Monday, August 24, 2015

Big Project Planning

It occurs to me that grad school, while it taught me many things well, did not teach me how to approach, plan, and keep up my enthusiasm for a long project.  While the dissertation was, of course, a long project, I didn't take particularly long to work on it -- as in cranking out the actual pages.  I think I began writing real chapters in December or January and was defended by August.  The foundation, though, was laid in work from years previous -- particularly in one class and then in the portfolio that served as my comprehensive exams.  So I didn't exactly know that I was working on the dissertation when I was laying the foundation.  But now I'm a tenured professor, and I've got to be able to plan out my writing work to get done in little drips of time, and I need to be able to articulate a realistic plan for completion for annual review and an application for my pipe dream, a sabbatical.  (It doesn't help that this project is in a less desirable area to my colleagues.)

So I've been thinking about Big Project and how it's particularly difficult to come up with product completion goals for a process that is not step-by-step.  (A colleague and role model of mine recently posted on Facebook that he's been working on a project for seven years.  Seven!  Of course, he's completed and published other work as well in that time, but I tend to work on one project at a time and while I respect the creative process and will follow it wherever it leads, I really can't say that I'm planning to still be working on this project in seven years.  That's not a confidence-builder for a sabbatical application!)

Every time I think about this project as a 3-5 year goal, something in me starts screaming.  No!  I want the writing -- at least the first draft -- done in two years.  It'll take some serious time to revise and there's a colleague I'd love to show it to when it's in a full draft form, and so I'm not dreaming that it'll be substantially complete after the first real complete draft or anything.  If I'm still sending it out in five years, okay.  But I need to get into high gear getting this first draft completed for my own morale, as much as my teaching and service load will allow.

So here are my goals that I think are pretty realistic:

During summer:  ambitious weekly goals so I end up with a serious sheaf of drafted pages by the end of the summer (this is the same goal I've had this summer that I started out quite brightly on but have fallen off of since the family took a stressful trip to Urban Birth City -- oh the drama, oh the jet lag, oh the recovery!  yesterday and the day before I was feeling shvitzy and have been taking naps and stuff and couldn't figure out what was wrong until I turned to Absurdist Lover and mused: last week, we were still in Urban Birth City.  Ah, then it all made sense.  No wonder I've struggled with writing for the last few weeks).  Let's call this total ideal output for summer X.

During the year:  modest monthly goal.  The total output for the "during the year" time is X-1. 

If I can get that done for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, it'll be drafted by the end of 2016-2017.  Then I can spend 2017-2020 revising and sending it out.  Now, if I can get a sabbatical to work on this project, that would transform the six months or so I'd get off into "summer time," shooting my productivity up.  So if I put in a sabbatical application for 2016-2017 (because this year is out already anyway), I'd be able to say that instead of managing X-1 for that "during the year" time, I'd be able to get 2X done.  In short, I'd finish the drafting and be able to get onto the revising.  This would be particularly great because at that point I'm going to have to take a step back and see what all the parts add up to and make decisions about that and do some more focused rewriting, and it would be great to have the time and space to do that. 

I don't know if I can sell that to the sabbatical application committee, but at least it's a plan that makes sense to me.  And I won't be totally depressed if I don't get a sabbatical because I can see that I will get this thing done in a decent amount of time.

It's funny how making these goals makes me feel better, especially during the slog when I really have to focus mostly on teaching.  If I can manage to write a couple times a week, I should be able to more than meet these goals.

But before that, I still have Summer and those ambitious goals.  I'd like to be able to meet my own goals -- as much to be able to report that in my annual review report and sabbatical application as for myself.  So I need to take stock and see how behind I am and what I need to do to make the most of the rest of the quarter.

But perhaps not right now.  I really need to begin working on cleaning out the office, and this is the last week of Absurdist Child's camp.  So I need to get on that as well.