How Art Historians Can Beat the Summer Writing Slump


As the temperatures rise, things tend to slow down—including all of those writing projects you’d hoped to get around to this summer.

When the spring semester ended, did you plan on working on that book manuscript you’d been putting off to focus on your teaching schedule and attend to the headaches of virtual learning?

Have you been meaning to put together a book proposal to pitch to publishers in the fall or plan out a new research project you’d like to begin once things get moving again?

Or maybe, like many of us, you’d meant to make headway on a project that’s been stalled for months due to COVID—or at least find workarounds—but you’re still not making progress?

Do any (or all) of these sound familiar? You’re not alone!

Now that we are skulking into the second month of summer in the Northern hemisphere, we’re starting to realize that all of those great writing goals we had in May and June just aren’t coming to fruition. You just aren’t making the progress you’d hoped to make by this point, and the threat of the new semester is encroaching. It’s happened every summer since you started grad school, but you just never learn.

So how do you beat the slump and start making headway on your art historical writing projects?

It’s all a matter of setting goals, prioritizing, and taking control of your schedule, both on the macro and the micro levels.

Start by setting goals that you want to reach by the end of summer, and then break those down into smaller, more manageable chunks that can be accomplished in a month, in a week, in a day.

Let me show you how.


Set aside a few hours for a mini retreat at your desk. Take out a pen and paper or open your favorite note-taking app. (Those with a lot of projects to manage might also consider upping the ante with project management software like Trello or Basecamp—but more on that later!)

First, list out the projects that you absolutely must finish by the end of the summer: syllabi for courses you’re teaching next semester, a proposal for a grant due in August, a book chapter that your publisher has been waiting on to send out for review. These are your high-priority projects.

Next, make a list of longer-term projects with deadlines that aren’t set or are further out: the book proposal that you’d like to send out in the fall or the first steps toward turning the submissions for a panel you co-chaired last year at CAA into an edited volume, which you want to get published in the next couple of years. These are your mid-priority projects.

Finally, jot down a wish list of projects that you’ve always wanted to do but never found time for or are just for fun. This might be something like writing a biography on an underrecognized artists to pitch to trade publishers or putting together an exhibition proposal based on your dissertation topic for your university’s gallery.

Starting with your high-priority projects, begin breaking down each entry into smaller components. What needs to be done in order to complete this task? Make to-do lists that include both smaller, quick things and more involved tasks. Checking these off gives you a sense of achievement, and you can even reward yourself once you’ve completed a certain amount or along the way!

Next, move on to the mid-priority and wish lists, itemizing what needs to be done—or could be done—in the next couple of months.

Scheduling is key.

If you’re the kind of person who needs deadlines, set them. Write deadlines next to each list item and even put them in your calendar and set alerts so that you know when they’re approaching.

If you’ve previously formed an accountability group of fellow grad students, colleagues, or peers, now’s the time to start checking in with them regularly to make sure you’re on target. If you haven’t done this yet, I don’t recommend starting one now—put that on your mid-priority list and establish it in the fall.

Now comes the hard part. (Or maybe this is the fun part?) You’ve got to actually do the work!

Carve out dedicated time in your schedule when you can work on your tasks, ideally based around your peak hours of productivity. I can’t emphasize this last point enough: if you have the luxury of planning out your day on your own, and not around others, you should try to work during the hours that best suit your needs and energy levels. (Mine’s the early afternoon.)

Project management apps can help.


If you need an extra “hand,” consider investing time in learning how to use one of the popular project management apps. I recommend Trello and Basecamp. Both have free or low-cost versions for individuals and both can be configured for group projects.

Trello, which is based on the Kanban system, allows you to create virtual boards, where you can move cards with tasks on them between “to do,” “in progress,” and “complete” columns (you can rename the columns if you want!). It’s free and I’ve found it really useful for solo projects and goal setting in my own business. You can create boards for different projects or write projects on cards, which you can then open to reveal your itemized checklists.

For those with more complex projects or who work with others, consider Basecamp, an app that combines the features of programs you’ve probably already heard of (DropBox for file management, Slack for communication, calendars, and more) so that you can keep track of your projects all in one place. The solo-user version is free, and they offer discounts for teachers and non-profits. The super-slick interface allows you to keep conversations about each project in the same place as the documents related to it (both files and links to document-sharing services like GoogleDocs).

These programs will help you not only itemize your tasks, but they will visualize your progress—always a plus for us art historians!

Get it done!

Once you start making progress toward your goals, you’ll start to feel a sense of accomplishment, if only regarding your summer work goals.

And don’t forget to take a well-deserve break, as well!

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