Professional writers often describe writing as a habit. You show up. You write. You show up. You write. Every working day. For most people, including researchers and academics, getting into the writing habit is problematic, usually because of other demands.
In recent years, initiatives such as acwrimo and shut up and write Tuesdays, have helped legitimize and support writing, effectively raising its profile as an activity that is (or should be) at least as important in academic life as teaching and supporting students. Yet, many academics still feel they need longer periods than they can usually commit to during term-time to make worthwhile progress on writing projects, hence these are put off until the summer months or winter holidays, when teaching and administrative duties are lighter.
So, would it surprise you that even some professional writers can struggle to fit long-term writing projects into their schedules? ‘One day I woke up and realized that I desperately needed my life back,’ wrote one freelance writer, recently (Waterman, 2016). ‘With careful planning I managed to squeeze what had been a full-time workload into two days per week, leaving the rest of the week to… work on long-term creative writing projects. How? By learning to work with greater concentration and to protect myself from interruptions.’
We’ve written about focus and its part in increasing productivity elsewhere, but here are some more top tips from professional writers for making the most of your writing time:
1. Do your creative work when you are at your most creative.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it, providing you know when your most creative periods are. If you don’t, try writing at different times during the day and keep a success log (like this one) to find out what works best for you.
2. Know what you want to achieve before you start
Every writing session should have a goal. What’s yours? A target number of words? To draft a specific section of a journal article, e.g. the Methods section?
3. Have all the information you need to hand before you start
Don’t waste time looking for stuff. Looking for information is not writing.
4. Know your next step
When you’re done with the session, leave a note to yourself with your next step, so you’ll know where to pick up next time.
5. If you don’t hit your target, figure out why
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit your writing target for the day. Better to work out why. If the target was too high, try lowering the word count for next time. Another great reason to keep a success log.
6. Exercise every day
Writing is tough on the body, even if you have a standing desk. Your brain relies on your body to keep it healthy. Seriously. You don’t have to go mad in the gym. A 15-minute walk in the fresh air each day can be enough, just get moving.
7. Reward yourself when the task is done
Be kind to yourself. Everyone deserves a small treat or reward when the task is done. Maybe you just have to think differently about the reward. One writer’s reward may be another’s ‘distraction’ – a few minutes on Facebook or watching an episode of something you missed on TV. The point is to do it after you’ve achieved your goal, not before.
That’s what really sets professional writers apart from aspiring ones: their attitude to the task.
Like I said, professional writers often describe writing as a habit. Nobody said it had to be a chore.
References and resources
Waterman, Wanda (2016) New Magazines can Mean Long-Term Writing Gigs and 7 Other tips for Freelance Writing Success. http://writersweekly.com/this-weeks-article/new-magazines-can-mean-long-term-writing-gigs-and-7-other-tips-for-freelance-writing-success-by-wanda-waterman