I hated April when I was a faculty member. Whenever I tried to sit down to write, I’d think about how far behind I was, and I’d get that tight feeling in my chest that made thinking nearly impossible. It seemed, at that moment, like the end of the year was lurking just around the corner. But then, when I thought about classes? Somehow the end of the year felt maddeningly far away.
I was reminded of this when my writing buddy and I got our wires crossed, and had to reschedule our meeting. “It’s a shit show,” she said, when I asked how things were going. “Between teaching, hosting speakers, conducting an accelerated job search and trying to write a book…I am done.” When I asked if there was anything I could do to help, her answer was clear. “No,” she said, shortly. “Not unless you can make the semester end now.”
April is academia’s version of what happens at the end of any work season. Everything’s coming to a head and there’s a final push that can’t be escaped, no matter what you do. When that happens, it’s easy to feel like your writing has to fall to the wayside. If you’ve got a steady practice going, it’s tempting to schedule other tasks over your writing time, just to get them out of the way. And if writing is a struggle? Then it’s doubly hard to find the energy to muscle your way through your writing sessions. At our summer writing retreats, I hear the same story over and over: April writing abandoned in despair, with the promise to make it all up in May.
The problem, of course, is that Academic April always lasts longer than we want it to. Sure, May comes, and then classes eventually end. But then there are exams to give and grades to submit. There are Digital Measures to report and final committee meetings to attend. To say nothing of the defenses and capstone presentations that have to happen before everyone disappears from campus. By the time everything is over, you’re so exhausted that you need several weeks of down time to recover. “I'm actually taking the first week of May to basically sleep and binge watch something,” said my writing buddy.
But if you want to do something different this year, you can. See, the problem isn’t really Academic April. The problem is that we refuse to accept Academic April for what it is, to surrender to it, and deliberately adjust how we work so that we can stay steady in our writing habit. Academic April comes every year. And every year it’s just as bad as it was the year before. And every year—in December and January when we’re planning our syllabi and saying yes to yet another talk/committee/conference—we forget how bad Academic April is going to be. And then, every year it comes again, and we stand in mute and frozen awe at the tsunami of demands headed our way.
You and your writing can survive that wave intact. But the only way to do so is to hop onto your board and ride its energy to shore. If you were facing an actual wave, you wouldn’t bob helplessly along, cursing the wave for its speed and direction. Instead, you’d watch the wave, paddle straight into it, catch its momentum, and harness its energy to move you toward shore. Likewise, if you want to preserve your writing in the madness that is April, you can’t run away from the madness, and you can’t pretend it’s not happening. You have to step right into its hectic pace and use that pacing to help you stick to your writing every day. Here’s one way to do it in a way that feels manageable.
And then, I promise...summer will come.
Bounce back from April’s attack on your writing with a
Summer Writing Retreat! Registration closes May 12, 2017.