Friday, February 06, 2009

How to Stop Worrying and Flourish

Tara Gray was kind enough to send me a copy of her book Publish and Flourish, which I mentioned in a post recently. I read most of it last night and have, once again, found a like-minded approach to writing.

It starts off with a bang. She cites research by Robert Boice to make a very instructive point. If you ask researchers how much time they spend working, they'll say about 60 hours per week, and they'll tell you about half of that is spent on research. But if you get them to keep records of how they actually spend their time, you find that they spend on average 29 hours per week working, of which about an hour and a half is devoted to research. "So these faculty members were working 30 hours per week," she concludes, "and worrying another 30." That nails it.

According to Boice, of the 1.5 hours spent on research, a half hour on average is spent writing. I think this is the researcher that Tara and I are trying to reach with our writing process suggestions. Hers differ a bit from mine, and they are certainly worth trying. She suggests you begin by finding 15 minutes every day to write. That's a good exercise because if you succeed you immediately end up with 75 minutes of writing time (Monday to Friday). That's over 100% better than average. It may not seem like much, but neither is an average of 30 minutes per week. So you're going in the right direction.

Once you are in a position to protect fifteen minutes of writing time a day, you can expand the operation—fifteen minutes at a time, for example. The upper limit is three hours, Tara says. That may differ from person to person, I would argue, but the problem to be avoided is a "binge", which is a notion we also find in Paul Silvia's How to Write a Lot. A binge is a writing session that exhausts your intellectual energies, in part because you've got all your hopes invested in it.

People who write on average 30 minutes per week are probably not writing every week. They are binging once or twice a semester. As Tara notes, they then spend 30 hours every actual week worrying about their writing and looking forward to that "big block of time" they've got planned.


Jonathan said...

This is very true. Waiting to find that time when nothing else is on the horizon and you can finally write ends up in either not writing at all or in a binge with no follow through. People will say that they can't get anything done in 15 minutes or half an hour here or there, but once they find 45 minutes they can make good progress on a project.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, that's my view too. I'm not sure if this is what you mean, but where I differ with Tara is probably that I'd rather have people protect an hour once (though preferably twice or thrice) a week than fifteen minutes a day (five times a week). But that's because I'm a bit of what she calls an "elitist". I'm a bit worried about the sort of writing that can get done in fifteen-minute blocks of time.

Like I say, though, I definitely think Tara's method is worth trying.

Jonathan said...

If you can trick yourself into at least 15 minutes, you'll probably be able to increase that. I'm a frequency nut so I'd probably emphasize how many times a week you can write rather than fixing a minimum unit of time. Either way, the goal is to be writing at least 5 hours a week on at least three separate days.