Habits of Productive Academic Writers

As part of my interest in questions regarding digital scholarship, I’m beginning to pursue notions of “value” or “quality” or “rigor” (that’s right, Kenny) in print publications. So I ordered a copy of Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition (Olson & Taylor, eds.). When it arrived today, I immediately turned to the chapter by Robert Boice about the writing practices of scholars who manage to get a lot of writing done. I haven’t yet looked to see which disciplines his subjects wrote in, or other important questions like those, but I wanted to share a few of the habits he’s identified as a psychology researcher. Here they are:

1. Wait actively.
I wasn’t totally sure of what he meant by this at first, but it seems that it has much to do with waiting for the sake of waiting. Forcing yourself to wait, even when you feel ready to begin. I see it as sort of a centering technique. Calming. He suggests that it is essential to effectively pacing yourself.

2. Begin early.
Even when you don’t think you’re ready. Begin for the sake of beginning. No excuses.

3. Brief daily sessions.
Keeps a consistence pace over the course of a project. Distributes cognitive workload over multiple sessions. Rhythm develops a habit.

4. Stop.
Don’t get fatigued, even if the writing is going well. It’s probably not worth it, it you’ll take the next day off.

5. Invest in preliminaries.
This has something to do with preparing to write. Outlining, brainstorming, etc. He encourages the writer to balance preparedness with flexibility.

6. Reduce Negative Thinking.
Monitor your thoughts and combat the negatives.

7. Moderate emotions.
Euphoria and despair while working are both counterproductive to the consistency for which he argues.

These seem like great ideas, but they also seem pretty self-evident. I guess they do contradict some traditional notions of writing like waiting for inspriration or getting lost in the “flow” of the zone. So I’m going to work to give these a try. I’m also going to add something about setting output goals for myself. I’ll keep you updated.

Citation: Boice, Robert. “Work Habits of Productive Scholarly Writers: Insights from Research in Psychology.” Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition. Ed. Gary A. Olson & Todd Taylor. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997. 211-228.