Given that the unofficial motto of academia is “publish or perish," it is probably unsurprising that a lot of my coaching work revolves around writing and helping people become more productive writers. After all, success in the academic rat race is contingent on the ability to churn out research articles in an environment where carving out the time to write can be quite tricky, regardless of whether you are in an academic job or not.
Those in academic jobs often find that writing time is the first thing to go amidst teaching, pastoral, and administrative responsibilities. Those struggling to find academic jobs have to squeeze in academic writing somewhere in between their day job(s) and intensive job hunting. Even those on a decidedly non-academic career path may discover that their desired job does involve a substantial amount of writing. For instance, I never suspected that as project manager so much of my time would be spent generating text in the form of reports, briefings, and project documentation.
So I will often hear from my coachees that they want to use the sessions to develop better writing habits to help them progress in their careers or to finally get that monkey, otherwise known as the post-PhD article, off their backs, the same one that they’ve been meaning to get around to for the past six years. Then, invariably, they will mention guilt for not writing enough and not having enough time to write, and will often argue that the only thing standing between them and the finished piece of text is lack of large chunks of uninterrupted time. Funnily enough, they often forget that last time they did have large uninterrupted chunks of time, they used that time primarily to procrastinate and feel guilty about not writing enough. That is, if they were lucky enough to do their PhDs as full-time, funded students with relatively few personal commitments, which obviously doesn’t apply to everyone!
There are obviously no magic fixes to writing productivity, but if I was to name “the one belief that stops you from writing” it would be the perception that academic writing cannot happen in short, structured chunks of time. Somehow, the writing fairy does not visit those who only have half an hour to spare in their busy lives and so the only option is to wait for that magical time, maybe in December when things calm down, and a golden window of opportunity will present itself. Except ... it doesn’t have to be that way! This is where insights from enquiry into habits of productive academic writers come in handy.
Robert Boice looked at writing habits of new academics and noticed that the ones that managed to produce the most articles did it in brief but regular sessions. He discovered that it was enough for people to commit to regular 30-minute morning writing sessions to boost their academic productivity and produce at least 2-3 papers per year, considerably more than their colleagues who stalled their writing until they could find a free block of at least 3-4 hours, which in academia is probably rarer than hen’s teeth. There is also some interesting work by Brian Martin, who writes about strategies for shifting from a binge-writing to more of a snack-based approach, and I would recommend it to everyone to try committing to a regular writing practice (half an hour per day is enough, preferably first thing in the morning) to see if it makes a difference and removes some of the procrastination-induced guilt.
Obviously, it is only through trial and error that you will be able to determine what works best for you, but the key things to take away might be the following three tips:
1. There is no need to “save” your writing for large blocks of uninterrupted time.
2. Making a commitment to a regular working practice can help you boost your productivity and meet your writing goals, one short session at a time.
3. Guilt is unproductive and will not make you a better writer!
How do you find the time to write? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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