Monday, June 10, 2013


"...and the living is easy."

My stock advice goes as follows. Plan to work on your research writing in a calm and orderly way for four periods of eight weeks every year. Take about five weeks off from this routine at Christmas time, and about thirteen weeks off during the summer. This will let you fit two eight-week periods, plus a one-week break between them, into the fall and the spring semesters.

When I say you should "take time off" I don't mean that you should just be loafing. I mean take time off from the routine. The routine is simply this: every weekday for those eight weeks (and never on the weekends) write at least half an hour and at most three. Always decide the day before exactly when and what you will write. Never write something you didn't plan to write, and never write when you hadn't planned to. That means for 32 weeks of the year, and for somewhere between 80 and 480 hours in total, you will be in complete control of your writing.

During the remaining 20 weeks, you're free to be in less control. You can, of course, decide not to write at all. But that, too, is a form of control. I definitely recommend such a week of not writing over Christmas and that you take those two mid-semester breaks off completely too. Two or three weeks during summer are probably best spent resting your prose muscles as well. (I say "probably" because people are different and the important thing is to find your own way to write reliably.)

Altogether this leaves maybe 14 weeks to "experiment". Try writing impulsively. Try writing eight hours a day. Try not writing until you feel like it. Try writing whatever comes into your head. Try putting off the writing all day and then writing after dinner.

More moderately, if you've had a semester of "minimal planned writing", i.e., when you've written exactly one paragraph for exactly 27-minutes every day, eighty paragraphs in all, each of which you decided on (i.e., specified the content of) the day before, then you might try writing for two hours a day on a plan that specifies, say, all forty paragraphs of a single paper in advance. Re-writing the paper in this way over two weeks might teach you something important.

This blog is planned around the same calendar. That means that I start blogging regularly again on August 19. I haven't quite decided what the pattern will be, but I think I'll be posting every day at 7:00AM. Monday to Friday. I'll take a one-week break starting on October 14, and then break for Christmas on December 16.

Why think about this now? Well, the knowledge that you're going to be returning to a steady routine after the summer and that this routine will give you a certain amount of time to write a certain amount of prose (roughly: one paragraph every half hour) will help you relax and make you feel good about whatever experiments you decide to run. And that will make it more likely that you'll learn something from it. The goal is to discover the writer that you are.


matt said...

It's funny, Thomas, I find myself going through these cycles almost naturally now. During the semester I have no option but to write with the kind of discipline required by the 8-week process. During the summer, I usually stick with that process, but only in the mornings.

This summer, however, I've played around with writing in the afternoons, waiting until I've done some reading first, and with some other approaches that I don't typically try.

I think I've been just as productive overall, if not as productive on a daily basis.

Thomas said...

Yes, once you're in shape, lots of variations become possible. Usually the morning routine is best when you've got other regular things to do (like teaching). But some people do find that, if they can pull it off, writing in the afternoon is ultimately just as good (and sometime better).

It reminds me of my jogging life. In the beginning, I could only get it done by getting up early in the morning and running before breakfast. Now, however, I can usually get a run in before lunch or later in the afternoon. And those runs are much more enjoyable. But I would have never gotten the habit if I had started there.