Up until six months ago, I was stuck in a writing pattern: avoid, avoid, avoid, SO MUCH GUILT WRITE FOR 4 HOURS, avoid, avoid, avoid… This boom and bust cycle sort of worked for me. Or it did until the rubber hit the road and I had a job offer contingent on finishing my (only half done!!!) dissertation in 3 months. That’s when I decided to change my habits….
I am now a person who writes every day. Let me take a step back because I know that we’ve all heard people say they do this and I was among those rolling their eyes so hard whenever I heard about it. How do you write every day? Who has the time or the inspiration? Learning to write every day meant unlearning a bunch of stuff about what writing every day would look like. Like…
- I should freewrite: I have heard creative writing people talk about writing “anything that comes to my head” first thing in the morning, and this idea is so unbelievably cringe worthy for reasons I can’t explain. Truth: Writing every day, in small increments, on research projects, gets the project done.
- I need to have a fully formed idea to write: I thought “writing every day” would mean sitting down and writing, say, 1/3 of a literature review or an entire introduction. Truth: Writing can be notes on a topic, a brainstorm about arguments, or notes on some studies I’ve read recently.
Once I unlearned the idea that writing every day meant sitting down and freewriting about what I had eaten for breakfast, I learned that developing a daily writing habit actually makes writing a lot less painful. Here are my “rules” around writing now:
- Write during “A time”: A time is the time where I have the most concentration. For me, that is first thing in the morning. I write every day at 9 am, except for on teaching days, when I write less intensely around 2 pm (notes on articles are saved for those days).
- Set a timer. Write for 15-30 minutes: Instead of waiting for 4 hour blocks of time, I now write for 15-30 minutes a day.
- When the timer beeps, stop: Another thing that writing daily has taught me is it’s way easier to avoid burnout when you take on a big task like writing slowly. At the most, I am now writing for 30 minutes, twice a day. If I write for 3 hours one day, the next day I’ll be so sick of the project I won’t even open Word. Setting a limit keeps me from being overwhelmed.
- Take at least one day off a week: I currently take the whole weekend off from writing. There might be some Saturday sessions as I approach writing deadlines, but for now it works for me.
- Discuss goals, create rewards: My most basic reward for writing is reading. Reading is easier than writing for me. It’s more relaxing. I schedule time to read later in the day after I’ve written. I also make the smallest. goals. possible. when it comes to writing. “Add 4 sentences about practical applications.” “Add those 2 articles to the theory section.” Why? Because “finish this paper” is a hard goal to meet. Most days, I won’t meet that goal. Better to feel a sense of accomplishment!
I had a ton of resistance to changing my writing habits at first. And the first few weeks I tried this, I got really discouraged if I “messed up” and missed a day. It was easier once I told someone else (my bf) what I was trying to do so that that person could give me encouragement. I also started to experience my favorite perk of daily writing and that encouraged me–which is that it’s just easier to keep track of a project when you open it daily.
The longer I waited between writing, the more time I needed to get back into the project because I had to go back and reread everything I had already written every time. Now, I write a little bit every day, and it’s way easier to pick up where I left off. I also find that I more subconsciously “solve” my writing problems because I remember my projects more frequently–I am totally one of those people now who has epiphanies about arguments while walking (#nerd) and has to quickly jot them down in a phone note.
Writing every day is still a habit I’m developing, but it has made a huge difference in what I accomplish (along with my anxiety levels) over the past six months. It’s definitely the best work decision I’ve made for myself recently. What do you think? Do you do it? Would you try it?