Becoming a more productive writer

Don't wait for inspiration to strike or for a big block of undisturbed time. Those things rarely happen. The difference between productive writers and the rest is not that the former like to write. They usually hate it as much as the rest of us. The only way they became productive writers is by writing a lot. And the only way to write a lot is to set aside a block of time for writing each day and make sure that you spend that time writing.

The article Seven Suggestions for Becoming a More Productive Writer (Mano Singham, Change, March/April 2008, p. 40-43) suggests ways in which you can improve both the quality and quantity of your writing output.

Here are some suggestions from the article and elsewhere

  • Write regularly every day. Have a daily quota (measured in time or words or pages) that you set for yourself. Like exercise, it may be better to start with a modest amount and work yourself up. When I started, it was just 30 minutes a day but now I have reached a steady state of 90 minutes a day.
  • Never check your email first thing in the morning. Do it only after you have done two hours of scholarly writing.
  • Turn off the automatic email arrival notification. Check your email only at regularly spaced intervals with a minimum of two hours in between.
  • Have multiple writing projects going on so that you can find one that is congenial to start with. Once started, it is easier to move on to more challenging writing tasks.
  • Do not turn on your web browser until you have done your daily quota of writing. Surfing the web is a distraction and time sink. It is a luxury that should be indulged in only after daily writing has been done.
  • Tell someone else (colleague, spouse, friend) what your weekly quota is and make a promise to tell them each week how much you actually wrote. This exerts gentle pressure on you to keep your promise, even if you do not show them your writing.
  • Don't over-write. On days when the words flow easily, do not write to the point of exhaustion. It makes it hard to start the next day.
  • Ending abruptly is good. When you leave ideas and even sentences unfinished, it is easier to start writing the next day because you know exactly what needs to be done.
  • Don't worry about coherence at the early stages. Just jot down ideas, quotes, links, sources even in fragmentary form. Do not wait until everything is first organized in your mind. You will forget many ideas that way. Instead just put down words and leave the polishing to later.
  • Learn to like your own writing. The early stages of any work are usually not what we envisaged in our mind but it is important to like it nonetheless. If we do not like our own writing, we will not be enthusiastic about returning to it and improving it, which is the only way to produce good writing.
  • Create deadlines for yourself to help you make progress on long-term projects. Offer to give seminars and conference talks on your scholarly project, and work-in-progress talks to your departments.