Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Half Way

While there is a strong group of committed colonists, it is my distinct impression that a number of people who signed up at the end of May, thinking they would get a lot of writing done in June, have begun to have doubts. I would like to take this moment, halfway through the CBS Writers' Colony to address those doubts and, I hope, put them into perspective.

In my original call for participants, I may have set the bar a bit high. Here's what I announced to the faculty members at CBS (that is, all of the Copenhagen Business School received the invitation):

The CBS Writer’s Colony is an opportunity to plan and execute a month of work in a good-natured, supportive environment. Participants will meet regularly with Thomas, individually and in groups as schedules allow. But those schedules are expected to give a high priority to both the writing and the Colony. The participants will commit to planning and keeping a detailed record of their writing activities—as a rule, no more than 20 and no less than 5 hours per week. They can also expect to help each other think through their writing projects a little bit every day—whether by phone, mail or in person. Participation is free but obviously requires a strong commitment to both planning and tracking their writing activities. In exchange for this commitment, each participant will receive continuous individual coaching and editorial support with Thomas. You will also receive follow-up coaching and editorial support when you receive your review reports in the fall. [It was assumed that most people would be working towards a journal submission before leaving for vacation.]

The passage that I have here bolded appears to have caused some retrospective guilt among participants, and have even caused some to drop out, or at least to consider dropping out. I want to provide an argument here for "sticking with it", at least in a manner of speaking.

After all, the commitment here is not actually to work for (if you do the math) at least 20 hours in June. It is merely to plan at least 20 hours of work and "keep a detailed record of your writing activities". That is, you are meeting your obligations even if you don't get anything done, but have a clear and explicit sense of what you did instead during those 20 hours of work. I'm trying to raise our awareness of the vulnerability of the writing process; I am not running a gulag!

The idea is quite simple, really. If you thought you were "finally going to get something done" in June, before going on vacation, the Colony was a way to carry that thought through, taking it into the details of your activities, rather than being just a vague ambition. There are roughly 20 working days in June (in Denmark there are quite a few state and religious holidays this month), so it is not an insurmountable task to ask yourself, sometime in late May, what you will be doing on each of those days. How many hours, each day, can you devote to writing? One? Two? Three? Four? (Don't go above that, it'll only wear you out and leave you without energy for the next day.)

When that simple act of reflection has taken place, make some run-of-the-mill decisions. What hours of what days will you devote to writing? You will end with 20-80 scheduled writing hours. Great! Now just stick to the plan as best as you can, and keep a record of how well you are doing. Even if you planned 60 but worked only 10, your commitment to the Colony will show in the degree of awareness you have about where those 50 hours went. Why was 60 hours unrealistic? What kept "coming up"? If there's no good explanation, well, then you've spent the month of June learning an important lesson about your work discipline, at least as it pertains to writing.

So, that's my basic point. If you've signed up for the Colony, stick with it to the end. If you never got aroudn to making a good plan, you've still got two weeks left, so make one today, and see how well you can stick to it until the end of the month. Try only planning half and hour a day and see if you can protect those five remaining hours. Don't show me or anyone else that you can do it. Show yourself.

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