What follows is a series of chunks from a paper I wrote for a class. If you’re my boss or co-worker (or mom), please don’t tell anybody my secret identity :-)
The paper is about a topic near and dear to us here on this blog: how to be a more productive writer.
These sections are mostly unedited [they could use it but this is a blog post], but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).
In part 1 I talked about what ‘writer’s block’ might be. In part 2, I discuss its opposite. It’s behind the cut (for length).
How to write productively, according to research
A group labeled “Quick Starters” in Boice’s research exemplifies the opposite of blocking and apprehension (Boice, 1990). In studies of faculty writers, Quick Starters write from early in their first year on the job, not letting writing up their research be preempted by teaching and service work. They write throughout the school year, no matter their teaching load. On the other hand, Tschannen-Moran and Nestor-Baker’s (2004) interviews of productive faculty scholars revealed that some were successfully able to delay writing until the summer break and still be productive; these faculty also did not put significant emphasis on quiet rooms, although they did mention that having set schedules was often necessary.
Across literatures, productive writers seek advice from colleagues about their ideas and their writing early and often; they collaborate (Boice, 1990; Fox & Mohapatra, 2007; Martínez, Floyd, & Erichsen, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & Nestor-Baker, 2004). Quick starters experience the same anxiety and dysphoria about writing as other faculty, but in lower, less intense quantities (Hartley & Knapper, 1984). They also find solutions to keep their writing moving despite non-ideal circumstances, and are in excellent position when they come up for tenure (Boice, 1990, 1995). They have the same amount of time and same number of commitments as other faculty in comparable roles (Boice & Jones, 1984). In general, high-achieving and professional writers experience struggles and problems in writing like blocked writers do, but they find effective ways to tolerate, prevent, and work around these potential blocks (Hartley & Knapper, 1984; Kellogg, 2006; Onwuegbuzie, 1997; Tschannen-Moran & Nestor-Baker, 2004).
In Kellogg’s (1986) survey of experienced and successful academic scientists, he found that the mean number of articles produced by this group was 2.36 articles per year, plus grant applications and various reports. This admirable productivity level was uncorrelated with years of experience. Hartley and Knapper (1984) found a lower level of output among a wider variety of faculty, with a modal output of about 1 article per year. However, in a sample of psychologists specifically selected for productivity, the mean was 2.54 articles per year (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989). The typical productive writer in Kellogg’s study used written outlines, had secretarial support, exercised, wrote in 1- to 2-hour sessions in the morning, drank coffee during writing, and wrote in a quiet office (at home or on campus). Hartley and Knapper’s (1984) participants also emphasized the need for uninterrupted quiet time, secretarial support, and collaboration with colleagues (similarly, productive writers in Rennie & Brewer’s (1987) study and Martínez and colleagues’ (2011) study were successful in getting social support when needed). In neither study did the authors state the gender makeup of participants, but it is likely that the samples were largely male. Kellogg’s (1986) regression analyses revealed that only selecting a quiet place to work had significant positive influence on productivity. Other factors correlated with this choice did not have independent effects, although written outlines were useful (Kellogg, 1986). Ease of selecting a quiet place to work (Virginia Woolf’s proverbial “room of one’s own”) is affected by institutional factors, but it is a relatively easy suggestion to make to writers who are stuck.
Additional suggestions for productivity from the most well-published faculty include specific scheduling strategies, and the strategic use of deadlines and accountability (Martínez et al., 2011; Tschannen-Moran & Nestor-Baker, 2004). In subsequent studies, Hartley and colleagues specifically focused on prolific psychologists and examined writing habits by product: book, chapter, or paper (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989). They determined that their participants each produced about 2.33 published papers per year, but with an extremely wide range. Some published no papers (instead writing books, chapters, and reviews) while others published two dozen papers per year (one assumes they were mostly in collaboration). Productive academic writers in psychology set goals for themselves, wrote multiple drafts (averaging 2 or 3), and believed that writing was important to them. In contrast to other studies, these participants reported “rarely” collaborating with colleagues, although the amount and type of collaboration is not specified. In common with other research, participants stressed the importance of regular work sessions in a quiet room, usually an office, lasting about an hour on average (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989). Many of these writers would be what Boice calls “Quick Starters”. Note that the sample of productive writers contained only 9 women versus 53 men. The most commonly cited impediment to productivity, across all participants, was having too many other things to do. The most enthusiastic and least anxious writers were also the most productive (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989).
Is there any way you could apply some of these tactics in your life?