STOP: a little writing advice from Vanilla Ice (Summer Writing Group, Week 12)

JaneB said in the comments last week

learning when to STOP working on things is a useful survival tool.

And the little cassette player in my head started in with “STOP! Collaborate, and listen . . .” and pretty soon I had the full on chorus blasting in my noggin. (And here is where I date myself. And if you need a little diversion, you can watch the official video here.)

We all have to stop writing at some point, and while sometimes we’re forced to stop by an external deadline, often we have to decide to stop. So how do you decide when to stop?

How are your stopping habits? Do you tend to stop too soon? Not soon enough? How do you feel when you stop writing–relieved? panicky? depressed? proud? What do you need to learn about stopping?

As usual, please check in by noon Monday, but feel free to continue the conversation beyond then. Check in format: 1) Goals, 2) Accomplished, 3) Analysis, 4) Goals for next week, 5) optional Next check in date, if you’ll miss a week or two or three.

This week’s goals:

Amstr [complete dissertation draft]: 1) finish Ch. 3 changes, 2) make progress on Ch. 1 expansion (aim for halfway), 3) work well, incl. 2 evenings.
[journal article]: ??
Contingent Cassandra
[full draft of J article by 8/24; make progress on P projects; continue freelance work]: Continue progress on the J article; prepare and give P project presentation; plan and conduct a day of P-project archival research (and network with people at the presentation); do some preliminary research/writing for the next 2 freelance pieces (but concentrate mainly on J, P, and household/financial projects). (next check-in 8/3)
[finish thesis]: Pick one thing off the list each day and aim for 4 hours…
[finish and submit MMP and article]: really, truly, definitely finish the perfectionistic polishing and submit the motherloving companion piece already.
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
[book chapter proposal; writing 4 days/week]: Write an hour a day four days a week.
[ EOCP full draft sent to collaborator, MC paper results section done, MUL data collected, MC5 fully prepped]: Goal 1: grade papers in less than 30 minutes per paper; Goal 2: Be sure to do SOMETHING to push forward writing on Thursday and Friday after grade deadline.
[short draft of new chapter (10 pages)]: Read one article, one book intro, and one book chapter.
[complete book MS]: 30 minutes on the August project + 30 minutes on the manuscript or one of the September projects each day.
[chip away at writing backlog]: develop a plan for the rest of the summer for my writing.
[good draft of main project; figures + results of side project]: 2/3 of Figures + captions. More work on the results.
[rough draft of journal article]:  finish week 3, start week 4
[finish and submit journal article; submit 2nd ms to new journal]: Get my momentum back. Work on article Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for at least 30 minutes. Get past the (necessary) fiddling around with my draft so I can finish and submit before the fall semester. Go to bed early enough, which for me right now means 10:30pm.
[2 of 4: paper, 3 presentations]: [no goal listed]
[revise 2 papers for publication]: Structure for article#2.
rented life
[2 solid book chapters]: 10 min a day of ‘writing activity’–writing, editing, reviewing previous drafts, etc.–, continued, except Thursday
[complete diss; plan for one project for fall]: ? finish this round of proofreading in preparation for sending the whole thing off to someone else for a good look.
[draft of TS and analysis for BE]:  Slog through the TS reports I ran; 2nd level memo on the BS data; read for the LM paper.


45 thoughts on “STOP: a little writing advice from Vanilla Ice (Summer Writing Group, Week 12)

    • It was late, and after 12 weeks I’m running out of steam. I should have followed my favorite writing advice of not going with one of your first 10 obvious ideas. 🙂

  1. No, I love it. Sometimes what we all need is a little “low brow” interlude to shake up the mind and senses. Or maybe that’s just me.

  2. Gah! I meant to post last week and time slipped away from me. I (kind of obviously at this point) have had to drop out of the writing group. I managed to find a job, finally, and then, just last week, I was offered a chance to teach four classes this fall at a small college near where I’m currently living. Yay! I’m very excited about all of this and completely thrilled at the opportunity – except, of course, this means that my writing has taken a back seat because I have to prepare syllabi and lectures for classes that start in a mere 17 days. Yikes.

    Best of luck to everyone finishing up this writing group!

  3. Hello,

    Goal: I forgot posting my goals. Stupid of me… My own goals were making a plan for a research review, starting to write a draft for a presentation on 25 August.

    Accomplished: I made a plan, but not really started to prepare for a presentation.

