Ah, who can forget the halcyon days of aerobic exercise in the 1980s? (If you are a reader who is too young to remember… shut up.) Richard Simmons, Jane Fonda… and the infamous 20 Minute Workout videos. I heard rumors some folks actually used these videos for actual workouts…
The philosophy of these large-haired workout regimens was actually rather sensible: It doesn’t take a long time to get fit — rather, it takes a commitment to do a little bit each day, regularly, in order to get results. Such a productivity philosophy can easily be applied to other tasks requiring discipline… such as academic writing.
Many of us struggle with the prospect of “finding time to write”… we tell ourselves it requires devoting large blocks of open time that we can ill afford with our various other professional and personal obligations. Granted, finding such time can be a marvelous luxury, as those of us who have benefited from “writing retreats” can attest. However, Gregory Semenza from the University of Connecticut reminds us that doing just a little bit each day — a mere 10 minutes of down time we’d otherwise fritter away (face it, you know you would… I would) — can provide productive results that we’d otherwise miss. Writing for the Chronicle’s Vitae, Semenza reminds us how easy, and beneficial, it can be to keep those workouts brief, frequent, and pain-free.
While his advice is ideal for writing during the academic year, why not start a “10 Minute Workout” regimen this summer? It’s not like there aren’t loads of other distractions… and you won’t even need leg warmers!
Write every day. Over the years, this is the single bit of advice I’ve given most regularly to graduate students who aim to become professors. Unfortunately, after grad school, it’s a lot easier said than done. The seminar and ABD stages present young scholars with a misleading sense that an academic schedule leaves relatively large blocks of time for writing.
With the possible exception of the summer research months, it doesn’t. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that writing time shrinks for most of us as our careers advance.
Though I was involved in departmental and university service as a graduate student, I was by no means prepared for the realities of a full-time academic job. In the first two to three years following graduation, university service requirements quadrupled, my teaching load increased, external consulting and reviewing activities proliferated, and so too did undergraduate- and graduate-advising duties. Throw in a house, a yard, maybe even a family, and you’ve got yourself a dilemma: For those of us who are required to write, or simply wish to write, time is not on our side.
During my dissertation phase, I developed a daily writing strategy that served me well for several years, which was to try to write at least two double-spaced pages first thing every morning. This strategy was an adaptation of a system practiced by one of my dissertation advisors, who writes for at least two hours each day. The two systems are a lot alike—especially since, for me, two pages of solid writing very often requires about two hours of work. Whereas some people work better with time limits, others find it more productive to set page goals. I continue to believe that systems such as these are ideal both for establishing a productive writing schedule and ingraining habits that will carry over well into a variety of academic positions after graduate school. (Those interested in learning more about such plans should see Graduate Study for the 21st Century .) But there’s the ideal and then there’s real life. While I continue to dole out this advice on a regular basis, I’m finding it harder and harder to find two hours—or even time for two unspeakably bad pages—in my day.
What I often do have, in between meetings with students, classes, and so forth, is 10 or 15 minutes.