Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Daily Writing: How Prolific Scholars Do It

I am most productive as a writer on days when I wake up before the crack of dawn and get an hour of writing in before everyone in the house is awake and and, most important, before checking email or social media. I know several highly productive academics – some of them chairs, deans, and provosts – who do the same thing. For people with administrative duties, that is often the only time they have to write.

You don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. to be a prolific scholar. You do have to write however. And nearly all of the prolific academics I have met are daily writers. Daily writing is one of the most important strategies I can recommend to boost your productivity. Theresa MacPhail calls daily writing a “no-fail secret to writing a dissertation.” That advice is just as crucial for new (and older) faculty.

It’s also backed up by research.

A study by Robert Boice, reported in his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing as well as in this article, provides concrete evidence that daily writing produces both more writing and more ideas. Boice conducted an experiment with 27 faculty members who wanted to improve their productivity. He divided them into three groups and examined their writing progress for 10 weeks.

Boice instructed Group No. 1 – the abstinent writersnot to schedule any writing sessions but to write only if they felt compelled to. He also asked them to keep a log of creative ideas to write about. The thought behind planned abstinence was that these writers would have a list of creative ideas ready when they finally did feel like writing. Result: The abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages a day and had one creative idea a week.

Boice told Group No. 2 – the spontaneous writers – to schedule writing sessions five days a week for 10 weeks, but encouraged them to write in those sessions only when they were in the mood. They also were asked to use part of the scheduled writing time each day to come up with a new idea to write about. Result: The spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages a day and one creative idea a week.

Group No. 3 – the forced writers – agreed to a strict accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for 10 weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas to write about. To ensure they would write every day, whether or not they felt like it, the members of this group each gave Boice a prepaid check for $25, made out to an organization they despised. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would mail the check. Result: The forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages a day and one creative idea each day.
I first heard about this study in 2006 from Kerry Ann Rockquemore. When I saw the results, I was convinced I wanted to be in Group No. 3. I have been a daily writer ever since, and recently submitted my fifth book manuscript for publication.

If you are not a daily writer, but are producing as much writing as you think you should, then there is no reason to change your habits. However, if you are unhappy with your productivity and would like to write more, my experience as well as the research show that daily writing is very likely to work for you. Here’s how.

Pull out your calendar and schedule writing sessions five or six days a week. Writing experts Patricia Goodson and Wendy Belcher both recommend that you start with 15 minutes a day if you have never tried daily writing before, or if you are overwhelmed with other tasks. Patricia Goodson recommends that you start with 15 minutes and increase your writing time by one minute each day until you reach your desired level.

If you are not sure what counts as daily writing, check out this list of 10 ways to write every day.

Nearly all writing experts agree that you should not schedule more than four hours for a writing session. My colleague Anthony Ocampo says that if you push yourself too far, you might get a “writing hangover.” If you have one day that you can dedicate to a long stretch of time for writing, you may want to schedule four hours for that day. On your busiest days, set aside at least 15 minutes – even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning.

Once a writing session is on your calendar, treat it like any other appointment. By that I mean show up for it and schedule your other obligations around it. If you have scheduled a writing session from 10:30 to 11 a.m., and a student emails to ask if she can come by at 10:30, tell her you already have an appointment at that time and to come instead at 11 a.m. It might seem odd at first to be making appointments with yourself, but, over time, you will get used to it. In fact the busier you are, the more crucial it is it schedule your writing time and stick to it.

Once you start writing every day, it becomes a habit. I will admit there are days I don’t get my writing done, but I notice it when I don’t. I notice it so much that I make sure to write the next day.

My preference is to write every morning from Monday to Friday for at least an hour, but usually for two. What about you? Are you already a daily writer? How long have you been at it, and has it made a difference in your productivity?

Re-posted from:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How Long Can You Rely on Your Dissertation Adviser?

As you wrote your dissertation and searched for your first faculty job, your dissertation adviser was (I hope) there for you. He read countless drafts of your chapters. She helped you get published. He wrote scores of letters on your behalf. She may have even made phone calls for you. Now that you’re no longer a doctoral student, your adviser still may be the person who knows you best.

But how long can you keep turning to the same person to write you a letter of recommendation?

There is no definitive answer to that question. The good news is you can probably rely on your adviser until you’ve developed a new network of recommenders who don’t see you, first and foremost, as their student. The bad news is, at some point after completing the Ph.D., you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone and cultivate a network of people -- beyond your former professors -- who can write letters on your behalf. The sooner you cultivate that network, the better. It doesn’t need to happen in your first year on the tenure track, but it should happen before you submit your tenure application.

So where do you find these letter-writers?

The first place to look is in your new department. Start by fostering a letter-writing relationship with the department chair, who likely will have to write something on your behalf at some point anyway.

Next look for a departmental colleague whose research interests are close to your own. Believe it or not, you also may end up writing letters for that person, too. So while you’re reaching out to that colleague for advice on your own work, familiarize yourself with his or her work, too. The more familiar you both are with each other’s work, the more useful your mutual feedback and letters of recommendation will be.

Finally, try to connect with a faculty member in your department who is particularly interested in pedagogy, so that person can write teaching-related letters on your behalf. Talk to each other about teaching. Ask for advice on how to succeed in your university’s teaching-evaluation process. In my previous position, for example, we were required to have peer reviews of our teaching each year and the person who conducted the review had to write a letter to the chair evaluating us in the classroom. By the time I went up for tenure, I had five of these letters to include in my tenure case.

You will need letters from colleagues for a variety of purposes, including internal grant competitions, teaching awards, and future job applications. So now is the time to think about who in your new department might write letters for you.

The second place to look for recommenders is within your field. If your institution requires external letters for tenure review, it’s in your interest to build a list of a dozen senior scholars who have a favorable opinion of your work. The very idea of approaching the bigwigs in your field sounds frightening to a junior scholar, but, trust me, you’ll need that list of names when you go up for tenure. Here’s why: Most institutions let you pick some of your external reviewers, so you’ll want to have a clear idea about whom to suggest.

Start making that list now. Take out a sheet of paper and write down the names of the 12 people you most admire in your field. Don’t contact all of them immediately. But do start thinking of ways to reach out to them over time.

Pick the one that seems most approachable and ask him or her to have coffee with you at the next conference. Send a copy of your latest publication to the one whose work you recently cited. When your department is discussing whom to invite to the next colloquium series, suggest someone on your list whose work you think has the broadest appeal. One of my most well-known letter-writers is a person my department invited to campus to deliver a public lecture. If you are organizing a panel at a major conference, ask one or two of these senior scholars to participate as a panelist, chair, or discussant. If you edit a special issue of a journal, invite them to contribute.

There are many ways to reach out to scholars in your field. Once you have done so and developed a relationship with them, you can ask them to write you a letter of recommendation -- for a job, for an award, or for a fellowship.

Start building these essential relationships now and, eventually, you will be able to stop asking your dissertation adviser to write you yet another letter.

- Originally posted at: