Making the Summer Count . . . and Beyond

By Karen Johnson.  What do you want to do this summer?  Finish that writing project you’ve been putting off all year?  

Today I want to share two really important resources to help us all become more productive and happy academics.  Lots of academics write using a binge model.  We’re so busy during the year with teaching, service, or other responsibilities that we wait for breaks to catch up.  But as Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s, founder of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, writes

Unfortunately, that beautiful imagined break often gets disturbed by the reality that holidays include travel, family commitments, and/or various types of personal obligations, all of which require time and energy. For many people, classroom and departmental commitments are often simply replaced by equally time-intensive activities with family and friends.

When a break-induced binge is successful, we feel back on track with our writing projects and a sense of significant professional progress. But the cost is often physical and mental exhaustion, and (if family and friends expect our attention) some strain on our personal relationships. When the binge is unsuccessful and we don't accomplish all we imagined, we may experience guilt, disappointment and shame over yet another broken promise to ourselves. While I have binged on many breaks in the past out of necessity, it has always felt like I lost more than I gained. For me, binge writing is simply an unsustainable way to work over the long haul of an academic career.

What’s the solution?  Write consistently, 30-60 minutes a day.  And better yet, find someone to hold you accountable to this goal weekly.

Robert Boice, whose Advice for New Faculty is invaluable, conducted a study that showed that “binge writers” produced on average .5 pages/week, while “brief daily writers” produced 3 pages/week.  Over six years, the binge writers submitted .5 manuscripts on average for publication, while the regular writers submitted over 5.  That’s a big difference.

Boice studied what makes successful new faculty successful and shares it with his readers.  He writes, “never, in my close observations of over a thousand novice professors, did I see someone falter for reasons of inexpertise in his or her area of scholarship.  Or from lack of desire.  Instead, the most telling mistakes were easily correctable problems such as not understanding how to moderate student incivilities in classrooms, not knowing how to manage enough writing for publication in modest amounts of time, and not learning how to elicit effective collegial support.”  Boice’s solution is best summed up in the Latin phrase nihil nimus, or “everything in moderation.”  (For a quick summary of his book, go here.)

His book is useful for teaching new faculty (and those who aspire to be new faculty) about best practices for teaching, writing and service.  I’d encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Boice’s book, and also to look into the resources at the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. If you're already prolific and happy, then you can pass the resources along to someone else.  If you're just starting off or feeling overwhelmed, both will be useful.  The academic work you’re doing is too important to not publish.  And, perhaps more importantly, the things outside your work like your family, friends, and health are too important to sacrifice on the altar of binge writing and insane hours.  Let's prepare ourselves for the long haul.


Unknown said…
Karen--thanks for the great resources--I will check them out! Belcher suggests something similar about writing small amounts each day. If I find myself resisting the idea of a daily task or a particular piece of writing, I often use the pomodoro method at It turns out there are few things I am not willing to write about if I know it will only be for 25 minutes.
Unknown said…
I just checked out and it looks great! I am hoping I can get my institution to join. Thank you again for posting the resource

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