Sunday, January 8, 2012

Want to Become a Prolific Scholar? Try Daily Writing!

Daily writing is the best way to ensure consistent and amazing productivity.

Are you waiting for a 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 or the break 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. This group was based on the Clockwork Muse theory - the idea that if you write on a regular basis, your muse will show up each time you sit down to write.

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, show up to your writing session, and keep track of when you do and do not write.

This week, I suggest you try this method of becoming a prolific writer by scheduling in 15 to 120 minutes of writing in each weekday, and keeping track of how much you write each day.

I look forward to hearing how this strategy works for you.


  1. And what was their work load? their committee load? their service load? All things being equal, I teach 300 1-2 year students each term, often it can go up to 400 students (4-4 load)-- including having them write required posts twice a week and it takes me 8 hours to grade them each day; am on 3 major committees and 2 minor ones; 3 of which meet every week; my husband also is a professor but in a very different field whose load is no more than 48 students per term. I get about 40 emails a day just from students; about 70 overall each day, which require answering. This is life in a teaching-oriented school. Oh -- and no graduate assistants, no teaching assistants, no anything to help. So just when should I write every day? I do write -- have over 30 published articles and 3 books -- but as a spurt/break writer only. This mantra of 'write every day' bugs me. If one teaches a lot less and doesn't have a lot of grading -- sure, sounds wonderful. But that's not reality for a lot of us.

  2. That is amazing you have been able to publish so much by writing only when you are on a break from teaching. I have a senior colleague at the R1 where I work who has published several very prominent books who only writes during the summer. So, yes, spurt/break writing works for some. There are two caveats here: 1) Many people plan to write when they are on "break," but arrive at their break period so burned out from teaching that break comes and goes without them writing anything. and 2) When you are at a teaching institution, and most of your evaluation derives from teaching, it makes sense to dedicate most of your time to that. When you are at a research institution, and most of your evaluation comes from research, you have to be very careful and make sure you are dedicating adequate time to research.

    Thanks for your feedback.

  3. Spurt/break writing works if you are a good/skilled enough writer to write consistently during those spurts and breaks.

    What isn't clear to me is the need to call writing "forced" or to take Boice's punitive attitude. I would have said writing every day was just part of working - but then I went into this because I like research and writing, which from what I now gather is not as much the case for most faculty as I once thought.

    (Latest example: my father, who retired from an R1 as a Full, just looked at me in amazement when I explained why I like and also need to go to good bookstores and top libraries to browse in person through the lastest issues of journals.)

  4. Profacero: You are right that many faculty find writing tortuous. They do it because they like having written, just not the actual process of writing.

    I do enjoy writing as well, but had to cultivate the habit of writing every day. In my case, I never hated writing, never had a writer's block, but experienced a surge in productivity once I began to consciously write every day.

  5. Thank you for this inspiring post. As a graduate student moving into the dissertation mode, this advice comes at a crucial time. I'll let friends know about your post.

  6. I'm for the every day thing because if not, one separates too much from projects.