Friday, September 5, 2014

On Writing: Sometimes Less Is More

I have published my first piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education's new site: Vitae. You can read it here and I have pasted the first few paragraphs below.

I recently organized a writing retreat in Yosemite National Park. When the participants learned that we would only be writing for two and a half hours each day, many were surprised. “Isn’t this a writing retreat?” they asked. “I am a slow writer, can I skip the afternoon activities so that I can get in more writing?”

I understood their frustration and surprise. It is normal to expect that the more hours you spend on a task, the more productive you will be. However, writing is different. I liken it to hauling stones: When you haul stones, you deplete your physical energy. When you write, you deplete your intellectual energy. Because each of us only has a limited amount of intellectual energy, it is not the case that the more hours you spend writing, the more productive you will be.

Your intellectual energy can be a bit delicate. If you run it to its bitter end each day, you will find that you have less and less. Have you ever spent an entire day working on a project only to find that the next day you are unable to move forward? Have you ever pushed yourself to the limit to meet a deadline and found yourself unable to be productive for the next week or longer? When that happens, it is because you have pushed your intellectual energy to the limit. You have hit a wall and need time to recover.

By limiting the amount of time you spend writing, you are protecting your intellectual energy and ensuring that it gets renewed daily. For that reason, I suggest that you can be most effective by spending one to four hours on your writing each day.

Of course, if you prefer, you can continue to overwork yourself and hit walls. However, wouldn’t it be better to figure out how much intellectual energy you can expend on a daily basis and stick to that? Wouldn’t it be better to wake up each day fresh and ready to move forward?

Then when you do sit down to write, you can completely focus on your work. And I mean completely. Turn off your phone, and step away from email, the Web, and social media. For most people, the best time to write is first thing in the morning--before checking email or Facebook. Try writing for at least an hour before looking at your email or social-media accounts.

Use a timer as you write to see how much time you are actually writing, as opposed to looking for distractions. Turn the timer off each time you are distracted by anything not directly related to your writing. (If you are not sure if you are actually writing or not, please see this list of 10 ways you can write every day.)

When you write first thing in the morning, and then stop writing for the rest of the day, your mind will continue to process thoughts related to your project. Take advantage of that. One of the best ways is to go for a walk alone and without any electronic devices. Use the time to process your thoughts. Think back on what you have written for the day and about what you will do the next day. You may be surprised about the revelations you have about your writing when you are not writing. You may even wish to take a notepad with you on these strolls.

Read the rest here.

And, if you are interested in that writing retreat I mention above, please see this website as there are still a few spots open for the next retreat - which will be in Hawaii.