Five ways to double your weekly writing output

Photo credit: Readers By Night

Photo credit: Readers By Night

Until you challenge yourself to try these five writing strategies, you'll never know how much you really can write in a week. Treat yourself like a boot camper and implement all five strategies at once, or just  add one habit at a time until you reach your peak of productivity. 

1. Set a timer. You spend hours in front of the computer, supposedly writing. But how much of that screen time is actually spent putting words on the page, and how much is spent checking email, skimming the New York Times, or eating lukewarm Ramen noodles? This question occurred to me while I was writing my dissertation, so I challenged myself to write a full eight hours every single day. When I sat down in the morning to write, I set the timer on my phone. Then, every time I paused throughout the day, I would pause the timer. I was not allowed to stop working until that timer had counted eight full hours of solid writing. On a given day, I would take nine to twelve hours to reach my eight-hour goal, but it felt great to know that I was consistently producing pages.

2. Work in your ideal space. Some people concentrate best in a silent and empty room, while others thrive in noisier settings. Experiment until you discover your ideal work conditions: natural light or artificial? on campus or off? in solitude or with a writing buddy? Consider investing in ear plugs or a white noise app for those days when you need to tune out car alarms and less studious colleagues. 

3. Get off Facebook.  I know. But you can always get back on once this project is done. Once you've gone through withdrawal, I promise you won't even miss it. Another option is to convert your facebook identity into a bare-bones professional persona so that when you're on facebook, you remain in work mode. For a more work-oriented social network, try Academia.edu or LinkedIn.

4. Tell other people your writing goals. When writing my dissertation, I told everyone "I'm going to turn it in the first week of August." I told this to so many people that my deadline became a self-fulfilling prophecy because I would have been embarrassed to have everyone know I had missed my goal.  

5. Don't waste effort. Looking back over my academic career, I think of all the books I read cover-to-cover when I could have read only the introduction and conclusion, and all the forty-page articles I pored over when the information I needed was right in the one-paragraph abstract. At the time, I thought I was just being thorough; it took me a long time to realize that a good scholar is not someone who reads everything--an impossible standard--but rather someone who knows what to rea carefully, what to skim, and what to skip.

Posted on August 14, 2013 .