If you want to get writing done, you should know that daily writing is the best way to ensure consistent and amazing productivity.
Are you waiting for a strike of inspiration for you to write? Do you keep reading and thinking, hoping that the muse will visit you, and when she does, that you will produce pages and pages of prose? Or, do you wait until the weekend or the break to write, with the idea that you will have long blocks of uninterrupted time? If any of those questions resonate with you, you are not alone. Many writers think that they write best when they are inspired.
The truth is that inspiration is most likely to come when you sit down and begin to write.
A study by Robert Boice, reported in his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, provides concrete evidence for two concepts: 1) writing daily produces more writing and more ideas and 2) writing accountability works.
The Test: Does Writing Accountability Work?
To find out if daily writing and accountability can be effective, Robert Boice conducted a test with 27 faculty members who desired help with improving their writing productivity. He put the 27 faculty into three groups and examined their writing productivity for ten weeks.
The first group was instructed to write only if they had to write, but asked to keep a log of creative ideas for writing. The idea behind this group was that planned abstinence would lead to the production of creative ideas for writing when the time came.
The second group scheduled writing sessions five days a week for ten weeks, but was encouraged to write only when they were in the mood. They also were asked to take the time they had scheduled for writing to log a new creative idea for writing each day. The idea behind this group was that writing only when they were in the mood would be favorable for creativity.
The third group agreed to a strict accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for ten weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas for writing. To ensure that they would write every day, the members of this group gave Boice a pre-paid check for $25, made out to a hated organization. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would mail the check. The idea behind this group was that forced writing would require the group to come up with creative ideas for writing. This group was based on the Clockwork Muse theory - the idea that if you write on a regular basis, your muse will show up each time you sit down to write.
The Results: Daily Writing and Accountability Work
Boice’s study revealed:
- Abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages per day, and only one idea per week.
- Spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages per day, and one creative idea every two days.
- Forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages and one creative idea each day.
These results show that, contrary to what one might think, creativity can be forced. Sitting down and making yourself write every day is a great way to make those creative juices flow.
How to Write Every Day
The lesson here for writers is to not wait until you feel like writing to write – as that might not happen very often – but to schedule your writing every day, show up to your writing session, and keep track of when you do and do not write.
I suggest you try this method of becoming a prolific writer by scheduling in at least 15 to 120 minutes of writing in each weekday, and keeping track of how much you write each day.
If you are not sure how to write every day, here are ten ways to write every day:
- Write on a blank page
- Line-edit something you have already written
- Restructure a paper that you have been working on
- Pull together pieces of older documents you have written into a new paper
- Check references and footnotes for accuracy
- Outline or mind-map a new project
- Summarize or take notes on something you have read recently that might be relevant to present or future research projects
- Make a revision plan for a rejected article or a “revise and resubmit”
- Make tables, figures, graphs, or images to represent visually concepts or trends in a paper
- Create an After-the-fact or Reverse Outline
If you think of writing as only #1): Write on a blank page, it will be hard to do that every single day. However, it you are open to other kinds of writing, it will be possible to do at least one of these kinds of writing every day.
I try to do at least two kinds of writing each day, starting with the blank page in the morning. I am at my best early in the morning. That is my prime time. I use those early, fresh moments of the day to free-write and to create new material. Once I run out of steam, I might turn to editing something I have written or to checking references. If I get stuck, I will pull out a mind map and brainstorm ideas.
My routine each weekday, then, is to begin the day with writing or writing-related tasks. On a good day, I can concentrate for two hours. Usually, however, my mind drifts after an hour, so I take a break to check email or have some coffee, and put in another hour after my break. I keep track of the time I have spent working on writing so that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and so that I know when I need to stop.
I know that many academics reject as ridiculous the idea that one could or should write every day. To them, I would gently ask if they have ever tried it. And, I would add that it is not only important to try writing every day, but to commit to trying it for at least a month to see if it works for you. It is also important to have others to whom you are accountable and with whom you can share your struggles.
If you do try writing every day, let me know how it goes! If you are a seasoned daily writer, let me know why you keep it up!
For more tips and tricks on getting your writing done, please go here.