You want me to write EVERY DAY?

Student requesting a book in the library (1964). Image provided by LSE Library via Flickr Creative Commons.

Student requesting a book in the library (1964). Image provided by LSE Library via Flickr Creative Commons. No known copyright restrictions.

When I was hired at as an Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University, my new boss handed me two books.  The first was Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus by Robert Boice and Publish and Flourish by Tara Gray. To be honest, those books went straight to my bookshelf. They looked interesting, but during my first year, I definitely didn’t have any time to read them.

The other day, I had to go to a doctor’s appointment right after class. I knew they were going to squeeze me in, thus I needed to bring something to read in the waiting room. Because Publish and Flourish was the shorter book, I grabbed that one. Not only short, but it was an easy read.  Tara Gray  wrote conversationally, filled the book with practical advice, and gave me small goals, broken into steps, that I could start immediately. I quickly discovered that I needed to change the way that I approached writing.

Eerste Wereldoorlog, loopgraven

From the Nationaal Archief. Housed on Flickr Creative Commons. No known copyright restrictions.

While I knew that writing was a part of my job, I saw it as a war between my teaching and my research; how do I battle enough time away from one to the other. Because it was an unattractive fight, I surrendered before I began.  Despite making effort every day to find time to write, I never did… maybe not never, really not often.  I had turned into a “binge writer,” as Tara Gray calls them.  Those are people who sit down and write infrequently, usually for more than three hours at a time. Yup!  That’s me! Usually this writing was deadline driven.  For example, the IRB had a full board meeting on a specific day, and I needed to make sure that I got the application done and submitted on time.  Because of that binge writing, I would churn out a draft that was “good enough,” run my eyes over it, have my administrative assistant go over it for obvious spelling and grammar errors, and then start gathering signatures.  Even I can see that those sorts of products were not my best writing.

Does “binge writing” sound like something you do as a student?

Not only am I a binge writer, but so are my students. After all, it is a very efficient use of time to essentially vomit words out on a page in one large writing session, read through it one time to make sure nothing is glaringly wrong, and then turn it in. It’s an efficient way to get a relatively reasonable grade without huge amounts of effort.  I can’t blame them for doing it because I do it, too.  However, it’s not the best way to write.

Wells Cathedral Clock (Inside Face)

Wells Cathedral Clock (Inside Face). From Cornell University Library. No known copyright restrictions.

Tara Gray had some pretty specific advice about how to avoid binge writing and be more productive and cited research to support it.  Her first suggestion was for me to manage my time by writing daily and recording the minutes I spent each day writing. That seemed rather daunting until she noted that the writing could be for a very short time, something as small as 15 minutes a day.

Ok, I can do 15 minutes a day.

The next important step, at least for me, was to find a writing sponsor.  This is a person to whom I can report my minutes writing.  Each day I email my sponsor with my total number of minutes written, rather than my total log that includes my start time and stop time. By having to be accountable to my sponsor, I’ve been much more likely to write.  I also keep a week-long log for myself. That way I can have a record of the progress I am making. That has really helped me. Even if I’ve only written for 15 minutes, I feel like I’ve almost completed my day!

So far, writing each day is working for me.  Tara Gray reported that people who wrote every day and tracked their minutes were somewhere between 4-6 times more productive than those who did not.  Further, she reported that those who wrote daily and recorded their minutes were less productive than those who also were accountable to someone for writing those minutes. Can you imagine how much quality writing you can get done if you make 15 minutes a day for it? It will make that term paper fly by!

Give it a try… write for 15 minutes!