Writing Practice: Considering Goals and Accomplishments

I received an email from a colleague who keeps us all reminded of faculty development opportunities. One of the things she regularly emails about are the regular weekly faculty writing groups that have been established--a way for faculty to set aside time to write alongside colleagues. My personal favorite is the Friday morning silent writing group that history professor and fabulous colleague Dr. Robin Mitchell set up--no discussion, no talking, just a handful of us around the table, plugged in and surrounded by our notes, clattering away at keyboards. It's my preferred way of group writing. Some of the other groups do regular shares or colleague critiques. I find that what I need most is really just the set-aside block of time where I can focus and dive deep for three or four hours. There's no good way to make that happen in my office with the myriad distractions, and I don't like writing from home because pajamas, dog, tv, bed, couch--you get the idea. I need something where I have to put on pants, get up and out, but also something that helps isolate me. Thus, the writing group.

I attended the same writing group in the spring, and was gratified to see that the time paid off in an edited collection completed, a number of conference proposals written and accepted, and a dissertation prospectus written and approved. The set-aside time is worth it in terms of output versus input--four hours a week, most weeks, kept me on track for the scholarship part of my faculty portfolio and helped me maintain momentum. I found that the weekly meeting also forced me to actually think each week about writing and research. That sounds silly, of course I'm surrounded by it, and always doing it, but having to think about strategizing for those hours, I was much more deliberate than I am when I only throw the occasional 15 or 30 minutes at it. The practice of the writing group (and, I'll admit, my yoga practice) also made me realize how very scattered I am, zipping from this thing to that, and not doing a very good job of focusing on any one thing. 

My attendance has been spotty this semester because of meetings and travel, but I've managed to attend some of the writing group sessions. Other weeks I moved that block of time and locked myself in my office to concentrate on One Thing for a bit. It hasn't felt like a consistent enough practice this semester, though. I'm feeling generally scattered and torn in different directions and travel weary and personalstuff weary and and and and

Yeah, it's that time of the semester. In any case, writing group good, even though I've been poor in my practice. We just received an email from my faculty-development-minded colleague not only to remind us about the various times and places for the weekly groups, but this time to ask us via Google form two questions:

What are we working on this semester? / What are our goals for this semester?
What milestones have you recently reached?

I was in email-deleting mode and almost absentmindedly hit delete before stopping.

What were my goals? I've been moving at light speed and while I had goals and Lists of Things to Do, I haven't recently revisited them as an entire list to think about progress. And milestones--some very good news has been petering in lately, but as it comes in dribs and drabs peppered among all the other work, I have not stopped to consider actual accomplishment or milestones. So I stopped, and decided to fill out the Google form.

What am I working on this semester/ goals?

(1) Develop and submit book proposal (out of EdD dissertation) to Routledge
(2) Write the scholarship application for the Digital Humanities Summer Institute
(3) Send conference proposal abstracts to 2 or more conferences related to my work in Dante Studies, 
(4) draft article from one of my collected datasets
(5) draft chapter 2 of current dissertation
(6) Apply for AAUW fellowship

What milestones have I recently reached?
(1) Book proposal completed and submitted to Routledge 
(2) Wrote and submitted scholarship application to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute
(2a) Was awarded *two* weeklong workshop tuition scholarships to DHSI
(3) Conference proposals written and submitted for:
(3a) International Congress of Medieval Studies [accepted, sponsored by the Dante Society of America!]
(3b) American Association of Religion Western Region [pending decision]
(3c) Association for the Study of Women and Mythology [pending decision]
(6) Collected letters of reference for AAUW fellowship
 
I was surprised. Looking at it listed out like that, I suddenly feel like I've accomplished quite a lot for a semester, particularly for a semester where I am navigating new job responsibilities. I can't believe something as silly and obvious as taking a moment to list out goals and consider milestones could be so satisfying and calming. I'm going to have to add this s a regular part of my professional practice. It helps, particularly when I feel like I've been careening aimlessly. Now I can say, no, I had goals at the beginning of the semester. And regular check-in about milestones can allow me to take a breath and say yes, I am working on these things, I am making progress.

Taking a moment. In with the good, out with the stress. 

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