    Analysis: I went to a job interview last Monday, and I had been concentrating on it last week, but there has been no contact yet, this means I failed. Well, I already have one, but the one I applied for is situated really close to my new house and also my parents, and this is why I applied for. Well, well.

    Next goal: making a plan and starting to write a research review article, writing research review part of my presentation. So, ‘review week’ next week.

    When to stop? It is really difficult for me to stop, but if it means stop a topic for a while, I often do. As I wrote last week’s post, I am ‘a kind of’ perfectionist, so I always avoid stopping something unless I don’t finish a paper on that theme. However, I sometimes say to myself, ok , this is something I put off just now, and I’ll be back some other time! I do come back some time, but not always…

  4. When I glanced at “Vanilla Ice,” I thought of vanilla ice cream: a friend from graduate school had posted a photo of her pastry and coffee at the café where she had gone to write. She got me thinking that I might enjoy a sweet reward for meeting my writing goals, then I read Vanilla Ice…Cream.

    I almost always have projects with deadlines imposed by others, so I stop when I reach my deadline (with hope, I make the deadline!). This might be a sign that I need others to tell me when to stop writing. I’m working on this, as I realize it’s part of the reason I haven’t finished the manuscript. When I do finish something, I inevitably feel relieved. I’m not especially happy with that aspect of my relationship to my writing, as it indicates that I’m not satisfied with my work. Maybe that’s my latent perfectionist waving her flags after all.

    goal: 30 minutes on the August project + 30 minutes on the manuscript or one of the September projects each day.
    accomplished: yes, but.
    analysis: I’ve spent most of my research time this summer revising existing work—rewriting an article and turning my dissertations in a manuscript. Working on a new project entails reading, research, generating ideas—all of the things that need to be done that aren’t writing. I’ve been kicking myself for not writing, and forgetting that building concrete sentences and paragraphs is only part of the process.
    next goal: same, 30 minutes a day on the August project + 30 minutes a day on another research project

    • We’ve discussed this before, but it’s amazing how frustrated many of us (me included) seem to get with ourselves when we need to stop and read and do other things that count as research/pre-writing. I know writing is a process, and of course we all discover ideas *as* we write, but it’s amazing how much we seem to discount the actual research as a productive activity. I’m not sure why that is (except, perhaps, for all the “write every day” advice out there, and perhaps the advice many of us got as grad students not to get stuck in the research stage), but I’m pretty sure that scholars in the sciences and social sciences don’t have this problem. Why do we humanists?

      • Since I am in the drafting stage of my dissertation chapters, and since I took on a topic I didn’t know very well, I spend a LOT of time reading and figuring things out (instead of writing). And it can be very frustrating when the reading/studying stage lasts longer than I want it to. But I’ve begun to trust that the moment will come when I’m ready to make the shift.

  5. I too am a deadline stopper. I haven’t submitted to a journal yet, and I’m guessing that if/when I do, I’ll be using lots of the advice posted here. When I stop writing, I feel relieved. A week or two later, of course, I’ll start worrying about what the reader will think, but once it’s handed off, I’m ready to relax and celebrate.

    Stopping a particular work session is often challenging. Again, most of the time I’ve got a deadline, but on occasion when I’ve got a long work session scheduled, I find I need to stop when I’m losing focus (and giving into the temptation to waste time online). Then I need to shift gears for a walk or some other think-time activity to get me restarted.

    Goals: 1) finish Ch. 3 changes, 2) make progress on Ch. 1 expansion (aim for halfway), 3) work well, incl. 2 evenings.

    Accomplished: 1) I should have Ch. 3 and my intro sent to 2ndary advisor tomorrow, 2) a tiny bit, but not as much as I’d have liked, 3) evenings, yes; working well, not always.

    Analysis: I did have extra child care this week, and I worked diligently a lot of the time. I decided early on that trying to get one chapter finished and out the door AND do work on another chapter was too much at once, so I shelved Ch. 1 for the beginning of the week. The rest of the work dragged on (but I’m almost there!) so I haven’t gotten much done on Ch. 1, though I’ve got lots of library books hanging around ready to go.

    I think I need to make sure I have an easy task to do to start the day. I’m spending way too much time warming up to work, and I’ve got a lot to do in the next three weeks.

    Goals for next week: 1) actually send Ch.3 and intro; 2) make progress on Ch. 1 expansion (aim for halfway +), 3) work well, incl. 2 evenings, starting with an easy task each day.

