Summer Writing: Try a Tomato?


Photo by Thelonious Gonz

Summer always slips through my fingers, like the fish that got away. I never manage to get to the beach, or out on my sailboat, or to the free outdoor concerts, as much as I hope to in April (or, as I dream of in February, as the snow falls). September always brings a to-do list with lots of stuff that, sadly, is still left to do.

Academic summer writing is the same way. As we reconvene in September, how many of us cast our eyes down and mutter that we did not get anywhere near enough done. The mood, the timing, the temperature, the situation…something kept us from it. As the summer winds down, we frantically try to finish off the stuff we have been (let’s face it) goofing around with all season long. It’s disheartening.

As a graduate student, I had to write almost all the time, and even as I deposited my dissertation, I felt that I was still developing my method of getting it done without too many tears. Now that it is almost a year later, I still struggle with the best way to get the most done as a productive writer. I would rather lecture, supervise, carry out my current research, plan my next research project…but, if I don’t write up and publish, my research will remain unknown, and where’s the good in that?

So, here’s my proposal: We’ve got six weeks of summer left; let’s help each other. I will tell you a few of the tips that worked for me, and you share some that worked for you…or didn’t. I didn’t invent any of these methods, but some I have made my own. Here are a few:

  • Go someplace else. If you have been writing at home (in your pajamas, admit it), go to a library. You’ll find that any campus or town librarian will help you find a nook, get connected, and maybe even print stuff out, when they hear you are a frantic academic. It might be even better than going to your own campus, where it is too easy to get distracted by colleagues and students. I wrote my second exam paper (a giant lit review) at the local community college, reporting in the morning and working for a few steady hours. I had all the documents I needed loaded onto my laptop, so I was able to…
  • Keep the internet off. There are lots of applications out there that can either track the time you spend on non-work websites, or keep you from accessing them for a period of time. If your phone has a data feed, you can try shutting that off and just receiving phone calls for a few hours. I leave my personal email open and downloading at home, so that I cannot check it during the day (although this backfires if people contact me through my work email). Of course, there are days where I find I must immediately know the difference between a yawl and a ketch …and the morning is gone. If you are making good use of any methods to keep the internet at bay, please share in the comments.
  • Reward yourself. The oldest trick in the book. Set it up that you can’t do X until you do Y. The trick is choosing the task to be small enough and the reward to be sweet enough so that you are indeed motivated. Hey, you’re an SLP, you can make it work for your clients, now try it for yourself.
  • Try a tomato. No, not to eat. I have had some great successes using the Pomodoro method. The key components are planning out how many 25 minute sessions it will take to complete a task, and then, when you start a session, do not allow yourself to be taken off the task. Any outside thoughts or distractions can be scribbled on a separate piece of paper so you don’t forget them. I use aspects of this, with my own modifications. I find 25 minutes too short, and sometimes use the radio news report (every half hour) as my time marker, or use an online countdown timer set for 40 minutes. The tomatoes help me when I am desperately stuck, because I can commit to one lonely tomato. That’s not so scary, is it? Then, I must write something, (anything!) until the bell releases me. My dissertation contained a whole truckload of tomatoes.
  • Keep a notebook. If you are in the habit of keeping a lab notebook, this is just an extension. Jot down your progress and stumbling blocks. Then, when you are stuck, spend a tomato, I mean a few minutes, looking over what you have already accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back, and keep at it.

The last tip? Don’t get so involved crafting the perfect blog entry that you avoid working on your “real” writing for a whole afternoon!

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design. Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum. She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.

Playing Favorites

Lecture hall

Photo by English106

The first week of classes at Clarion University is pretty much in the books.  A mix of faces…some old, some new…staring at me in class.  The new ones looking somewhat apprehensive.  The old ones more relaxed…they know me, they know the drill, they know what to expect.  It’s a time of possibility as they embark on what I hope will be a semester of authentic learning.

Not only are the first weeks of class some of my most enjoyable for their accompanying sense of newness, but also because I get to deliver some of my favorite presentations.  Perhaps the presentation I enjoy most is based upon von Leden’s “A Cultural History of the Larynx and Voice” which appears in Robert Thayer Sataloff’s tome Professional Voice: The Science and Art of Clinical Care.  Having grown up in the Gettysburg-area, I suppose I come by my love of history naturally (that, plus the fact I’ve had many excellent teachers along the way).  Perhaps this is why I enjoyed Boone’s article “A Historical Perspective of Voice Management: 1940-1970” in the July 2010 issue of SID 3’s Perspectives so much.

It’s somewhat distressing to me when I sense students don’t know the history of their area of study and how it shapes current professional practice…this, then, is the driving force behind for “the von Leden lecture”.  It is von Leden’s premise that the study of the larynx and voice evolved across four stages.  The most recent stage (and the stage in which we currently find ourselves), called the Realistic, had its advent with the Renaissance and marks the time when consideration of the phonatory system became a science, based on experimentation and observation (as opposed to simply being a product of speculation).  To think, some of the information I provide and things I teach are based on da Vinci’s (the 15th-16th centuries) and Eustachius’s (16th century) work in the area of anatomy, Mueller’s studies which led to the Myoelastic-Aerodynamic of vocal fold vibration (1837), and Garcia’s work with a self-invented laryngoscope (1854) to cite just a few examples.  As I share such information with my students, what is old truly becomes what is new.

Let’s face it…we all have our favorite things.  It might seem odd, even nerdish, to some to have a favorite lecture.  But really, when you think about it, my craft, my art, is teaching.  And in this respect I am really no different than a woodworker with his favorite chair, a rock band with its favorite album, or an artist with her favorite sculpture.  (Ok…maybe that is all a little grand, but you get my point…lol.)

If you work in higher education is there a presentation you particularly enjoy giving…why?

If you are a former or current student is there a presentation you particularly enjoyed…why?

Kenneth Staub, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He will be a regular contributor to ASHAsphere and welcomes questions or suggestions for posts.