Worst/Best Writing Advice

Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rebecca Schuman ponders the bad prescriptive advice to enhance writing productivity:

I have heard many irritating suggestions on scholarly productivity in my time, but none get my blood aboil faster than this bit of wrongness: You must rise at some ungodly hour — 5 a.m., better yet make it 4 or 4:30 — and then force yourself to write for two or three hours. Maybe even four. It’s ridiculous advice. Academics who tell you with a straight face that they wake up every morning at 4, sit at their desk in scholarly rhapsody for hours, and then go do a full day’s work are not being truthful. And even if they are, they probably spend most of that time staring off into space and yawning. At any rate, they shouldn’t be bragging about tragically mismanaging their time and doing long-term damage to their health.

Instead, she proposes:

Summon 25 minutes of laser focus on your work, one to three times during your work day. . . . Sometime this week, when you’re in your office or workspace, do this:

  • Turn down the volume on your cellphone. Close your email program.

  • Close your eyes for two seconds and take a deep breath. Look a clock or set a timer and say aloud: “25 minutes. Go.”

  • Then, either free-write something related to what you’re working on, pull up a document and tinker with it, or read and take good, responsive notes.

  • After 25 minutes, stop and go back to whatever nonsense was occupying your day.


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