    • Sounds like you’re making steady progress, even if you’re not quite hitting all your targets exactly when you want to. I like the idea of having an easy task to start the day; as I say below, I’ve found your metaphor of “parking on a downhill slope” helpful, and that seems similar. I think it might be even more important when one is not working on a project daily (as will soon be the case, again, for me), though in that case I think that patience with oneself about the time it will inevitably take to reconnect is also part of the solution.

      Good luck with the last push; it sounds like you’re making good, solid, progress. The idea of tackling a project as big as a diss/book again makes me feel a bit panicky, but, as we all know, it *can* be done (and is done, regularly and repeatedly, by scholars and writers just like us).

      • I’m so glad to be reminded that it can be done! I heard back from my advisor about Ch. 2 yesterday, and as I suspected, it’s going to need some substantial reworking. Sigh. I don’t feel like quitting–I’m way too close to done for that–but the thought of more work before the end arrives is somewhat deflating. I think I’m ready for a vacation. Three more weeks!

      • It’s definitely intense. I kind of fell apart this weekend–which was hard but really good. I managed to work through some of my frustration and fear, etc. Hubby is super supportive. He took 8.5 yrs for undergrad (while working) and at the end said if he had known how long it would take, he probably would have quit early on. I’m feeling much the same way. For a long time when people would ask, I’d say I’d finish in about a year. But it just kept being a year from whenever it was. The time frame has gotten shorter, but I’m not sure how many more delays I can take. There are so many things I’ve put on hold to finish, and now that my kids are 5 and 7, it feels like it’s been way too long.

        But this morning I woke up refreshed and with new ideas about how to reorganize the whole dissertation and how to solve some of the problems in Chapter 2. The end does keep getting closer, and finishing before January is still a realistic possibility.

        One of the keys, I’m finding, is not to rush. Last week swimming, I was supposed to swim 25 yds. with no breath on a reasonably tight interval. During the workout, I’d panic about halfway through and take a breath. Really, I was only needing to hold my breath for 20 seconds. Which is easy. On land. After the workout, the coach had me try it again, but swimming slower. And I could do it with ease. I think in the past week I’ve felt more panicky, with the end of the summer nearing and two big things to work on. I need to just focus on the one thing, make sure I’m working well (without favoring speed over quality), and take that rest interval so I can sustain for the duration.

        Thanks for asking. 🙂

  6. Goal (for the last two weeks): Continue progress on the J article; prepare and give P project presentation; plan and conduct a day of P-project archival research (and network with people at the presentation); do some preliminary research/writing for the next 2 freelance pieces (but concentrate mainly on J, P, and household/financial projects)

    Accomplished: P project presentation, research, and networking went very well; getting back to the J article this week has been a bit of a struggle, but, as of today, I feel like I’m connected and making progress again; did almost nothing on the 2 freelance pieces other than pick up some sources (and little to nothing on household/financial projects).

    Analysis: As many here have noted, getting back into the swing of things after a trip, even a fairly short one, can be difficult. My re-entry was compounded by the fact that I needed to write a lot of follow-up emails after a (very successful) research/speaking trip: thank yous and sharing further information and that sort of thing. I also needed to make minor revisions to a freelance piece I’d already submitted, and to write a paper proposal for a journal issue to which I’d like to contribute. So I was juggling a lot, and, all in all, I’m quite happy with what I accomplished. But with the school year starting 3 weeks from Monday, and a promotion application (not a big deal, in my situation — if I succeed, I’ll end up as a Contingent Associate Professor, which strikes me as something of an oxymoron, with no additional salary or other material benefits — but I figure I need to play along in case there ever are any benefits associated with the position, and do a half-decent job with my application) due in about 10 days, and the knowledge that I really need to finish some of those household/financial projects (and start on some church ones), I’m feeling a bit pressed. Oh, and I have another freelance piece due this week (I took a week off from that, which seems to have gone very quickly). For all of the reasons above, I need to begin transitioning back into something resembling a school-year writing schedule (which means not working on the core scholarly project — the J article, at the moment — every day). I haven’t figured out quite how to divide up the days, but here are the goals for the week:

    Goals: Make progress on the J article during 2 short and one longer first-thing-in-the-morning sessions (probably Tu/F/Sa if I’m going to try to mirror my planned schedule for the semester); Finish a draft of the teaching statement for the promotion portfolio (M/W/Th?) and work on preparing course materials for both portfolio and coming semester; write freelance piece (do a bit each day).

