Episode #10

What Happens to My Writing When the Semester Hits the Fan?

Academic years ebb and flow; some parts of a semester are much busier than others. As your semester ramps up, your writing might need to take a backseat, but make sure you have a plan to bring it back to the center.


Semesters have pretty predictable pattern. In a traditional North American semester system of 15 weeks, things start coming to a head around week 10. You may notice any of the following:

  • You have more than one assignment waiting for grading. You’re officially “backlogged.”
  • There are so many meetings and reports due. You consider pushing the reports until the end of the semester, after grades are in, which means they’ll be late. But something’s gotta give.
  • Panicked students are starting to show up at office hours, which means you can’t use that time for other things.
  • Your lesson plans used to be typed out neatly, but now they are jotted on a sticky note on the back of your hand, or stuck to your growing pile of grading.
  • You’ve been making time to write, but now those 1-2 hours once or twice a week during your tiger time are overrun with meetings, grading, students, and exhaustion. 

You might think “the writing will need to wait.” As an academic writing coach, I’m actually going to tell you that maybe the writing can wait. We’re going to cover some ways to handle a busy period in your semester, and how to plan for your writing, even if you need to shuffle it to the back of your priorities for a time. 

Making a Plan for Busy Times in Your Semester

In episode 4, I talked about creating your ideal week. Around week 10 of the semester, your ideal calendar has probably gone out the window. If the semester always feels out of control in weeks 10 to the end, then what can you do before you get the out-of-control feeling to stop it in its tracks? And what happens to your writing when those out-of-control feelings set in?

“I’m all about how your day-to-day life in academia feels.”

Here are some ideas:

    • Plan for the shifts in the semester. Get out your calendar and some markers. Choose a color that represents caution (yellow maybe) and mark the weeks of the semester when things always get rough. You know the weeks that they are. Stop letting them take you by surprise!
    • Manage your expectations for yourself during those weeks. Do not expect the same level of writing productivity during the weeks you marked. If you can hold your writing time sacred without feeling guilty and overwhelmed, do it. But if you can’t, then don’t hold yourself to that unrealistic expectation.
    • Forgive yourself. You are amazing. Even your C- work is humanity’s A work. So lower the bar and give yourself a break. You are allowed to slow down. You are allowed to NOT feel busy and overwhelmed. Just because everyone around you is freaking out doesn’t mean you should be freaking out, too.
    • Define what doing less means to you and do it proudly. Decide what cutting back to the bare essentials means for you, then do it. Longer turnaround time on email? Cutting an assignment? Excusing yourself from a faculty meeting? Take some time and make a plan for pulling back on your regular standard of excellence in all things and just be excellent in the things that really matter right now.
    • Make a plan for your writing. Maybe your writing can wait until the semester calms down. But it would be great if you could keep one toe wet in the writing waters. In order to keep from completely sinking your writing ship, you’ll need to think about the best options at this moment, and make a plan.

Making a Plan for Your Writing

Above all we want writing to feel good. A focus on how you feel, how you manage your reactions to stressful situations, and how you maintain a positive relationship with your writing will help you avoid burnout and keep your voice out in the world influencing your field. 

Here are some ideas for how to manage your writing during your busiest seasons: 

  • Try to get in just one hour of writing per week, during your tiger time, and preferably on Monday.
  • If you can’t manage any writing time at all right now, get out your calendar and schedule a writing session  when you will get back in the game. Keep this date with your writing without fail!
  • Plan a one-day writing retreat for yourself to catch up and put writing back at the forefront.  Put it on the calendar, arrange your family’s schedules, go somewhere else (not your office or your house), and take time beforehand to make a work plan.

“The most important thing about your writing process is to continue to create positive feedback loops between you and writing.”

If you are a pre-tenure woman on the tenure track and are looking for support and encouragement to write and publish more without breaking down or burning out, consider applying for my year-long program, Amplify: Faculty Writing Accelerator. Our goal is to help you achieve a tenure process that feels less like hazing and more like inspiration. Click here to apply.


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