Boice for kids!

Ok, not really.  By “kids” I mean 24-year-olds.

(If you are my student, why are you Googling this?  Stop it and go back to work on your paper!) (Also, please don’t tell anybody my secret identity.  Thanks.)

Everyone else is doing writing these days!  Once more I attempt to incorporate writing into my content course for juniors and seniors in the major.  For them I am summarizing a lot of work by Robert Boice, author of the amazingly useful Professors As Writers. But, most of the stuff here in this post comes from his other book, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency (1994).  I just couldn’t find a link to the other one, it’s hard to get ahold of.  It’s worth it, though, because it has more details than Professors as Writers, and it has particularly useful bits (almost half the book!) about how to get motivation and ideas, and how to answer your own objections to implementing a writing schedule.  Some of this stuff is new to both #1 and #2 so I’m plopping my notes here, just in case anyone else wants to know. [Editorial comments in brackets.]

These are really my own notes, so most are not in comprehensible sentence-form, sorry.  Also, remember not to plagiarize.  Personally, we find Boice inspiring, and we hope you do too.  (Although if you are a student for whom this looks very familiar, note that this post may have totally been plagiarized from your own professor… you just can’t tell on the internet.  Or it could be great minds thinking alike.)


First, an example of my own freewriting when stuck [I show this to students after they have already taken a version of Boice’s blocking questionnaire, and have tried freewriting at least once themselves.]

Getting over some problems:
(Boice, 2000)

Start:
Before you are ready
– Informal outlines
– Talk aloud, freewrite
Keep going: contingencies
– Go back to freewriting if necessary
Finish: revisions (not today) [I don’t talk about revision until later, because I don’t want to distract the students from producing a first draft]

Starting before you are ready is hard for impatient people but will help them avoid doing it all at once.  It will help procrastinators and challenge perfectionists.  Informal outlines or talking will help perfectionists.

How To Get Motivation:

Boice (1994, p. 22) summarizing Murray:
1.  “[B]ecome an avid collector of details, facts, thoughts, anything including references.”
2.  “With immersion in a subject, the next step, wanting to order & organize the information, comes naturally.”
3.  “…realization emerges that much of what has been collected & clarified is unknown to others…”
4.  “Finally, after rehearsing the material in their minds, writers impose a plan & a schedule….”

A pep-talk:

“Motivation and inspiration follow, not precede, the practice of regular, accumulated work…”  (Boice, 1994, p. 19)
Writing can be conceptualized as problem-solving task.  To solve a problem, you have to try stuff.
The anticipation of pain is often worse than actually experiencing it.
BRIEF DAILY SESSIONS (not huge blocks)

Getting Ideas

Where do you get your ideas?
“There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ‘em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.”   –Harlan Ellison [#2 likes saying Schenectady]

Boice book 1994, pp. 54 – 57: steps to get ideas from taking notes (presented here in much-reduced and adapted form)
(This also leads very naturally to a useful outline that won’t feel too rigid.)

If you know experts in the field, ask them where to start.

1.  As you read, ask how it can help your writing. How do your thoughts fit in with the conversation?
2.  Take notes.
3.  Go back through notes and write comments to yourself.  Have a conversation with yourself and author.  Agree, disagree, expand, argue.
4.  Set limits.  (E.g., <20 minutes per article, ≤1 page of notes per article)
5.  Carry your notes with you.  Pull them out when you have 10 minutes.  Continue conversation.
6.  Organize sources in different ways.  Arrange by topic, methodology, etc.
7.  Turn all notes into 1 page that integrates them.  Agree/disagree, tell a story, note gaps. Congratulations, you made an outline!
8.  Start turning notes into prose.  Don’t try to read every article ever.  Start writing before you feel ready.
— It can be informal.  “And then I will say the part about how XYZ…”
— explain it to someone or talk out loud

Now your outline won’t feel too stiff and you won’t ignore it or hate it.  This will actually make the writing of the paper go faster and easier, really!

