Making Time for Writing (Understanding Your Writing Process, Part 2)

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In the first post about understanding elements that contribute to a successful writing session, we discussed limiting distractions. Although these disruptions might affect some more than others and can only be controlled in certain situations, identifying factors that improve your writing conditions can make your writing time more productive. In this post, we consider the optimal length of writing sessions. 

Imagine that you’ve set aside 6 hours to write. That’s a big chunk of a typical working day. It is not likely you’ll be able to write productively the whole time. Why is that? To write a research paper, you must shoulder a heavy cognitive load. You need to set that load down periodically and rest before you can focus again. If you don’t allow yourself periods of rest, you can invite distractions into your writing process. 

When writing, portion time out into short blocks. For example, you can take a 6-hour writing session and break it up like this: 

  • 15 minutes of setting writing session goals
  • 30 minutes of writing
  • 15-minute break (outside, if possible)
  • 60 minutes of reading and reviewing articles
  • 30 minutes of writing
  • 20-minute break
  • 30 minutes of writing
  • 30-minute break (outside, if possible)
  • 30 minutes of writing
  • 60 minutes of reading and reviewing articles
  • 20-minute break
  • 20-minutes of assessing your writing goals and planning for you next writing session

To respect and optimize the valuable time you’ve set aside to write, experiment with alternating writing, reading, and resting. For example, you can lay down your cognitive load by having a quick chat with a friend or colleague or going for a walk outside. Whatever you do, keep to your schedule.

You might have noticed that in this example schedule, your writing session starts with setting goals and ends with assessing them and then planning for your next writing session. Bookending your session like this will help you achieve your goals or, if you did not achieve them, to plan better for next time. 

Although this is a 6-hour writing schedule, you are only actively writing for 2 hours. Interspersing reading and writing can make you more productive; each stimulates your brain in a different way. A cycle of writing, reading, and resting will improve your productivity.  Set up your own schedule and give it a try! 

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