In the previous column I encouraged you to commit to writing at least 90 minutes each day. Every day without fail…at least 90 minutes.

Here’s something else that can help you. Schedule your writing for the very first thing in the morning. You are more likely to write each day that way. Why is that? You are less likely to be interrupted early in the morning. Once the other, unexpected things that invariably will come up during the day start to happen, you will be comforted, less guilty and anxious, and at (some) peace knowing that you already have your writing done for the day. You will be less likely to wait to start writing until you have attended to all the other needs and demands on your time when you plan to write the first thing in the morning. (And this works even if you are not a morning person. Seriously. Try it for a week. Early morning writing, especially on your busiest days, works for all types of writers…and procrastinators.)

After you have begun to write every day during this semester break…after you have met your writing goals… after you’ve become more productive than you’ve ever been, it is likely that writing will become a habit for you. So I persist in advising you, even insisting, that you plan to write at least 90 minutes each day. Many of us as graduate students and as faculty find that we have very little control over our schedule. Something more urgent or more important regularly occurs at just the time we scheduled for writing. “Oh, well, there’s always the next time, the next day, the next scheduled writing period.” But we’ve lost a day of writing. We’ve lost continuity. We’ve lost the chance to generate the ideas that occur only when we actually write. But if you are writing every day, no matter what occurs, you know that before you finally call it a night, you MUST write for at least 90 minutes. If you get that 90 minutes done at 5:30 a.m., or noon, or 4:00 p.m., then great. You’re done. But if it’s midnight, and you haven’t written yet today, then no matter how exhausted you are, you must write. No excuses.

I am compelled to reveal that others take a slightly different approach. (I’ll read the advice books on writing…you just write.) They advise, instead of writing every day, that you set a regular writing schedule. Zerubavel (1999) suggests that you establish “a regular schedule that includes just forty-five minutes of writing every Tuesday and Friday morning, for example….By allotting to writing a specific (daily or weekly) time slot, a schedule ensures that you will indeed get to do it on a regular basis” (p. 5). Silvia (2007) suggests that you to make a schedule and stick to it. “The secret is the regularity, not the number of days or the number of hours” (p.13). You can write only on Fridays from 8 to 12. You can write each weekday at 9:00 p.m. But you must stick to your schedule.

However, if your regular writing schedule is every day, rather than once or twice or three times a week, you will be more productive (like writing enough to fill a 1-inch by 1-inch picture frame versus an 8 x 12 picture frame, suggested in the first posting). Single, in her book Demystifying Dissertation Writing (2010), explains one reason for this: “Warm-up time necessary to return to a problem increases exponentially with the time that has lapsed since you last worked on it” (p. 132). When your writing sessions occur more frequently, you return to productive writing sooner each time you start to write.

One problem with two- or three-times-a-week (non-daily) scheduled writing periods is that when we have missed too many, we try to make up the time by binge writing.  For example, if you schedule your writing for every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to noon, and you miss those three days – because of illness or travel or other important projects, you might decide to make up for missing those three writing periods by writing for six or more hours on Saturday. An upcoming column will focus on the dangers and ineffectiveness of binge writing, but for now, let me advise … don’t do it.

Silvia (2007) and I differ on one more issue related to a writing schedule: His regular writing period includes more than just writing: You can read, collect data, gather resource materials, organize or analyze data, etc. These are all essential tasks; all writing has necessary preliminary work. But in my personal experience and in working with hundreds of graduate students, my/our problem is not the preliminaries. We always manage to read one more article or make one more visit to the library or archives. Students in the empirical sciences always can do one more experiment or collect more data. (Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardner call these time-wasting afflictions experimentitis and readitis.) We can always spend (waste?) countless hours organizing our work.

The hard part is writing. Fingers to keyboard. Pen to paper. Getting our ideas from mental representation in our brain to actual representation as words on paper. So if you need to make a commitment to the preliminaries to writing, do so. But your writing time should be just that – writing. You must write every day for 90 minutes. Make this commitment to yourself and to completing your work. You can do it.

Have you written today yet?

Kearns, H., & Gardiner, M. (2006). Defeating self-sabotage: Getting your PhD finished. Flinders, Australia: Flinders Press.

Silvia, P. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Single, P. (2010). Demystifying dissertation writing. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishers.

Zerubavel, E. (1999). The clockwork muse: A practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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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).