Writing Structure in the Summer

The semester is over! It’s officially summer!

So many of us smart women writers tend to have more unstructured time in the summers.  I work at a University, so while the undergrads are gone, and my colleagues away to do research in far-flung locales, I find that there’s a bit more downtime and flexibility in my schedule, and I think of it as my writing season.

Of course, I write more or less regularly throughout the year, because that’s what I do, but the way I write during the academic year and the way I write in the summer are very different. Throughout the year, I keep up my writing habit by sitting down to the computer or a notebook first thing in the morning and spending an hour working on one of my projects. Usually, I have a book or two in the works, plus an academic article, plus something technical for my job, plus a piece of fiction just for fun. Ideally, I’d like to work on each of these every week, choosing a different project each day.

What ends up happening is that I get really into one project for a few weeks before bouncing to another when I am stuck. That helps though, as working on other projects leaves time for my unconscious mind to process the problem, helping me to be ready to tackle it when I next come back to it.

In addition to that hour each morning on weekdays, I often take half a day during the weekend to go to a café with a friend to write. We’ll spend the first hour catching up and eating/drinking and setting micro-goals for the day, and then the next 2-3 working independently on our projects, stopping every now and then to ask questions, pull funny faces at each other, grab refills, or point out a particularly cute puppy being walked outside.  Because of the lack of distractions at home or at the office, I get so much more done there, and feel accomplished after every session.

In total, this way of writing gives me at least 7 writing hours per week, which isn’t a ton, but adds up over the year.

In the summer, I can easily double (sometimes even triple) that amount with some careful planning. I’m lucky in that as a postdoc, I am expected to be writing, so my tasks are pretty flexible. I do work a lot with the ESSSS archive, but I mostly get to choose which hours I work, and only have to be physically present in the office for about one third of them. So I stack as many work tasks as I can in advance to leave myself nice big chunks of café writing time in my schedule.

Then I start calling up my freelancing friends, and other writers who I know also have flexible schedules or who work from home to ask if they want to meet up to work together, and I write it into my planner the way I would any other work-related meeting. Since it’s the summer, I like to give myself weekends off, but if a project is really on fire, or a deadline is looming, I’ll sometimes do it on weekends too. That way, I can also see my weekend writer friends who have more corporately structured jobs and can’t get away during weekdays. On a good week, I get at least 3 of these sessions in.

I may or may not keep up the writing for an hour first thing in the morning in addition to that. I’m more relaxed in the summers and will improvise, and I refuse to feel guilty for days when I’d rather spend that hour running, or cooking a fancy breakfast, or just in bed reading. Summer is a great time to write, but also a great time to catch up on the self-care that will keep me writing.

For those of you with more flexible summers- how do you cram more writing time into them?

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