Dr. Silvia's Secret, or How to Write More Productively During the Normal Work Week With Less Anxiety and Guilt, for Academics

Here's the secret: "Make a schedule and sit down to write during your scheduled time." And that's it.  Silvia recommends starting with 4 hours a week.  Sound like a lot?  It would have yesterday before Dame Eleanor pointed me to Silvia's book, but now I am embarrassed to realize how much time I actually have if I take seriously the thought that writing is part of my job, not the thing that I leave until last, after teaching and service.

There are corollaries: "Writing isn't a race or a game.  Write as much or as little as you want [to write.]  Don't feel that you ought to write more than you want to write, and don't publish fluffy nonsense just for the sake of publishing....  If you plan to write only a few things in your life, your writing time can be thinking time.  Use your scheduled writing time to read good books and to think about your professional development....  Any action that is instrumental in completing a writing project counts as writing."

And benefits: "After a couple of weeks, your writing schedule will become habitual, and you'll no longer feel pressured to write during nonscheduled hours....  You won't worry about 'finding time to write,' and you won't sacrifice your weekends for wasteful writing binges....  When you follow a schedule, you no longer worry about not writing, complain about not finding time to write, or indulge in fantasies about how much you'll write over the summer.  Instead, you write during your allotted times and then forget about it."

With a caveat: "Ironically, writing a lot [that is, honoring your scheduled time by spending it writing] will not make you enjoy writing or want to write.  Writing is hard and it will always be hard; writing is unpleasant and it will always be unpleasant."

There will be difficulties, most particularly from other people: "Be forewarned that other people will not respect your commitment to your writing time.  Well-intentioned intruders will want to schedule meetings with you, and they won't understand why you say no.  They'll resent your inflexibility, call you rigid, and think that there's some deeper reason why you won't meet with them."

But it will be worth it in the end: "If you allot 4 hours a week for writing, you will be surprised at how much you will write.  By surprised, I mean astonished; and by astonished, I mean dumbfounded and incoherent.  You'll find yourself committing unthinkable perversions, like finishing grant proposals early [Silvia is a psychologist; fill in the blank with your field's typical task].  You'll get an invitation to revise and resubmit a paper, and you'll do it within a week.  You'll be afraid to talk with friends in your department about writing out of the fear that they'll think, 'You're not one of us anymore'--and they'll be right."

Even better, you'll get your life back--your whole life, not just your academic life: "A writing schedule brings balance to your life--not balance in the pseudoscientific, New Age, self-help sense of wondrous fulfillment, but balance in the sense of separating work and play.  Binge writers foolishly search for big chunks of time, and they 'find' this time during the evenings and weekends.  Binge writing thus consumes time that should be spent on normal living [Academics are allowed normal living?!!!  What a thought!]  Is academic writing more important than spending time with your family and friends, petting the dog, and drinking coffee [or tea]?  A dog unpetted is a sad dog; a cup of coffee forsaken is caffeine lost forever.  Protect your real-world time just as you protect your scheduled writing time." 

So, students and colleagues, here is my schedule from now on: MWF I am writing from 8:30am to 10:30am (with a warm-up from 8:00-8:30 on my blog).  I am, therefore, not available during this time for student conferences, committee meetings, reading other people's work unless it is for my research, or anything else that does not contribute to my work as a scholar.  And that's that.  It may take me a little while to get used to the schedule, which may mean I am a bit late with other commitments at first.  But I have squandered enough of my working life on other people's business.  Enough is enough.  I have a dog to pet.

If you aren't convinced yet, I highly recommend Silvia's book.  Meanwhile, it is time for me to get ready for church.


  1. Good for you, Bear! I want to hear how this schedule goes as you try it out. I think I need a similar schedule for (work-related) reading. It is even harder to find time for that than for writing.

  2. See "My Exercises" above: I'm going to keep a record here of the writing work that I do. Partly to keep myself honest about the schedule, but also to demonstrate to myself that work is getting done, even if it goes glacially at first.


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