I spent January reading hundreds and hundreds of letters, poems, stories, lyrics, sheet music, photos, official documents, hand written notes, and other texts and images from the Lisa Ben papers. I had photographed these documents during my visit to the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives last August as a 2018 LGBTQ Research Fellow, but I had been putting off actually reading them until I had some time to dedicate myself to the projet.
My job as last month was threefold:
- Grasp the larger context of Ben’s life.
- Identify interesting patterns in her writing.
- Select particular texts to analyze in the dissertation.
While these three processes included a bit of writing (research memos on things I wanted to remember, assigning code words to documents in a spreadsheet), in total I probably wrote less than 10 pages of prose the whole month.
I’m not going to lie: it bummed me out to acknowledge that my month of behind the scenes labor didn’t amount to physical pages of writing and analysis. At the same time, I know that my reading process was necessary.
If January was a month for reading and discovery, February is a month of writing and drafting. Hence, February’s blog theme: MOMENTUM.
What is Momentum?
Like most words I love, the word momentum has a dual meaning:
1) a property… of a moving body that the body has by virtue of its mass… and motion and that is equal to the product of the body’s mass and velocity
2) strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events
In non-physics lingo: when an object starts moving, it keeps moving. The more effort behind that movement, the further and faster it’ll move.
So How Do I *DO* Momentum?
Momentum really only has two steps: start and keep going.
It sounds ridiculously simple when put this way, yet remains incredibly complicated because it assumes starting and keeping going are habits we just have by some grace of luck or skill. In what follows, I’ll break down the start and the keep going of momentum into practical, achievable steps.
How to Start
Make a plan ahead of time.
Because I work on my dissertation from home in the morning, I prepare my ideal work session the night before: I wash dishes and tidy my workspace (either kitchen table, desk in bedroom, or standing desk in office) and I make sure I have coffee and a quick breakfast to get me through the initial few pomodoro sessions.
Develop a routine.
When I work from home, I set my first alarm for 6:52am, snooze once, and get up with my second alarm at 7:00am. (If I want to snooze longer, I use Mel Robbin’s 5 Second rule to propel my ass out from under the covers by deciding to get up, counting down 5-4-3-2-1, and then telling myself GO). By 7:20, I’ve brushed my teeth and fed the cats and I’m eating a granola bar while boiling water for the french press. By 7:30, I’m sitting down with the steeping coffee and my mug. Before I start reading or writing for the day, I identify three goals for my work day and write them in my dissertation journal. Writing them down gives me the chance to ask, “Hey, are these actually achievable, or do I need to break them down into smaller steps?”
Planning ahead and using the same routine work really well for me because they remove the need for decision making early in in the morning and allow me to focus all of my resources on getting to work.
How to Keep Going
Use a “pulse and pause” method.
While it may seem counterintutive, taking breaks will actually help you to focus because you are allowing yourself to recharge and refresh your mind. I wrote about pulse and pause in my 2.5 post, “The Recovering Workaholic’s Guide to Taking Breaks“:
This method suggests that we work for a predetermined period of time (pulse), then take an intentionally timed break (pause). A popular pulse and pause technique is the Pomodoro method, where you work for 25 minutes, take a break for five, and then take an an extended break after four sets of 25 on/5 off. Another seemingly random yet research-backed pulse and pause method is 52 minutes of working and then a 17 minutes break.
If you struggle to stay off the internet or your phone when you’re working, try using an internet blocker (I use Freedom on my laptop, and I know a lot of people recommend the Forest app for phone). Let people know you’ll be unavailable so you don’t feel the need to check email or text back while you’re working.
Track your progress.
Sometimes it’s difficult to keep going when we feel like we aren’t making big enough strides on a big project. Tracking your progress will remind you that you are chipping away at your larger goals and will give you feedback on what kinds of tasks felt easier or more enjoyable than others. Use this data to build more pleasant work sessions in the future.
Want to Join me in Momentum February?
Here are three practical ways you can set yourself up to start and keep going! I’ll be using all three this month.
Set a goal and a stretch goal.
Be sure to set yourself up for success by setting achievable challenges for yourself. Make sure to connect those goals to a clear purpose.
My goal is to write 30 pages (7,500 words double spaced) of a dissertation chapter “raccoon report” style (aka “shitty first draft”). My stretch goal is to write 40 pages (10,000 words double spaced). I plan to use a word count spreadsheet like these (specifically an adaptation of Cameron Matthew’s sheet) both for motivation and for tracking purposes (thanks to my pal Liz for recommending this tool, which she used to write her dissertation). My purpose? Feel a ton better at the end of the month by having a first draft to revise.
Set some guidelines up front.
If you set guidelines for your writing and creating up front, you will limit decision making and avoid the stress of having to make choices in the moment.
I plan to take off Saturdays and Sundays and to write at least four days a week. I plan to dedicate 10-20 minutes of my last work session of the day to writing instructions to myself of where to start when I pick up my work again. If I hit my word goal for the day, I can choose in that moment to either keep writing or stop for the day (no judgment if I choose to stop). PS: Today I wrote 849 words, 516 beyond my goal of 333! Per the word count spreadsheet I’m using, this means I’m already at 8% of my stretch goal!
Gather your tools.
Just because you’re writing or creating a big, important project doesn’t mean you have to remake the wheel. Using tools that work for you will make the process feel more comfortable and will celebrate your individual strengths and preferences as a creator.
In addition to the word count spreadsheet, I plan to use pomodoro sessions (don’t forget breaks!), concept mapping (by hand and with the application Scapple), Wendy Belcher’s outline for humanities articles from her book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, and the guidance and accountability of Jen Carrington’s free “Write the Damn Thing” course.
I’ll share my progress on Instagram and in blog posts throughout the month, and I would love to hear about your individual writing or creating momentum, too! Post on Instagram or shoot me an email!