Writing is a core activity for academics. Writing, as far as I’m concerned, encompasses anything that moves your projects forward. I advocate establishing a writing practice, while making writing a priority when you plan the rest of your schedule.
Finding and protecting time for writing, especially during the parts of the year when you are teaching, is difficult. It may be helpful to consider the different kinds of time available.
- What kinds of writing can you do in different kinds of time?
- How can you make more effective use of all 3 types of writing time?
A full day of writing might only be 4 hours of writing time (6 is probably the maximum) because of how much energy that kind of intellectual engagement takes. But these are days when you wake up in the morning and say “This is a writing day.” and organize your activities with that in mind. Maybe you need a bit of warm-up before you can dive into your writing and do some other activities first to get your brain warmed up. Or maybe you start with writing, and only do other things after you’ve done at least 4 hours (with appropriate breaks for food, exercise, and maybe a nap).
This kind of time enables you to really immerse yourself in your writing, going deeper with your thoughts and possibly even losing track of time. (Keep snacks on your desk if you tend to lose track of time.) It is easier to find this kind of time during the summer and other breaks from teaching, but some people also find a way to have a research day pretty regularly during term. You may string a few of these together and go away somewhere for a retreat, either alone or with others. The change of venue can emphasise the degree of focus on writing.
In longer periods, I’m thinking of A Meeting With Your Writing and other chunks of time from about 60 minutes to 2 hours or so. Your day has other things in it (like teaching, or meetings) but you still get a significant chunk of time to devote to your writing. You can get into flow but need an alarm to keep you from losing track of time. (The alarm will also allow you to get into flow. Without it, your brain my stay on the alert for your end time.) If you attend MWYW, your notes from the end of the sessions will help you get a better sense of what you can do in this length of time, which will allow you to improve your goal setting and planning.
This kind of time is easier to find during busier teaching terms or if you are fitting research in around other kinds of work or caring responsibilities. Blocking it in your calendar is important. You may also use dedicated space, write in a group (virtually or in person), or find other ways to minimize distractions and interruptions. Even one session a week will result in a significant amount of writing.
Short snatches of time
10 to 30 minute chunks of time are a lot easier to find no matter what your circumstances. You can plan for them as a minimum engagement with your writing on busy days. You can also grab them when they appear. They may be indeterminate lengths of time in which you need to be interruptible. You can’t do lots. You won’t get into flow. But you can do something. These short snatches of time add up so even though any one of them seems kind of pointless, if you commit to using them, you may find that you get a lot more done overall.
This kind of time is everywhere, if you have a smartphone or keep a notebook with you at all times. You can easily find 15 minutes every morning before you go into the office, or grab 15 minutes at lunch time. I created the 15 minute/day academic writing challenge so you could figure out how to use these. My friend Raul Pacheco-Vega has a good post about his Everything Notebook that might help you imagine how to use a paper notebook. Or even Evernote to organize short bits of digital writing.
Perhaps more important than moving your writing and research projects forward in tiny increments, using these very small snatches of time will keep you engaged with your project. When your longer writing periods are infrequent, you spend considerable energy (and time) getting back into the project, reducing the amount of time available to be in flow and advancing the project.
Imagine if you got into things quickly and could spend most of your 90 minutes in flow? 15 minutes a day could make that happen.
What does this mean for you?
How does this way of conceptualizing writing time shift your thinking about writing in term time?
How are you already incorporating these different kinds of time in your semester plans?
What is the simplest way you could adjust your plans in light of these ideas?
Based on the principles discussed here, I have written a Short Guide to Finding Time for Scholarly Writing. This short book delves deeper into how to juggle your schedule and find lots of different kinds of writing time in your daily life.
It is part of my Short Guide Series on common problems for academics.
Writing Regularly — Matching time and task by Pat Thomson
Also investigate posts in the 15 minute category
This post was originally published in the 18 August 2017 newsletter for members of the Academic Writing Studio. It has been lightly edited.