    And on stopping: like amstr, I was thinking mostly about stopping on a daily basis (I’ve got some perfectionist tendencies, to allude to last week’s topic, which lead me to spend more time than strictly necessary checking and re-checking and fiddling with something just before I send it off, but, all in all, I’m not too bad at knowing when a larger project is finished, or finished enough for the present purpose; the perfectionism-induced delay is likely to be hours or days, not weeks). But there’s no question that, if I had my druthers, I’d work on a single project for 3 or more hours at a time (3 hours is probably about my limit for productivity, but I’m not good at changing gears, so a productive 3-hour session can easily stretch into a 4-hour one with 1/4 of the time mostly wasted). The problem is that, during the school year, I can’t really afford 3-hour sessions, except perhaps on some Saturday mornings. I need to get better at stopping and switching tasks after the 1-2 hours I can afford. There are actually some advantages to that (a greater chance that I’ll manage to “park on a downhill slope”; I love that metaphor, amstr, and was actually thinking about it as I stopped today), but it definitely goes against my most comfortable work rhythm (of course, juggling as much as I’m juggling goes against my preferences, too, but at the moment it seems to be what I need to do). I need to get better at stopping and starting another project, so I can make progress on two things during the most productive hours of the day, which are c. 7-noon for me (I also need to get better at stopping by noon, or at least one, and eating lunch, to increase the chances that I actually get something done during the afternoon; that, too, is a perennial problem. I would help if I got to bed on time, since inadequate sleep tends to affect me most in the afternoon; which reminds me, I should go to bed).

  7. Goal: Write an hour a day four days a week.

    Accomplished: yes, but . . . echoing Humming42’s unease (and Contingent Cassandra’s exasperation with humanists), I feel like I shouldn’t count the time “not” writing.

    Analysis: Most of this week was editing of two earlier articles, so “when do you stop” was particularly well timed. I did spend some time plotting out the best use of some time at the research library I’m visiting at the end of September, where I will have to be very efficient, take lots of notes, and worry about synthesis when I get home.

    Goals: spend two hours a day plugging holes in the two articles.

    Knowing when to stop is very hard for me. I am a perfectionist, lovingly polishing everything to a jewel-like brightness, only to find that it only looks like a jewel to me. I said last week that it is better for me to get feedback before I have expended too much effort and invested too much in what I have written.

    Actually, that brings up another “when do I stop” problem. I can disappear into the embrace of research or writing for hours, coming to only when I have a massive headache from not eating, or when my husband calls to see when I am coming home from the library, or interruptions like that. I blush to admit that I set an alarm on my phone to keep from slipping too deep into the black hole.

    It took me a while to work without deadlines (the seven-year dissertation or tenure clocks are so long as to be useless to me); I found that I could fake myself out with self-imposed deadlines some of the time, but that I really worked better under the tortoise model.

    I spend some time every day on a project, not always writing, but reading, editing, checking citations, in some way present with it until the holes I see are acceptable lace-knitting sort of holes, rather than sinkhole gaps in logic. Working in this slow every day way makes me so sick of looking at it, I am ready to send it to a kindly soul, which is the step before submitting it to the brutal editor, and then to the cold cruel academic journal world.

    Contingent Cassandra’s question about why we humanists dismiss the research, the reading, for goodness sake, even the synthesis we were trained to do, is a very good one. I don’t have the answer, because I fight the same dismissiveness myself. I suppose I feel I should know all this stuff already, which is clearly ludicrous. Every new project requires a whole new circle added to the Venn diagram. I know a bit of it, but certainly not all.

  8. Sorry for the delay in posting (I think I missed last week). My grandfather became very ill, and died on Thursday.

    The dissertation is done, except for final sentence-level editing and proofreading (and pieces are currently out with other people to catch the stuff I’m too close to see). I think that was my goal the last time I posted, so I’ll call that accomplished.

    Because of the family stuff going on, I’m not going to set a goal for this week other than simply surviving. I’ll try and check in next week with a goal for the week after.

  9. 1. Last week’s goal: Read one article, one book intro, and one book chapter.

    2. Accomplished: An equitable amount. I finished reading an article, read two book intros, and two book chapters.

    3. Hard to be back home and away from lovely rivers and mountains and relaxing days, but I’ve had more time to work–both for the college and for myself–which is good. I also have been trying to exercise. Last year, work was so busy that I let myself go completely. I’m getting too old to do that–use it or lose it. So I’ve been squeezing in short runs (by which I mean I run half the time and walk half the time), and although this takes up extra time, I think I feel more productive when I DO sit down to study/write. So even though I’ve only had a few hours, they have felt like good hours.

