled with distractions and procrastination.

Unstructured time can be a nightmare, a true enemy of getting things done. Without clear parameters on how to spend our time, most of us flail and flounder. Paradoxically, unstructured time is also deeply necessary for good intellectual work. Periods where the mind can meander, untethered to schedules and deadlines, can allow for creativity and insights to emerge. The trick, I think, is figuring out how to build that meandering time into your summer schedule while also blocking off time for specific tasks.

Young Black woman lying on grey couch reading a book.
Make time to rest and recharge your mind, body, and soul.

Trap #4: Forgetting to rest

For many academics, sleep, self care, exercise, and fun are thrown out the window during the teaching semester. The body can only keep this up for so long! If you go all out during the fall and winter, you need to allow some time in the spring and summer for rejuvenation. This is critical for your body, mind, and spirit. Burnt out profs make poor teachers and colleagues. Running yourself into the ground doesn’t help you serve your ultimate purpose. Eventually, if you don’t make time for rest, relaxation, and fun, your body will force you to make the time by getting sick, breaking down, hurting, or worse.

Trap #5: Diminishing momentum

Oh, the glory of those first few weeks post-teaching and exams! Emails have simmered down, irritating colleagues have left for field work, and the freedom to work in pjs is still absolutely delicious. Fall teaching seems light years away. Your goals feel bullet proof.

Cue mid-July. It’s hot. The kids are out of school. You’ve already abandoned at least two of your goals and now those long days feel aimless. Your motivation is approaching zero.

Woman resting head on arms on a stone balcony over a city street.
It’s hard to keep your energy up for ambitious goals all summer.

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash.

It’s hard to sustain momentum, especially without a nudge from external time pressures. The other traps – unstructured time, lack of play, unrealistic goals – are coming back to bite you. Maybe it was a mistake to assume you could keep up the pace. But maybe there’s a way to recharge your motivation and move out of that mid-summer slump.

Next post: Avoiding the traps!

Next week’s post will offer some ideas – and practical planning tips – for setting your summer up right before it even really gets going. Get your calendar ready!

If any of those traps felt familiar to you, and you’re wondering about whether a coach can help, read on!


I’m excited to launch a customized, one-on-one mentorship program to help you have the best summer ever! The Summer Writing Mentorship program is designed to help you create a balanced summer: one where you’ll be rejuvenated and meet your goals. All the details are right here!

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