Making time to write

The Textbook & Academic Authors Association has recently published a Guide to making time to write (Pawlak & Schmieder, 2020). This short book is filled with over 100 tips from academic authors for how to develop and maintain an effective writing practice.

The editors have organized the tips into two sections, those of “time management” and “productivity.” The book concludes with a range of templates that authors use to track writing time, and manage projects (these are accessible to TAA members), along with a list of recommendations for software applications to assist with these tasks.

What stood out to me from my reading of the book is that to make time to write, authors recommend:

  • Defining clear writing goals
  • Prioritizing writing as an essential everyday activity
  • Intentionally committing time to make writing part of a regular routine
  • Tracking writing progress
  • Reflecting on what helps to get writing done (e.g., aligning writing times with the most productive part of the day), and what hinders writing (e.g. negative self-talk)
  • Developing ways to make writing rewarding (e.g., through rewarding oneself when goals are completed)
  • Making use of accountability partners to help with writing (e.g., arranging meetings with co-authors, or working with a writing group).

In my own experience with writing, I’ve found that sometimes it has been exceedingly challenging to maintain a regular writing practice (e.g., when a family member is ill, or when I’ve been managing a new responsibility at work). What is good news for all writers, though, is that there are many tried and true strategies that writers can use that will help to get started, re-start, maintain, or develop a productive writing practice.

Another thing that stood out to me from reading other writers’ tips was that writers take different approaches to accomplish their goals. Not all of the strategies included in this book are likely to appeal to all authors. As Lyn Sword (2017) has found in her research of scholarly writers, effective writers take very different paths to becoming productive writers. What they do share though are behavioral habits of mind (e.g., persistence, determination, passion, pragmatism, “grit”); artisanal habits (e.g., creativity, craft, artistry, patience, practice, perfectionism and a passion for lifelong learning), social habits (e.g., collegiality, collaboration, generosity, openness to criticism and praise), and emotional habits (e.g., positivity, enjoyment, satisfaction, risk taking, resilience, and luck) (Sword, 2017, p. 4). All of these characteristic traits of effective writers are evident in the “tips” for practice included in the Guide to making time to write.

Perhaps one issue that is implicit in this guide is the need for writers to develop practices that bring joy to writing. All too often, we hear negative perspectives of writing that foreground the agonizing qualities entailed in writing. Although I’ve found that there are aspects of writing that are not as pleasurable as the feeling one derives from having a productive writing day, I’ve found Sword’s (2017) response to the following question helpful in thinking about writing. She asks:

Are academic writers doomed to a life of misery, slaving away by day in the educational equivalent of a coal mine and tapping out our manuscripts by night in the dim glow of a computer screen? (p. x)

Sword’s response is to suggest:

What if we were to bring air and light and time and space back into the picture, reimagining ourselves not as suffering artists but as artisans of language: skilled craftspeople who trade in the written word and draw delight and satisfaction from our craft? (p. x).

For those writers who already experience the delight and satisfaction from a regular writing practice, the tips that Pawlak and Schmieder (2020) have assembled are unlikely to add much. For those writers who are still struggling to think of themselves as writers and develop and enact a routine writing practice that brings pleasure… this book might be one way to get started. Happy writing!

Kathy Roulston

References

Pawlak, K., & Schmieder, E. J. (Eds.). (2020). Guide to making time to write: 100+ time & productivity management tips for textbook and academic authors. Textbook & Academic Authors Association

Sword, H. (2017). Air & light & time & space: How successful academics write. Harvard University Press.

Disclosure: As a member of TAA, I contributed a tip to this volume… and am looking forward to trying out a few more.

For more information on the Textbook & Academic Authors Association, see https://www.taaonline.net/

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