Writing More: How to Increase your Writing Productivity Without Big Dramatic Gestures

By Maria Gallardo-Williams

In his book How to Write a Lot, Paul Silvia opens by saying that college professors write in quiet desperation. He goes on to say that graduate students write in loud, vocal desperation. Both are true, in my experience. We know that we need to write. We know that promotions and tenure are on the line, that sharing our expertise might be the only way to raise our profile so we can be eligible for funding, awards, and recognition. Writing is our currency. And yet, we put it off. We find a million things that are more pressing than our writing. As the great Argentinian poet Quino says via his beloved character Mafalda: The urgent doesn’t leave time for the important. 

At this point many of us decide that it is time to make a big, dramatic gesture. We search for a chunk of uninterrupted time. We will write in the summer. The idyllic summer, when all is quiet and peaceful and we have all the time in the world to think and put our thoughts down on paper. Except we all know that’s not how summer works. Summer is loud and chaotic, with kids on vacation and beach weather, not to mention REU students and ultra-fast paced courses. Summer writing rarely comes together. But there is always Labor Day weekend. Or Thanksgiving break. Or the December holidays. Except that none of those seem to work, so we just shuffle around our best intentions and keep waiting for that ideal moment when we will have time and inspiration. And then that moment never comes. 

An alternative to this cycle of wishing for another 3-day weekend is the much less dramatic scheduled writing practice. It goes like this: You find an hour or two a week that you can devote to writing. Pick a time in which you know you can be productive; don’t schedule this for early morning if, like me, you are a serious night owl. Block this time in your calendar, then line up everything that you will need to make this time productive. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Nice pens or its digital equivalent (using a fancy font for scholarly writing might get you in the mood)
  • List of references that you will need for this particular piece, all nicely collected in a real or digital folder
  • Beverage(s) of choice
  • Clean and orderly space, or busy coffee shop, your choice
  • A box to hide your phone
  • Inspirational materials

Collect your supplies ahead of time and keep them together. Try the time that you have selected and see if you can be productive, and remember that reading and planning are part of the writing process. If the time you selected doesn’t work well, try a different time. Eventually you will find a time that works for you (I found that Friday between 10-11:30am works great for me), and you will slowly grow your writing practice. It really is that simple. 

If you need inspiration, we have a copy of Silvia’s book in our OFE Reading Nook (Clark Hall, 4th floor), or you can get the Kindle version from the Libraries. We can’t wait to read what you write, so please keep us posted!