I’m starting to plan the fall semester. Starting is a key word here: so far, I have printed out some old syllabi to look over, re-read notes in my teaching journal from last fall, and begun my “teaching calendar”: I take two of the big desk calendar pages, turn them over, and turn them lengthwise, so that the faint lines that show through create a 5×7 grid instead of 7×5. This amounts to 14 weeks of a 15-week plus finals-week semester, enough to figure out the shape of things. I’ve put in the dates that I have classes, but nothing else, so far.
I need to keep some research momentum going during the fall term, and to that end, I’m thinking about scheduling writing retreats a few times during the semester. I’d want to schedule those at the same time as I figure out when student work will be due, so I can keep certain times free for writing. Of course I will keep trying to write every day (or read, or add to my notes, or at least read over what I’ve written and perhaps edit a few words, to keep in touch). And I know regular incremental progress is supposed to be the way to go.
Sometimes, though, changing gears or changing scenery can give a person (or a project) a boost. I know there were two hotel rooms I walked into, in England, that made me think, “Ooh, can I just stay here and write?” The first was more picturesque, the second more comfortable and functional, organized for the business traveler. And on reflection (and after a night in each), if I were going to check into a hotel to write, I’d prefer the one aimed at the business traveler: better light, better work environment, more ergonomic furniture, better light-blocking blinds.
So I’m really tempted to plan to book myself into a hotel for a night, take a suitcase of books and all my latest printouts, leave the grading at home, and try to move a project forward as far as possible in the time available. There are some problems with this idea, though. One is check-in and check-out times, and my own natural rhythms: checking in at 3:00 would make the day nearly over for me, and I’d have only till noon the next day. What I really want is somewhere peaceful I could go from, say, 8:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m., and then go home and sleep in my own bed.
Another option would be to go to a coffeeshop, of course, but although I find them quite conducive to a couple of hours of work, I don’t think a whole day in one would work well. For one thing, they’re not very secure; I’d like to be able to leave my suitcase of books and laptop while I go where even the empress must go on foot, which of course becomes necessary not too long after having a coffee. Similar problems apply to public and university libraries, which also have the much bigger problem of having stacks full of distractions. If I wanted distractions, I could stay home.
In theory, I could announce to Sir John that I was putting certain days aside for writing retreats, and that I was going to go into my study to work, and he should pretend that I wasn’t home. In theory, he would be supportive of this. In practice, I can imagine many pitfalls to this approach, not least my own distractability. Even if I were pretending I wasn’t home, I would hear cats mewing, or be seized by the irresistable desire to do laundry, or develop a computer problem that I really had to consult Sir John about, or notice a pile of grading.
I could also, I suppose, spend a night at a hotel in the town where I teach, work in the hotel until check-out time, and then go to my office. On, say, Friday afternoons, there wouldn’t be many people around at work. The drawback to this is that I almost never do research in my office (one exception: working with LALME, whose volumes are too big to take home), so I’m not programmed to work there. In fact, rather the opposite: I’m programmed to meet with students there, and do service work, and prep classes. So I’m not sure that’s a good idea, either.
Does anybody have any other ideas about how to arrange a term-time writing retreat? I don’t want to spend more than one night away from home, if time away is required. Or is this just a pleasant fantasy I should use to fuel regular daily research sessions?