Productive spells of writing – who doesn’t crave them? Based on interviews with two dozen accomplished academics who’ve developed personal “systems” to help them write, in “Six academic writing habits that will boost productivity,” Chris Smith shared useful tips: *
They ”time-block” writing sessions: Booking time in advance devoted to writing was the single most common habit scholars used. The method employed varied: Some blocked out short, regular times during a day or across a week, or opted for long bouts of writing in isolation. The act of planning mentally prepared them for writing – and this priming process made writing easier and less stressful.
They set artificial deadlines: While most of us don’t enjoy the pressure of external deadlines, prolific academics use self-imposed deadlines to keep moving toward their goal. As one professor put it, “I use artificial milestones to keep me motivated.” One popular method: using upcoming conferences as milestones; knowing that they will be held accountable by peers keeps them focused and on track.
They seek flow, but lightly: Prolific academics purposefully arrange their work lives to achieve the “flow” state that helps them deliver a writing project. “However,” as Chris notes, “those who have the easiest (and most productive) relationship with writing tent to know when to stop trying to find this flow state. They don’t push themselves when they can’t achieve the ‘headspace’ they need. Typically, they take a break to go and do something else rather than straining every sinew to write.”
They create accountability: “The most productive scholars used some kind of accountability system to help them write – although these systems were all very different.” Some work solo but have formal partnerships with colleagues (exchanging drafts, for example). Others collaborate: the personal commitment of writing with someone else gives them the motivational push to keep moving forward.
They use short deadlines to tackle big projects: “Prolific academics have learned how to structure their writing processes to avoid being overfaced by large writing projects. Most of often, they do this by using a ‘small-steps’ methodology” that employs short deadlines. Sometimes they split a big task into smaller chunks, approaching it chapter by chapter, or they ease themselves into large writing projects by completing small ones first.
They “write their way”out of blocks: “Scholars find starting new projects the toughest part of the writing process…Many say they get stuck in the chasm between one project ending and another beginning. At this point, productive academics tend to ‘write their way’ out of their blocks and deliberately take on a series of small projects to keep the momentum going.” Many of those interviewed using ‘freewriting’ to loosen up.
May these pointers give your own work a boost as we all write on!
* “Six academic writing habits that will boost productivity” originally appeared in the LSE Impact Blog sponsored by the London School of Economics.