Thursday, April 7, 2011

Forced Creativity? Why Daily Writing Works

Are you waiting for that strike of inspiration for you to write? Do you keep reading and thinking, hoping that the muse will visit you, and when she does, that you will produce pages and pages of prose? Or, do you wait until the weekend to write, with the idea that you will have long blocks of uninterrupted time? If any of those questions resonate with you, you are not alone. Many writers think that they write best when they are inspired.

The truth is that inspiration is most likely to come when you sit down and begin to write.


A study by Robert Boice, reported in his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, provides concrete evidence for two concepts: 1) writing daily produces more writing and more ideas and 2) writing accountability works.

The Test: Does Writing Accountability Work?

To find out if daily writing and accountability can be effective, Robert Boice conducted a test with 27 faculty members who desired help with improving their writing productivity. He put the 27 faculty into three groups and examined their writing productivity for ten weeks.

The first group was instructed to write only if they had to write, but asked to keep a log of creative ideas for writing. The idea behind this group was that planned abstinence would lead to the production of creative ideas for writing when the time came.

The second group scheduled writing sessions five days a week for ten weeks, but was encouraged to write only when they were in the mood. They also were asked to take the time they had scheduled for writing to log a new creative idea for writing each day. The idea behind this group was that writing only when they were in the mood would be favorable for creativity.

The third group agreed to a strict accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for ten weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas for writing. To ensure that they would write every day, the members of this group gave Boice a pre-paid check for $25, made out to a hated organization. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would mail the check. The idea behind this group was that forced writing would require the group to come up with creative ideas for writing.

The Results: Daily Writing and Accountability Work

Boice’s study revealed:

  • Abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages per day, and only one idea per week.
  • Spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages per day, and one creative idea every two days.
  • Forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages and one creative idea each day.

These results show that, contrary to what one might think, creativity can be forced. Sitting down and making yourself write every day is a great way to make those creative juices flow.

How to Write Every Day

The lesson here for writers is to not wait until you feel like writing to write – as that might not happen very often – but to schedule your writing every day, and to show up to your writing session.

If you have already tried scheduling your writing and it has not worked, then it is time to think about what accountability mechanisms might work for you.

Here is a list of ideas for accountability:

Free options:

  • Find a writing buddy with whom you meet to write. Agree with each other that when you meet, you will share your goal for the day, but then get down to business and write.
  • Find a phone buddy and agree to call one another at the beginning and end of your writing times.
  • Post your writing goals – for the day and/or the week on Daily Writing Updates – my Facebook group.
  • Create an accountability group where four colleagues get together at the beginning or end of the week for an hour. Each person has fifteen minutes to say: What their goals were for the past week, whether or not they accomplished them, and what their goals are for the next week. Most people will not show up week after week to report that they did not write.

Paid Options:

  • Gina Hiatt’s Academic Writing Club: The Academic Writing Club is an easily-accessible, interactive and supportive online community of experts and colleagues that provides much that is traditionally missing in the typical academic environment.
  • Become a Community Member at Kerry Ann Roquemore's National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Community Members receive the weekly Monday Motivator, access to 10 live tele-workshops (one per month) in 2011, access to our private moderated discussion forum, and access to our monthly writing challenges. The annual membership dues for a Community Membership are $120 for graduate students and post-docs, and $240 for faculty members.

I hope that you find the accountability mechanisms that work best for you!


  1. Hey Tanya, As always thanks for the sage advice!

  2. Excellent pieces. Keep posting such kind of information on your blog. I really impressed by your blog.

  3. There are regular writing sprints on Twitter. Look up #writingsprint hashtag. They go for half an hour or an hour or more. Everyone joins in and writes without any distractions. Helps to feel like you're less alone.

  4. I love this blog! Although I am tenured, I find it very challenging to write systematically during the semester. Manry Associate Professors are often stuck creatively after promotion and especially a disturbing number of women associate profs never get promoted. Having a family and a lot more administrative duties does not help either. Not that I don't appreciate the challenges a junior colleague is facing, they are great. But I guess I'm finding out that there are different challenges at every stage of one's career. So a heartfelt thank you!

  5. Lily: That is very true! I just received word I was promoted, and look forward to understanding first-hand the pressures we face on the other side of tenure.

    1. Congratulations!!!!!!! tenure is a wonderful thing. Hope you have many opportunities to enjoy and celebrate this great achievement!