Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FAQ: Do I have to write EVERY day? Would once a week work?

From time to time, I will share a question that has been posed to me by a workshop participant or coaching client.  The one for today should be relevant to many of you.

The background for the question is my recommendation, based on expert opinion from the writing world, that you aim to do at least a brief session (45 minutes or so) of writing on your scholarly project every day, or at least on most days.  

This is the way many professional writers work, and there is some empirical evidence that this approach produces more writing, and better writing than what Robert Boice calls "binge writing," a term he uses to describe the practice of waiting to write until large uninterrupted blocks of time show up, or a deadline looms.  

I've summarized all of this in one of the articles posted elsewhere on my website titled Becoming a Productive Academic Writer.

Here is the question:

I have heard about the data on writing before (most successful academics write for 30 -60 minutes a day) . I talked to my mentors about that data (your presentation, Dr. Boice, Dr. Kerry Rockquemore). All three said they write in blocks not every day. Some only write once a week but the entire day. I have heard that from very productive physician faculty. Is there data on physician scientist or physician educators who are involved in research careers on when they write and how long?

Here is my answer:

Dear workshop participant,

Your question is a great one.  

I am not aware of any data from a medical school faculty cohort.  Boice's work was mostly in a Liberal Arts setting.

However, I'll throw out an "educated guess" response. 

  • The major purpose of writing daily is to be more productive.  Classic "binge" writing (as described by Boice) is writing that occurs infrequently, every few weeks or even months, and it seems obvious that such a schedule cannot lead to maximal productivity.The only alternative that has been studied, albeit with small numbers of subjects, is the daily method.  The rest of the evidence is based on interviews with professional writers - who don't have anything else to do with their time, unlike clinicians!  
  • The second purpose of writing daily is that your brain stays engaged in the work, so that "warming up" is not needed, and, new ideas show up spontaneously more readily.

I would think about the idea of weekly writing like this:  

The daily method (using the minimal time approach) yields a minimum of 30-60 minutes a day of writing, with the advantages of the close connection between writing sessions i just described.

The weekly method could yield the same minimum of writing time (2.5-5 hours), and the sessions are probably still close enough to  get the other benefit as well.

You can see if you start to move the long session out to every 2 weeks or longer, it will be difficult to get the same amount written as the daily method, and the "session proximity benefits" will be  increasingly fewer the longer you wait between sessions. 

So, my "logical" conclusion is that once a week should work fine, as long as you make the session at least 2.5 hours!!
Let me know how it goes,

I'll add that this approach of taking daily action is recommended for any major project you are working on, so you can use this advice even if you don't have writing on your agenda. 

What do YOU think?  What is your experience with the time frame YOU use to write, or that of your peers or mentors?  You can write to me directly (, or post a comment here.