Part 3 of Writing Productivity Series (prevalence)

Here are the first parts of the series: Part 1, Part 2Part 4 is next.

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, but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).


Text behind the cut.

Prevalence and Consequences of Blocking

Any examination of writer’s block or writing apprehension will reveal that it can cripple productivity at all stages, from beginning writers to professional novelists.  One study found that nearly 42% of surveyed graduate students “nearly always or always” engaged in significant procrastination on major writing projects such as term papers (Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2001).  In another study of graduate students writing their first major research proposal (similar in format to a dissertation), almost every one of the students reported struggling (Onwuegbuzie, 1997).  The consequences of writing apprehension and procrastination behavior include stress symptoms such as lack of sleep, worry, anxiety, panic, anger, and guilt, as well as less-efficient, lower-quality writing (Onwuegbuzie, 1997).  Anxiety about composition significantly lowers the effectiveness of up to 20% of writers (Onwuegbuzie, 1997), although Boice finds much higher numbers.

In studies of new faculty beginning tenure-track positions, Boice (1995, p. 417) has found that “over 80 percent of new hires” experience significant difficulty in maintaining sufficient writing productivity to meet standards for retention, tenure, and promotion.  These faculty often try to delay writing until summer, with the consequence that they do not have sufficient output after their probationary period, and are in danger of losing their jobs (Boice, 1995; Valian, 1985).  Studies in the Australian academic system confirm the often-reported result that most academic publishing comes from a relatively small percentage of faculty, and that very large numbers of faculty publish at a rate of less than 1 article per 2-3 years (McGrail, Rickard, & Jones, 2006), which is generally insufficient to earn tenure in the U.S.

One of the very few approaches to address prevention (as opposed to treatment) for writer’s block is outlined by Huston (1998).  Huston points out that it is possible to prevent this situation by using many of the techniques advocated by Boice.  For example, Huston recommends beginning to write very early in the project design process and involving social support, both of which are strong components of Boice’s (1990) system (Huston, 1998).  In addition to prevention, Boice’s work also addresses how to use behavioral and contingency management techniques for relapse prevention and maintenance.

Next up: treatment!  What kinds of help would you like to see, Grumpeteers?

11 Responses to “Part 3 of Writing Productivity Series (prevalence)”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    In college, I massively benefited from study groups on these kinds of isolated tasks. My study partners were at a different universities and in completely different majors. (They were humanities and I was engineering). We would trade off which campus library was used (there were 7 uni’s in my town) and sometimes just a change of scenery was helpful to get out of a rut. We would hold each other accountable for whatever task we set out to achieve. Even though I was in engineering, I still had had project work that required thesis like writing.

    What’s odd is that I didn’t have too many study groups within my ChE peer group unless we were working on a project together. It worked well for my husband, but with me, it seemed like our class was very spread out In terms of ability. We had some kids that went to great high schools and just coasted through the first 2 years and then folks like me who were playing catch up from my crappy catholic school experience. By senior year, those of us who were left were a more normalized group but by then there were lots of projects so we were working a lot together.

    With regards to next topics, Here are some:

    How do you keep yourself motivated at work when you have downshifted your career for personal reasons?

    What questions to ask yourself about when the right time is to quit a job you hate? Or relationship with a toxic family member, spouse?

    What healthy habits were easy to implement?

    What do you do to maintain your individuality when you become a parent? (Probably easier for moms with careers)

    How do you determine If you are over or underscheduling your kids.

    • First Gen American Says:

      I will add that I am in a very self directed job right now and I have adopted a similar thing where I will have calls with a peer not on my team but in a similar job and we will share goals on a biweekly basis. Having an accountability partner has helped me at work too.

  2. Mimi Says:

    Based on our reading of Boice and others, a group of my academic friends and I started an online writing group where we post weekly (and semester long) goals and swap writing every week. It has worked really well, particularly because we are all in a similar sub-discipline and most of us are the only people who study this thing at our universities. So, in addition to the writing and goal setting help, we also get substantive feedback along the way. People can participate as much (like every week) or as little (once a semester or only during teaching breaks for those at LACs) as they would like.

  3. chacha1 Says:

    I have never worked well in groups, whether in academia or in the actual workplace, because of that “one person does all the work while the rest of the ‘team’ loafs” phenomenon. One or two experiences with that was enough to put me off it for all time.

    When I was working on my master’s thesis, I used the index card system, which as a very visual person worked well for me. I would check out a few of the books on my list, go through them, take my notes on the cards, update my bibliography, and then move on to the next batch. I would read each book using blank cards to mark the sections that I meant to cite – then go back and actually do the notes. So I handled each secondary source twice, which gave me an opportunity to refine my selection of material for my draft.

    Because I did my paraphrasing and personal notes along the way, each index card basically became a block of text to be simply transcribed into the draft thesis. My base texts were novels, and I just bought copies of those because I had to paw through them over and over again. I still used cards, rather than highlighting or sticky notes, both because I don’t like to deface books and because the card procedure was so congenial with the secondary sources.

    And the point of the above is that there was very little actual *writing,* in the sense of composition, required until all of the notes were compiled and my through-argument had to be smoothed out. Using the note cards as building blocks meant that I caught very early a preconception that wasn’t supported, and was able to jettison that and develop the conclusion that the research actually led to.

    The note-taking process, essential because every point needed to be supported by multiple cites, only involved reading and analysis – no composition. And it was easily taken up and put back down again according to my work schedule. So there was very little sense of pressure or disorganization or doom, because by the time I was actually composing my introduction and conclusion, the bulk of the draft was already built.

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    I am probably not the audience for this post, but will drop by $0.02 anyway.
    I have never had problems writing, my main problem is digging myself from the mountain of other shit to be able to find at least 30 uninterrupted minutes to put some words on paper. Anything less than 30 min is pointless because I have a number of different projects going on at the same time and getting started requires a little bit of rereading and remembering where I am/where students and I are on that particular paper, and then actually writing something.

    I think I will need to start faking that I am working on proposals. Those are magic words which, when spoken, make people leave me alone and not begrudge being blown off.

  5. Part 4 of writing series: Hope | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Here are the other parts of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. […]

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