I’m now about half way through my term as Dept. Chair, a post that has come with a relatively steep learning curve. Suffice it to say a PhD in Art History does little to prepare one for the realities of University administration. However, there are many good people around me that have been patient and helpful, something for which I am very grateful.
I think the most difficult thing about this post is that it is incredibly difficult to carve out sustained writing and research time. I’ll have an afternoon here or there, but the amount of time between these sessions means that I spend most of this precious found writing/research time trying to figure out where I left off. I need to get better and finding a way to implement regular, sustained writing/research sessions, even if they are shorter. As I learned while on sabbatical, it is the frequency of these sessions more than the length that really makes the difference.
Last summer I took two weeks vacation time (something I’ve only done once before since finishing the PhD, probably not a good idea) to have a mini writing retreat. I had a colleague take over as “Acting Chair” (see point above about helpful, good people around me) so that I could just focus on the book manuscript I have been working on. 2 glorious weeks of just thinking, writing, reading was just what I needed and felt more restorative than if I’d taken those two weeks to travel. Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling, but I was aching for some focused, quiet time with my research. In December I took at trip over to London to spend some time at the British Library for the same reason. This time another wonderful colleague stepped up and was “Acting Chair” in my absence, allowing me to make the trip. I found a great flat walking distance to the library and quickly fell in to a routine that included hours in the reading rooms and then evenings filled with quiet reflection and free writing. Pure bliss!
These two writing/research “retreats” were amazing, but it is so difficult it is to get this kind of sustained time to really focus. I need to work harder at building this in to my daily schedule. When I was working on my PhD, Joan Bolker’s advice to “write first” and “write every day” really helped me to stay focused and finish quickly. It is time to go back to those basics!