The Summer To-Do List

We all – at least those of us currently entrenched in academia – have one. The long, idealistic, and extremely optimistic list of all the things we’re going to accomplish over summer “break.” Some of us may just have bullet points, some Post-its or index cards, some use a planner or their smart phone, some may have it organized by month, and some by project type. Any way you have it, it starts toward the end of spring semester finals week. “We have four months,” we tell ourselves – May, June, July, and August! Sweet. So many books can be read (maybe even ones for fun), so many papers revised (if only my advisor would respond to me), so many activities (do I really want to see my family?), but as many of us like to point out in the humanities, we were never that great at math.

Because it isn’t really four months. Finals and their subsequent grading didn’t end until a few days past mid-May, while orientation and training start just a few days before mid-August. I started a part-time summer fellowship in the library at twenty hours a week on June 1, and those of you who have worked office jobs know how hard it can be to do your own creative work afterward. I also (gasp!) took a 10-day vacation to the East Coast and only read one novel (on the plane) the entire time. And still, even knowing all these realities, I have trouble accepting them. I’m constantly thinking that I’m behind and not doing enough. And from what I hear from friends, colleagues in the cohort, academic bloggers (seen on a fellow student-friend’s twitter), and professors on the tenure track, this feeling never goes away.

I realize that it is occasionally (most of the time) frowned upon to take an upbeat attitude (at least so publicly) when it comes to supporting one another in academe. But a few weeks ago, a few of my fellow literary studies folk and I formed a writing group as a means by which to share weekly writing goals (we even write them down), hold each other accountable, and support one another. (I got the idea for this post from them.) I want to share the good vibes from this recent positive development and take a moment to remind you that you’re doing a lot! Keep up the good work!

A few things to keep in mind, though. One of my writing group members is always saying not to discount the reading you do every day. Reading a book a day (like another member), whether it be a novel or a good chunk of theory, is not a “wasted” day because you didn’t set fingertips to keyboard. This same book-a-day member shared How to Write a Lot with us, in which the author notes that organizing your thoughts by creating outlines, finding quotes, making a smaller, more specific writing plan (i.e, in the next two days, I will revise X portion of my paper/story from page A to B, instead of just “revise.”) counts as writing – none of this is time wasted, and it helps for greater productivity in the long run. Moreover, I know I always put at least one thing on my long to-do list that I know in my heart of hearts will most likely not get done, and/or I will procrastinate on. And that’s okay since I know I still have time before the deadline (or even my own personal deadline). We have to be okay with these bumps in the road, and sometimes, they’re even signs of genius.

To conclude, I wanted to share my summer to-do list in hopes that you will share yours and any other thoughts, comments, and concerns you have about your progress. Each of these bullet points is in various stages of completion, and I have included writing things, reading things, and also personal fun things, because those are goals/wants/dreams, too!

  • Revise and send out paper/article from Spring 2014 course to academic journal
  • Read extra sources to incorporate into said paper
  • Revise paper from Fall 2013 and send to professor for further edits and/or for Ph.D. application writing sample
  • Research Ph.D. programs
  • Update CV (I really should do this as things happen)
  • Write Personal Statement (revise endlessly)
  • Plan new course to teach in Fall 2014
  • Revise old course to teach in Fall 2014
  • Write two BMR blog posts (mission accomplished!)
  • Read submissions for BMR writing contest (all summer)
  • Read submission for other lit mag’s writing contest (early summer)
  • Read new(ish) releases I’ve been waiting to read all year (An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, You are One of Them by Elliott Holt, The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Vacationers by Emma Straub)
  • Read all of Maggie Nelson’s work
  • Read The New Yorker subscription my boyfriend and I just purchased together
  • Read pile of books on desk about immigrants and literature
  • Read back issues of Ploughshares
  • Read the Cambridge History of the American Novel
  • Read ahead for Fall 2014 coursework
  • Go home to CT to see parents, aunt and uncle and cousins, brother and sister, friends in Boston, friends from high school, and do way more activities than have ever done while actually living in CT (river tubing, New Haven pizza eating, beach bumming, anniversary party throwing, Newport Beach visiting)
  • See some sights in New Mexico (Bandelier National Monument, Tent Rocks National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, maybe Roswell)

PS. Things are probably missing from this list, but having written it out in this somewhat random way, all in one space (I usually write my lists in smaller bursts on Post-its), has felt liberating. Try it out!

Diana Filar is a second-year Master’s student in Literature at The University of New Mexico.