    4. Goal for this week: Read two book chapters, write 500 words for diss chapter five.

    Regarding stopping: I think of stopping as when I pass off my work to someone else, so I kind of discussed this on the earlier thread about getting help from additional readers. But, I know that last fall, when I was working on a article I planned to submit to a journal, I felt ready to stop when all of my great readers were giving me conflicting advice. I knew it wasn’t done, but it was time to have the journal editors tell me what THEY thought. Also, I felt ready to really abandon it for a while. One reviewer liked it and thought it should be published after some revision. The other reviewer hated it. But I got very helpful feedback from each of them. And just knowing that one reader thought it was worthy of the journal (which was top-tier) makes me think I, at the least, might be able to write a passing dissertation.

    Despite my blog name being GoodEnoughWoman, I’m not always very good at determining when something is good enough. So I think that mostly I stop when I just can’t do it anymore. I suppose I need a better system.

    • Hurrah for exercise! I’ve been swimming 3x a week and trying to walk the other two days. I could fit in another 3+ hours a week of work during the day if I stopped, but it makes my work time so much more productive. And on non-swim days, I use the walks for thinking time. I try to read and prep myself to puzzle out some problem, and then take a walk and let my mind wander.

      I think stopping when you can’t do it any more is actually a pretty good system. It doesn’t always mean something is ready to go, but it does mean that a break and coming back to it later will help.

  10. Goal: Finish week 3, start week 4

    Accomplished: I did more work on week 3 and I did start week 4

    Analysis: I have pretty much only been working on weekends, which is good for big chunks of time, but I know I really should try to do some time everyday as well. I think that would make a big difference, actually.

    Next Goal: Continue on weeks 3 and 4, work two weekdays this week, in addition to the weekend.

    • Congrats on mostly meeting your goal! Doing a little bit every day can help a lot–even just 15 minutes. I’ve spent much of my academic life since kids squeezing in 15-20 minutes of work at a time here and there. It really does add up!

  11. Goal:
    Get my momentum back.
    Work on article Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for at least 30 minutes.
    Get past the (necessary) fiddling around with my draft so I can finish and submit before the fall semester.
    Go to bed early enough, which for me right now means 10:30pm.

    I did not work on article on Monday, but did make progress on Wednesday (almost 1/2 hr), Thursday (50 min), and Friday (1/2 hr). I am still cleaning up the paper’s organization, but I’m happy that I came up with a much better way of framing part of my argument.

    Now, I feel like I’m a lot closer to being able to stop and submit the article. Usually, though, I am deadline-driven, something that has been hard to admit to myself.

    My most productive day was Thursday, which could have been an OBE day (E as in emotions). I knew Wednesday night that Thursday could be a challenge, so I had a plan. I think more specific plans for how to get started every day will help.

    Next Goal:
    I’ve got a recovering kid at home today, so posting this is probably the most I can get done for Monday.

    For the rest of the week my goal is 1/2 hour TWThF

    • It sounds like you got your momentum back! I think you’re right about those specific plans for getting started. I need to get back to that too. Even if whatever I start with is something easy–like proofreading footnotes or photocopying library books–it gets me started and into work mode much better than my current “warm-up” routine (which involves way to much clicking on things on the computer).

      Best wishes for maintaining your momentum this week!

  12. Oof. I spoke too soon about my internet connectivity problems being fixed at home, and I still need to do something about that. Anyway, I think that this afternoon I will be submitting the companion piece (old goal). Most of last week was stay-cation.

    New goal: catch up with the translation work (the rest of my team has been lobbing e-mails back and forth like mad).

  13. Goal: make a list of everything that each paper still needs, and pick something every day and do it. 4 hours of writing a day.

    Accomplished: Mostly accomplished! The list of things needed is very slowly getting smaller.

    Analysis: This goal seems to be working very well, so I’m sticking with it, again. I will adjust my list though. Not all things on it take the same amount of time so sometimes looking back at it is discouraging because only one thing (albeit a big one) is gone. But I like the gone part.

    Next goal: Same – get something off the list every day, and try for 4 hours of writing time.

    When to stop… With figures I tend to stop from boredom/frustration when I think they are about 95% done (only a little bit left right?) and then that 5% undone comes back to haunt me later on when it actually takes 50% more work. So I’m trying very hard to not stop until I am sure they are completely done. They still get changed every time someone reads anything, but it is definitely better that way. Text on the other hand I don’t stop soon enough (I like reading/writing much better than figure-making, clearly) so I fiddle till some external deadline looms and then I panic. So maybe a happy medium between the two approaches for a future goal?

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