*** Outline is a PROCESS, not a THING, and it needs to take place in brief daily sessions.  ***

Stimulus Control: Environment

Teach yourself that THIS LOCATION is for WORK ONLY [#2 really needs to work on this]
Minimize distraction: quiet, headphones
No interruptions: turn off phone, twitter, email pop-ups, close the door
Arrange objects for comfort & convenience
Office supplies
Don’t get lost in environmental tweaking
Use social control

Stimulus Control: Habits

Write every day (but don’t shut out family, sleep, exercise, etc.)
No time?  Do a time audit
Write when your brain is fresh
(Pre-) Write in small, frequent amounts
— Warmup time for each session increases with time since leaving project
Plan for next session at end
Keep a chart: time in, time out, work finished
Making work visible; accountability

Structures Do Not  Impede Creativity

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
–W. Wordsworth

The muse works for you!

Contingency strength is important: get you to write, but not to hate it
Binge writing results in fewer total pages over time, and more misery
Social contingencies: appointments


Once again, these are my own notes, summarized from other authors and a variety of sources. Please don’t copy them.  I also show my students part of this video by Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird I deeply love:

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17 Responses to “Boice for kids!”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    You know, I think blogging is one of the most enabling tools for writers because you can post in bite sized chunks which is less intimidating than writing a 500 page novel. I always wanted to write a book but I knew I had to prove myself in some other way first and blogging has been just the ticket. Online media is a revolution in arts in general. Suddenly anyone can be a recording artist or author. Yes, you may be a needle in a haystack, but more and more artists are building their own brand through organic growth by building a following slowly and steadily. It’s really been amazing and interesting to see how it can lead to success when done well. People no longer have to cater to the big publishers and producers.

    Okay, it’s a bit off topic, but I really do enjoy the creative outlet the the internet has brought to the world like etsy and stuff.

  2. Kingston Says:

    I just spent an entire hour watching the Anne Lamott video and all I can say is, that is one inspiring interview. I am going to let it be today’s nourishing neckbone, especially since I have to finish a composition — in my crappy, barely-functional but beloved French — this morning.

    Also, Boice’s approach to writing sounds very humane. I appreciate and find to be true the idea that organizing information (i.e., creating an outline) is a process that your brain actually wants to undertake and sort of does on its own.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I <3 Anne Lamott.
      Boice has actually been a practicing psychotherapist, and I *think* he specialized in anxiety before he got specifically into writing (I didn't look up very much about him). But his books are very encouraging and he writes about being kind to yourself while being productive.

  3. becca Says:

    That video is really very lovely. I particularly like the bit about real people who will bring you cake and tell you stories.

  4. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I need to make time to watch the video. Writing has been on my mind lately. Especially since every Tuesday and Thursday as I sit in class watching my professor, I keep thinking, “I could totally do your job.” That train of thought is NOT helpful right now. I think I’ll do NaNoWriMo because I need to beat myself away from the whole Ph.D. in English thing.
    A lot of the stuff in here reminds me of Stephen King’s writing advice too.

  5. Mom2boy Says:

    I like #5 and #6. #5 reminds me of the way I think I’d be if I ever gave getting serious about becoming a good/real writer. And why I’m not.
    #6 is the part that confounds me when trying to come up with ideas for some new way to present some old idea or a new idea out of mountains of old ideas. Hard hard hard.

  6. NoTrustFund Says:

    I need to watch this video. And continue reading Bird by Bird, which is on my night stand right now.

    I considered doing NaNoWriMo last time I was on maternity leave but then decided I just wanted to focus on my babe. Maybe this year!?

  7. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    It’s really important to recognize that different people write differently, and Boice’s ideas don’t work for everyone. For example, some people have *more* trouble writing fluently when they make writing into a “special” task” that is supposed to be engaged in a work-only environment at special devoted times of day under conditions of special avoidance of distractions. I do my best, most fluent and productive, writing when I have a bunch of different windows open on my computer, and I zip back and forth between the Internet, e-mail, blogs, and my “real” writing task, and only lay down “real” writing on the page in spurts of a sentence or two.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      He says a lot of people he did his experiments on say that, but in reality they end up producing more using his methods. But hey, your career is going fine and you probably don’t need to produce any more.

  8. Small change is ok | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] than waiting for the perfect time or inspiration, and sometimes it leads to an entire paragraph.  Boice is all about this with his daily sessions.  15 min of writing is better than none and leads to greater […]


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