How Academics Get Back to Writing After a Vacation

You’ve just gotten back from your vacation and there are piles of laundry to do, hundreds of emails to process, and your garden is overgrown, so your writing goes to the back burner. When you finally do show up again, it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill. Sound familiar? In the summer I can count on a number of clients asking some variation of the question: “I am into a steady writing mode, but so often in the past when I’ve been away for travel, I have a hard time re-establishing my writing routine when I get back. Do you have any suggestions?”

car top carrier searsI recommend that before leaving on a work trip or vacation, you write clear instructions to remind yourself where you are in the project and what are the next few steps to move the work forward. In her book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, Joan Bolker credits MIT writing teacher Kenneth Skier with naming this practice, “parking on the downhill slope.” It’s a great idea after every writing session to jot down notes to yourself about what you want to do next, but doing this before a longer period away from the work is especially helpful to creating an easy start, as opposed to feeling like you have to start pedaling a stopped bicycle up a steep slope.

One client set out to create a workspace that she would feel invited back into upon her return. She left a bag of her favorite tea in a mug next to her computer, along with a plate with a piece of her favorite chocolate, and she left the document open on her computer, so it would be the first thing that she saw when she turned the power on.

Another way to jump start your return is to schedule writing dates with a colleague for your first few days back in town. Even if we are distracted by catching up on the mail that’s piled up while we were gone or wanting to finish putting away our camping gear, we are loath to renege on commitments to others, and will show up to write with a friend.

Any of these strategies can be useful throughout the year, but they become particularly important for faculty members who want to make the most of the glorious time when classes are out and the busy semester schedule of meetings and seminars is only dimly in your consciousness.