Writing backlog

Chances are good that if I ask you what comes to mind when I say “computer science”, “writing intensive” is probably not in the top 10.  Yet my job is very writing intensive, even when you take coding out of the equation.  On the teaching side, I write lectures (or “class plans”, depending on the day), handouts, assignments, exam problems, lab exercises, web posts, emails, reports, etc.  On the research side, I write grants, research papers, tech reports, howto documents for my research students, summaries of research articles, article reviews, and of course emails. Writing is the currency of research:  if you don’t write up and publish your results, it’s as if the experiments never happened, as far as the community is concerned.

This summer, I have a pretty severe backlog of writing projects.  I have 4 articles in various stages of completion:

  • a journal article that was just accepted (finally!) that needs a couple of minor changes
  • 2 conference papers outlining new experiments that we did last summer and winter, respectively.  One was sent out for review in the fall and rejected.  The other is at the almost completed draft stage and has not been sent out for review.
  • 1 conference paper that’s purely in my head now.  We’ve got all of the data for it, but we never completed the analysis, so I have no idea if what we have is even publishable.

Normally I have writing projects in various stages, but this backlog is probably my worst in a while.  (And I haven’t even mentioned that I’ll be sketching out grant proposals this summer, too.)  Part of the issue is that I spent a lot of this year spinning my wheels, research-wise—I had students working for me all year, progress on some fronts was slower than anticipated, I had to redo some experiments and analyses, and I made some false starts on the 2 conference papers in progress.

Ideally I’d like to make progress on all of these this summer, while still leaving time to, oh, do actual new research, prep my fall classes, and pay some attention to my research students!

So, how do I prioritize?  Clearly getting the journal article finished and out is priority #1, and will also be the easiest to do (theoretically anyway).  And clearly finishing one of the drafts of the 2 papers-in-progress should be the next priority, so I can get that into the review pipeline.  But which one?  I will have to do some calculus to see which one I think is more likely to be accepted sooner rather than later.  In fact, you could argue that I should just get all the drafts-in-progress out the door and under review—clear the decks.

But.  Part of me thinks I should place some priority on that last paper, the one in my head.  I can and do get research done during the school year, but it’s often 30 or 60 minute blocks here and there.  I suspect to make traction on that paper, I’ll need some longer blocks of time to flesh things out, set up analyses, play with the data, etc.  But will doing so sap some much-needed time and energy from thinking about the more complete papers, and put me further behind on everything?

How do you prioritize your writing projects, or any other projects you juggle?