Are you hoping to be a more productive writer in 2012? Let’s review what you must do.

(1)  Write every day.

(2)  Commit to writing at least 90 minutes each day. (Write for 15 minutes if you think you have no time so you don’t miss a day and continuity.)

(3)  Write without taking a break. After 1½ to 2 hours, allow yourself to take a break from writing – switch to a non-writing task that moves your project forward (such as reading, looking up citations, reviewing notes, or editing what you have written) or switch to an unrelated task. But write for a minimum of 90 minutes before you get up from your chair.

(4)  You will be more productive if you write the first thing in the morning. Even if you consider yourself a night person rather than a morning person, you will be more productive writing in the morning. (I’m not talking about ease or absence of pain…I’m referring to productivity.) Write for 90 minutes each morning and get it over with. There is less probability you will miss a day of writing if you schedule it earlier in the day. (If you insist you write better at night, then write again in the evening.)

(5)  Once you have overcome the fear and anxiety that keeps you from even beginning to write…once you are writing every day during the semester break, you will have made writing a habit. You can then make a schedule for writing once the semester starts. Some people consider writing their dissertation or thesis to be a job – something they must do Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off. Others find that two consecutive days away from writing makes it hard to get back to productive writing. So choose one day a week – your Sabbath, a day for family time, etc – and take a break from writing for that one day. 

(6)  If you had writing goals for this semester break but if you have not started writing yet, please resolve to start writing tomorrow, and write each remaining day of the break. If you are too anxious to start writing, then you must actively work to overcome this fear. Use motivation strategies. Develop accountability methods. Join a writing community or support group. (Tips for all three are shared in subsequent postings.) Talk to someone at your campus Writing Center or Counseling Center. (Columbia University’s Psychological Services has two wonderful resources – the Procrastination 101 workshop series and a WorkBlock workshop for graduate students – and the graduate school sponsors Dissertation Writing Boot Camps.) Use your campus services designed to help you overcome the barriers to writing.

(7)  The next few BreakWriting columns will move beyond the write-every-day theme to focus on other ways to become a more productive writer. Here’s one suggestion now: There are two working lists you need for writing: Before you start writing each day, make a list that includes everything you must do after your writing time is over. Get it on the list and don’t think about these things while you are writing. Allen (2003) emphasizes the importance of making this list, in writing, no mental lists, when he points out the inefficiency of psychic RAM. “Your head is probably not the best place to keep something in a trustworthy fashion…Left only in the mind, these self-commitments create infinite loops that make no progress and produce inner conflicts and stress. As soon as you make any sort of commitment with yourself, not completed in the moment, your mind will demand and take psychic energy until it is resolved. ‘I need milk’ and ‘I need to decide whether to buy this company’ both tie up space in psychic RAM” (p. 27), he preaches to corporate executives. In our case, our memory is filled with “prepare section discussion questions, e-mail advisor to schedule meeting, get departmental nomination form signed for Mellon post-doc application, complete progress report by March 15 deadline or the associate dean will send annoying reminders.”  If while you are writing, a distracting thought of what you need to do later arises, take a few seconds to add it to your list, then stop thinking about it until you are finished writing.  And there’s a second list you should make: If while you are writing you think of some related but non-writing task, put it on a list: “Check accuracy of Silverman reference, find Noffke article, locate more methodological citations, rewrite intro to chapter two, consider changing transition at critical juncture on page 25 in chapter four.” Why make such a list about your writing? Because your writing time should be just that. Keep writing. After your 90 minutes are done, then you can move to non-writing tasks related to your project. You will produce more writing with this method.  

Have you written yet today? (Happy New Year to you.)

Allen, D. (2003). Ready for anything: 52 productivity principles for work and life. New York: Penguin Books

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Some of the information in the BreakWriting postings is drawn from previously published work, and I have tried to properly attribute the ideas and work of others. If I fail to do so, please tell me so I can clarify and correct (Graduate Mentor).