Risman’s Writing Retreats
By Barbara J. Risman
What a year we are about to leave behind! May we also be leaving behind the pandemic as children are being vaccinated. By now, we are all exhausted!
Perhaps the time has come to give yourself a break. You survived 2021 and Covid-19 and that is a job well done. Maybe you should just enjoy the New Year without worrying about your writing? If you need a breather, take one. Everyone needs to breathe. No guilt needed.
Some of us, though, sincerely want to jump start our writing: to kick out that article, op-ed or finish that dissertation. Or perhaps your kids are finally back at school and you want to create a writing practice, with accountability, to you meet your long-term goals. Some of you may even remember the pleasure of making progress and want to recover that feeling. So how can we make writing fun? Or fun again? There are two strategies to do this: intrinsic and extrinsic.
I suggest we start with thinking about an intrinsic strategy. How can you create a sense of joy from the writing itself? Go back to the very beginning. Why are you writing? Yes, that’s a big question. And if the answer is, “because I have to” finish my course, thesis, dissertation, article, or book” well that’s a great start but not a reflective answer. You have just pushed the question back to a deeper level: why did you choose the topic about which you are now writing? Taking the time to remind yourself just why you are writing about this may seem like yet another procrastination tool. But give it a try. At some point you thought your topic was fascinating, or at least important. You wanted to think, research and write about it. Take the time to excavate that feeling. Why did you start the project? Why is it important beyond your obligation to finish it?
I tell all my graduate students and emphasize in my Risman’s Writing Retreats online community that you must be passionate about your topic when you begin because you will be married to it for years to come. Choose to write about what you care about deeply. If you don’t care about it, your writing will not convince anyone else to. So take the time, when you are having trouble writing, to remind yourself why you started this project. What makes it worth your precious time, or the precious time of your imagined reader? Perhaps you care about your topic because the world will explode unless you solve this problem. Maybe you have experienced micro-aggressions throughout your life, and you want to study the effects of a policy designed to decrease racism. Perhaps you have been reading scientific articles about a disease for nearly a decade and have identified something fundamentally wrong with the current analysis and you are going to provide the missing piece of the puzzle. I can’t imagine your reason for writing, but you must remember why to do it well.
If you want to reflect with others about why and how you write, you might be interested in joining Risman’s Writing Retreat Jump into 2022 online community on Monday mornings where you will get tips of the trade about writing, from reminding yourself why you want to do it, to the brass tacks of how to do structural revising of that article you have to get out the door.
Here are a few steps that might help you rekindle the intrinsic joy in your writing.
The advice above won’t be very helpful unless you indeed have an intrinsic motivation for your project. But what if you started the project long ago, and you don’t care about it very much anymore? And yet, you must finish it. Time to think of an extrinsic strategy. What immediate rewards can you give yourself that will help you finish this now odious task? I gave this advice several years ago to a colleague and she reported back a very creative solution. She had agreed to write a book review and to do that she had to finish a long, statistically complex monograph and then write a review she knew was going to be very critical. She dreaded it. It’s the kind of necessary task no one looks forward to. So, with a willing sexual partner, she made a game where every chapter she’d finish reading and writing about, she’d take an orgasm break. She finished the whole task in one day and enjoyed herself immensely doing so. She probably slept very well that night! This just may work for you if you are still working at home with a partner who would enjoy this productivity game. Or of course, you could try it solo as well. So even if you don not have a willing (or available) sexual partner you can still take orgasm breaks! Now, this strategy is not for everyone. For starters, not everyone has as voracious a sexual appetite as my colleague and so we all need to identify the rewards that work for us.
Here are some more realistic ideas for extrinsic rewards. Try breaking your task down into very small chunks and reward yourself after successfully finishing each small section. Perhaps a long walk in the snow-covered park? An ice cream cone? Or take a guilt free time playing peek a boo with your baby. Do 30 minutes of yoga. The point is to find something that will motivate you, and then take the time to reward yourself for plodding through your writing project. Extrinsic rewards can really work. I know, I use them for writing projects I’ve agreed to do and then loose enthusiasm for half-way through. My goal is to accept fewer of such projects!
Here are a few steps that might help you rekindle joy in your writing process with extrinsic rewards:
Whether you bring fun back into your writing with intrinsic or extrinsic rewards matters less then you find something to look forward to for the hours you spend writing. We only live once, and my philosophy as a writing coach is to help you bring joy to your writing. The best way to be a successful writer is to have a good time as you do what needs to be done.
If you are interested in an online writing community, join me at Risman’s Writing Retreats Jump into 2022 community. We will wait until your 2022 classes have started and you are settled into your winter routine. Beginning Monday morning January 24th we will kick off every week together for 12 weeks, from 9 to noon Central time. We will talk about writing, hold each other accountable and get some writing done. We will explore the joy of writing, and I will do a short presentation each week to help you develop some writing skills. How does envisioning your audience influence your prose style? Do you know the difference between structural and line editing? How do you best structure an article for an academic journal? How to get rid of all those extra words that take up space you do not have?
Registration is limited as we need a small enough community to allow for good conversations. Students pay half price. Invoices can be sent to your university.
Professor Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is known for both her academic writing, including her latest book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us and for writing for a public audience including editorial in the Seattle Times, CNN.com and Raleigh News & Observer. She has taught writing classes to graduate students at UIC and to graduate students and faculty at universities throughout Europe. She hosts online writing communities, face-to-face and online writing workshops for departments at colleges at universities across the world and (after the pandemic really ends ) face-to-face writing retreats.
She can be reached at RismansWritingRetreats@gmail.com or here
Barbara J. Risman