Making good use of a sabbatical month.
October 19, 2006 2:29 PM   Subscribe

How can I prepare best for a period of reseach consolidation/writing?

I've been working for several years in my spare time on the biography of an obscure Victorian novelist. I work full-time in my day job, but for some periods have been able to work flexibly so that I have one free day a week to use for research. I'm not attached to a university and work in isolation, apart from boring my friends and family. I have had one paper published in an academic book and another accepted for publication. I am working towards book publication, though I realise this may be an unattainable goal.

In three weeks' time I'm planning to take a fortnight's leave, followed by another fortnight six weeks after that, in order to try to consolidate my research, work out where to go next etc. I would appreciate advice on what I can do to prepare for these four weeks so that I use the time effectively. I want to come out at the end feeling I've achieved something and have a clear plan of my next steps. Any suggestions welcome, from how to organise notes effectively to future work planning, specific tips on writing biography or keeping focussed.
posted by paduasoy to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: (Hey, I'm a Victorianist who spends a lot of time writing about obscure novelists; which one are you working on?)

Some things I do when working on a long project:

1. Organize all of my references thematically (e.g., "historical novelists who cite Agnes Strickland," followed by names & page numbers);
2. Prep the bibliography/works cited page ahead of time;
3. Stack all of the primary & secondary sources where they're conveniently to hand;
4. Develop a writing calendar (spend X time per day on writing; finish this chapter by Y);
5. Prepare to let go of details or ideas, no matter how attractive or interesting at first glance (something you'll need to do with a biography, since excessively minute detail will send the reader into a daze);
6. Decide when you are going to stop reading (admittedly, I'm not good at that at all...). When new books don't teach you anything new, then it's time to quit;
7. But also remember that you'll always discover some crucial hole in your research while you're writing--not before.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:51 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My experience with big chunks of unscheduled time is that it is appallingly easy to fritter away most of that time. It requires a lot of discipline to make the most of your time.

Have a particular office space you will go to, separate from your house and other daily routines. Maybe this space will be at your public library, if nowhere else. Working in the house is possible, but only if you can really totally cut yourself off from the phone, the cleaning that hasn't been done, etc.

Commit to spending 8 hours a day there (or whatever you feel you can spend. pick an amount and stick to it), starting as early as is reasonable for you in the morning. Get up, take a shower, get dressed in work clothes. Do not allow yourself to mentally schedule any other activities (especially errands, administrative phone calls, email, blog reading, etc) in this time. It is WORK TIME, to be treated as if you were reporting to a higher-up.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:41 PM on October 19, 2006

Best answer: As LobsterMitten says its will be very easy to piss the time away. Find somewhere away from distraction and work there as if you were going to regular work. You will still find distractions (if you're anything like me) but it will make you do some constructive stuff.
The other thing is to plan ahead. Will there be research materials you'll need then that will take time to get hold of? Put a little time aside now to work out what you'll need so you won't have to break your flow by having to go hunting around or leaving big gaps or which will then have implications (ie further holes in your conclusion, etc) down the line.
posted by biffa at 3:40 AM on October 20, 2006

Response by poster: Many thanks to all three of you - I have no excuses to piss the time away now.
posted by paduasoy at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2006

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