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II. Challenge Common Assumptions Against Daily Writing

Sep 12, 2012 by Dr Sally

Developing good writing habits requires re-examining common assumptions about daily writing. Dr. Robert Boice, professor emeritus in psychology at SUNY Stony Brook, is a leading expert on faculty development, particularly scholarly productivity and writing. Beginning in the early 1980s, he used his expertise in clinical psychology to study “binge” writers (those who write between 2 and 12 hours in one day, but then do not return to writing for a week or more) versus more regular writers (those who devote no more than 90 minutes a day to writing, but write every day). He also developed techniques to help blocked writers and those who procrastinate.

You Need to Be in the “Mood” to Write

Boice’s research in scholarly productivity challenges a number of common assumptions about writing. One assumption is that writers are most productive if they write when the mood hits, and when this mood hits, they can spend hours of uninterrupted time at the task, which Boice describes as “binge writing.” However, his research demonstrates that writers who establish and maintain a daily writing habit are more productive than binge writers. In addition, Boice’s suggestions enabled even the most skeptical and resistant faculty involved in his studies to adopt efficacious writing habits (1982). Interestingly, those who write creative works—novels, poetry, plays—depend on establishing writing schedules, and are often the first to admit that such a schedule is the most vital aspect to their writing.

You Can’t Schedule Creativity

One of the most persistent arguments against daily writing is that scheduling writing inhibits spontaneity and, therefore, hampers creativity. Boice rebutted this argument. Instead, his research demonstrates that binge writers were less creative than their counterparts (1983). Twenty-seven academics were asked to log their creative ideas, revealing that regular writers “not only produced more written copy but also generated more creative ideas for writing than did subjects who wrote spontaneously” (Boice 1983, p. 540). Boice concludes that “creativity is much more the result of hard work than of genius,” adding that “creative inspiration is more likely to follow, than precede, productivity in writing” (p. 542). Binge writers produced a much lower average output of pages than regular writers, and bingers were much less likely to finish and gain acceptance for their scholarly manuscripts during the observation year (Boice 1997).

In fact, binge writers not only endanger their academic careers, but quite possibly their mental health. While the academic binge writers Boice studied were not clinically bipolar (a characteristic of “creative illness” in which writers “binge” during manic phases), they did exhibit symptoms of hypomania, including rushed writing; high error rates in writing; failure to rely on outlines, notes, or material written previously; and a state of euphoria (1992). Hypomania, Boice reports, creates conditions that “bring real costs to health and long-term output and success” (1992, np).

You Can’t Be Both a Good Teacher and a Good Writer

The assumption that some faculty are productive scholars while others excel in the classroom is also false. Boice’s research shows that faculty can improve teaching while establishing and maintaining a productive writing schedule (1984), and vice versa. New faculty, in particular, believe they cannot excel at both research and teaching (1989). This belief is coupled with their tendency to make writing “an artificially high priority,” which contributes to bingeing. When faculty relegated writing to a relatively low priority and wrote for short periods daily, they ceased to over-prepare for the classroom and increased their scholarly productivity.

You’re too “Busy” to Write

Finally, many faculty assume that they are making good use of the time they have. In one study, nearly three-quarters of 400 faculty surveyed indicated a “lack of time” as the primary reason for not writing or not being as productive as they wished (Boice & Johnson, 1984). However, faculty estimates of their workload (60 hours a week) are higher than actual time spent on work-related activity, about 30 hours a week (Boice, 1989). In addition, faculty fail to recognize procrastination and avoidance behaviors. This lack of self-awareness initially leads them to be overly optimistic about meeting their research and writing goals despite their lack of a daily writing routine.

With regard to the daily writing routine, Boice insists that writers schedule a time, rather than waiting until they feel ready to write. Writing is best accomplished in a location free from distractions. He recommends beginning each writing session by reviewing the previous session’s work. Writers should take breaks every half hour, and they should stop when they have achieved the target output for the day, even if they feel they want to continue (Boice, 1982).

In this blog, you learned to identify some of the assumptions people make about why they shouldn’t write on a daily basis. In the next blog you will learn ways of overcoming procrastination and writing blocks.

References

Boice, R. (1982). Increasing the writing productivity of “blocked” academicians. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 20, 197-207.
Boice, R. (1983). Contingency management in writing and the appearance of creative ideas: Implications for the treatment of writing blocks. Behaviour Research & Therapy. 21, 537-543.
Boice R. (1984). Re-examination of traditional emphases in faculty development. Research in Higher Education, 21, 195-209.
Boice R. (1989). Procrastination, busyness and bingeing, Behaviour Research & Therapy, 27, 605-611.
Boice R. (1992). Combined treatments for writing blocks, Behaviour Research & Therapy, 30, 107-116.
Boice R. (1997). Which is more productive, writing in binge patterns of creative illness or in moderation? Written Communication, 14, 435-459.
Boice R., & Johnson, K. (1984). Perception and practice of writing for publication at a doctoral-granting university. Research in Higher Education, 21, 33-43.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What assumptions do you have that discourage daily writing?
  2. How can you overcome these assumptions?
     
 

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