Getting Started

If you're like most people, your writing process has room for improvement. With a little added effort, most working academics can write both more and better prose. But how to begin? Whether you're thinking of using me as a coach or just looking for a little extra self-discipline, why not try my "9-Hour Challenge" as a way of getting started?

First, decide on one of the perhaps many drafts of journal articles you've got in your desk, or even just one of the ideas for an article you've got in your head. (You can also take this challenge for a whole book or dissertation, or a chapter of a such a work, but you may have to adjust it a little in that case.) Next, remember that a journal article is a quite standardized product, with recognizable "standard issue" parts. This lets you envisage it as a 40-paragraph text divided into about eight 5-paragraph sections. Each paragraph should take you about 30 minutes to draft (later, it will take you any number of 30-minute sessions to edit).

This means that you should be able to write exactly 18 paragraphs (almost half the paper) in 9 hours. Book those hours into your calendar at a reasonable intensity (given the rest of your schedule). Try to work at least 30 minutes per day on the Challenge, and at most 3 hours. That means that after between 3 and 18 days you'll have written 18 paragraphs.

Spread the work throughout the whole paper. Write the first three paragraphs (this will be the introduction) and the penultimate paragraph (this will be the first paragraph of your conclusion). That's four out of eighteen paragraphs. There are seven sections left and 14 paragraphs to write: write two paragraphs for your background, theory and method sections, and another two for your implications section. Write 6 paragraphs of results.

After having spent exactly nine working hours writing, and writing exactly 18 prose paragraphs, you (and, if you like, I) are in a position to evaluate the result. You will also have gotten a taste of the discipline that Writing Process Reengineering implies. At this point you have a good basis for a talk with your coach or for a few moments of serious self-reflection.

Keep in mind that another 11 hours will produce the remaining 22 paragraphs. Another 20 hours after that will let you rework each paragraph (each group of roughly six sentences) for 30 minutes each. With your writing process thus under control you decide how much better your papers will get, simply by deciding how much time (how many 30-minute sessions) you put into it.

Your next step is to take the "8-Week Challenge".