By: Lauren Frances Guerra
March 23, 2018
We have to make time to write and have a physical space for writing ... reclaiming our writing time is crucial.
Literary great Virginia Woolf once described her desire for a room of her own, a place to write and think in peace. I agree with her wholeheartedly. Having the time and space to write are so important. However, writing time seems to be the first to be eliminated from any busy academic’s schedule. More often than not, we must be intentional about protecting both. We have to make time to write and have a physical space for writing. Carving out time and better yet, reclaiming our writing time is crucial. This sense of reclaiming one’s time is a concept Congresswoman Maxine Waters from California so brilliantly brought to the public sphere. It has become a battle cry, particularly for women of color because it struck a nerve. I’ve noticed that moving from the doctoral program to the professoriate, writing time is increasingly scarce. Between meetings, class prep, conferences, and other responsibilities…there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day. I am constantly working hard to protect my writing time and have begun to schedule it in my calendar as an appointment.
What are your places of inspiration?
Where have you been the most productive?
What strategies have you found the most helpful?
Here I share with you a few of my favorite places and spaces to write in. Wishing you lots of good writing energy and inspiration!
Working in the library may seem like an obvious choice for writing because it is a quiet space and is where the majority of scholars conduct their research. However, I encourage you to approach the library in a new way. Think of what a library contains within. It houses infinite knowledge and wisdom. When you write in the library, find inspiration in all the great authors that surround you. When you need a break, take a quick stroll through the stacks. I often sit in the art section because I find art very inspirational. Writing too is an art form.
The doctoral program and particularly the writing phase can be quite isolating. Months of writing in the same place can make anyone stir crazy and a change of scenery can make all the difference. One option is to work in a café. Finding a good café is critical. A space with good light, electrical outlets (for the laptop that will in inevitably run out of battery), free Wi-Fi, and coffee. Over the years, I’ve found working in a café some of the most productive times because seeing other people working hard is motivating. There is a sense of solidarity in the struggle.
Create a sacred space for writing in your home. Most academics create a home office where all of their materials live: books, computer, files, etc. In addition to these basic necessities, consider personalizing the space with writing inspiration. For example, I keep an image of 17th-century poetess and theologian Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz near my desk. I also keep a Frida Kahlo candle close by. Who serves as your source of intellectual inspiration?
Ideas for your dissertation or article may come to you at any moment. Stay ready! Keep a small journal with you for jotting down your ideas. Another alternative is taking notes electronically. Since most of us have our cell phones within arms reach, type a quick note in Notepad or email yourself so that you can refer back to it later. There have been many times in which I am talking through an idea with a friend and something clicks. Or, I get a recommendation about a book or author. I jot that down too. The program Evernote is a great place to keep track of little notes as well. Creating a voice recording of your ideas is another alternative.
When working on a long-term writing project such a dissertation or book, working with others who are also writing can be helpful. I have found that meeting with others to write on occasion to be very helpful and motivating. We meet in a quiet space and write for a few hours, setting “tomato timers” to keep on task. The pomodoro or “tomato” method is where you work in focused 25-minute increments. It helps eliminate distraction and makes you more aware of how you are spending your time. Day-long writing sessions are excellent. During the dissertation phase of my program, I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days on a writing retreat with other colleagues. It was wonderful to be able to work independently all day and gather for meals. In a few short days, all of us make tremendous progress in our work.