Challenging Assumptions

Sometimes I forget that I can go outside to work … how lovely it is when I remember!  I so enjoy being at a coffeehouse (as I am now), sitting, writing, and thinking.  As an added bonus this is time that I’ve actually scheduled to write my blog post.  How nice that I’ve (finally) given myself permission to include my blog in my writing schedule.

It’s interesting to notice how little conversations that we have with ourselves can become ingrained truths that translate to behavior.  My conversation – for a long time – has been that I could only focus on “peer-reviewed” kinds of writing during my designated “writing time” – and that if I were writing a blog post this would have to occur in a separate, additional writing block.  What I find so fascinating is that this assumption then became a paradigm for my writing life … it became the reality for how I structured/scheduled/shaped my time … and guess what I noticed?  In that paradigm I don’t write blog posts very frequently.

Sunday night while I was working on my weekly plan, I scheduled my writing time, exercise, class prep, meetings, and so on.  Like many weeks, the schedule is pretty full, but does include some flexibility, some built-in breathing room.  As I looked over the schedule I asked myself, “When am I going to write my blog?” Rather than trying to squeeze in another block of time, I simply looked at Monday and designated it as blogging day.

And just like that my hidden assumptions were revealed.  “It’s that simple?” I asked myself.  “Interesting,” I thought as I realized how my assumptions had been limiting my thinking and my behavior, and the choices I was making relation to my writing.  In this moment of clarity I expanded my definition of my writing time and today am blogging.

By scheduling the dedicated time to blogging I was also able to calculate how long the task actually takes (see Step #3 in creating a weekly plan).  This week I ended up needing two writing blocks:  One to write out the blog (which I did by long-hand at the coffeehouse and found it to be immensely satisfying; the handwritten effort also seemed to keep the internal editor at bay) and another block to transcribe the blog.  The process of transcription provided an opportunity for additional reflection and a bit of editing.

So next week when I’m preparing my weekly schedule, I’ll include my regular writing blocks of time and designate two for blogging!

Blogging for Whom?

blue royal typewriterI love reading good blogs … there are so many great blogs floating around and I frequently wish that I wrote as eloquently as others do.  I think this is what stops me from writing more often:  I just don’t think my writing is good enough.  As I thought more about this statement I realized that I haven’t really answered an essential question:  Am I blogging for myself or for others? Probably for both.  My initial goal for this blog was to reflect on my journey towards tenure; the idea was to reflect on what I was learning & experiencing as I took small — and large — steps on this path.  The initial audience, I suppose, was intended to be the university promotion and tenure committee, my pre-tenure committees, colleagues, and myself.  I hope it can be helpful to other pre-tenure faculty who are navigating their own journeys and to students who often have a lot of questions about the tenure and promotion process; perhaps my blogs can shed some light on what it’s like to work toward tenure — and why tenure even matters.

As we wrap up another semester, I feel good about the ways I’ve prepared my tenure portfolio and feel that the portfolio reflects what I’ve done as a faculty member at Pacific.  The act of preparing and developing the portfolio over the past few years not only helped me clarify my goals, philosophy, and research, it helped me really begin to see myself as a faculty member.  More than just about anything else, the portfolio turned out to be critical to my identity development as a faculty member.  Working onn it, I’ve been able to see how I’m contributing to the university as well as to the profession; I’ve seen that I’m doing things that university faculty do — and I feel good about it.  The pre-tenure process allows me to consciously develop as a faculty member by setting specific professional goals then reflecting the ways I’m meeting those goals.  It has been one of the best professional development experiences in my career, perhaps because of the intentionality of the process as well as the reflective practice.

The portfolio itself is a handy way to present myself to others, including future students. I’ll continue to work on it over the next few months to tune it up so it’s ready for Fall 2014 when I go up for tenure review.  But I don’t see it ever being a “finished” document; rather, it’s something I’ll continue working on to provide evidence of my work as a faculty member.  As with my portfolio, I’ll continue working on this blog because it provides a place for me to think about and reflect on my work as a faculty member.  Future topics for the blog include: why tenure matters, the initial journey (from pre-tenure assistant to tenured associate professor), and the road from associate to full professor (it’s a different journey, with different expectations).

One step at a time

I’m in my second four-week session of the Academic Writing Club and am making a commitment to a daily (M-F) writing practice. The great thing about the AWC is that the commitment is not just theoretical; there’s a financial as well as personal commitment. As they say, a little skin in the game helps increase one’s focus on active engagement.

Even so, this summer has been a challenge.  I have a pretty heavy teaching load for a summer and, well, some days life intrudes and some days I just want a writing-free life.  Happily there are also days when things come together in the most beautiful way.  This week I hit kind of a low point — I submitted a manuscript to a journal (YAY!!!) and immediately reminded myself that I need to get back to another one.  The sensation was somewhere between a lump in my stomach and an image of a hamster on a treadmill.

When I took a moment to reflect, here’s what I learned:  productive writers keep writing, productive writers lead a balanced life (reminder about the importance of planning the week), and productive writers celebrate their success.

So just like the Iditarod racers (my favorite metaphor for this writing life), I needed to celebrate reaching a milestone on the journey, I needed to rest, then I needed to get back up and keep going.

Most important, I also realized that I didn’t need to finish the rest of the race in one writing session.  So, I opened the manuscript and gave myself 15 minutes.  I set a specific goal: work on the abstract.  And, well, you might have already guessed the rest: I actually spent 35 minutes — I worked on the manuscript, touched up a portion of the conclusion, drafted the introduction to the conclusion, moved the significance section closer to the introduction. After posting my on-line progress sheet, I set a writing goal for tomorrow.

Then I wrapped up so I could move on to other projects for the day.  The journey isn’t completed in one leap; it really is a whole lot of small steps, with rest stops & celebrations along the way.