Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hitting the reset button

The end of the spring semester for me meant that the clock started to run on a December 2010 book deadline. In spite of that, my beginning-of-the-summer plan has been: 1. Grade exams, 2. Take family vacation, 3. Get serious about the book.

This might seem out of order. When a big deadline is looming, isn’t it better to tackle that first, and take a break later, when you’re getting burned out? Sometimes. But a real escape in between a semester of teaching and an expanse of time devoted to writing can do something I think is essential. It can help to hit the reset button – to get away from all my daily habits (e-mail, blogging, etc.). And even to get away from the scholarly project itself. When the vacation is over, it’s much easier for me to rethink how to structure my daily life, and even how to set-up my workspace, and then to dive back in with a level of energy that I hope will sustain me until the deadline is met.

For a reset, not every getaway will do it. Here’s what worked for me:
  • I left my laptop at home.
  • I had almost no internet and cell phone access.
  • I left all project and other work-related reading at home, with one exception. I took one project-related book that is written for a general audience and is a good read, but I did not have a goal of finishing the book.
  • The vacation was only a week – and everyone really can do without me for a week, so I didn’t have to worry about being out of touch.
  • I took a trip that was all-encompassing and completely outside my comfort zone. For me, any adventure vacation that takes all my attention will do it. This time we took very hard and treacherous horseback rides across beautiful mountains, had near-encounters with Grizzly Bears, and other adventures. When trying to control a horse during a thunderstorm, at least for this inexperienced rider, it is simply impossible to think about unanswered email, unwritten blog posts, faculty politics, and looming writing anxieties. I had no choice but to leave it all behind.
For me, the goal is clarity – about my project and about how to complete it – that can come from wiping the slate clean, and having a fresh start. Really, seriously getting away is the only way I know to do that. So a vacation can be a great way to get going on a writing deadline. The biggest challenge is how to hang onto that clarity of vision after returning home. But at least I have a start.

Photos by Alicia.