Good Writing needs optimum personal space to thrive.
In reality, even the most experienced, productive writers often need to force themselves to write, regardless of mood. Once underway, they then build a positive mood, even an inspiration, for writing.
That said, although most of us have not had formal training in writing, we might have had uncomfortable experiences with writing in the past. Writing happens to be one of those activities, which has an infamous reputation of been postponed indefinitely. It is one of the “high importance, low urgency” tasks described by Richard Covey in his classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Why is it so? What makes writing so easy for some people and incredibly difficult for others? Lack of imagination can hardly be a valid reason here. After all, all human beings are born with boundless creativity.No.The, reasons go much deeper here.
In the 1990s, Dr. Robert Boice, a US Psychologist began to study productive versus non-productive faculty writers. His research focused on identifying the behavioral patterns associated with academic success and failure: what makes for a good or bad teacher, a productive or a blocked writer, a happy or disgruntled colleague.
Through his research, he developed a reliable and widely tested set of best practices for academic labor, which ultimately resulted in the creation of some of the finest books available for improving the writing skills.
And the kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, is one single underlying theme; one important prerequisite to be a good writer.
This is called the personal space of the writer. According to him if you want to write regularly, you need to get a better understanding of your personal space to find out what distracts and disrupts your writing and accordingly rearrange the space to maximize your output.
He calls this rearrangement as stimulus control procedures and this includes anything that increases the probability of writing occurring regularly and successfully. This rearrangement can be classified into two areas.
· Rearrange Physical Space for Writing.
· Rearrange Mental Space for Writing.
Rearrange Physical Space for Writing.
Boice calls this as the rearrangement of the writing environment. Some of his suggestions are.
· Establish a few regular places where you can do serious writing without distraction (your desk in the study, your bedroom, at the garden, etc.). Once you establish the place, make it sacred. Nothing else should be done out there.
· Resist the temptation to clean up the writing site, as that might be distracting. Instead, clean the writing area only at the completion of each session.
· Arrange writing sites to minimize noisome distractions. Find a reasonably quiet place. Work with background music if it helps.
· Make your writing site comfortable. For example, work best in a recliner chair because it reduces fatigue, especially neck and arm strain. Experiment to see what works best for you.
· Lastly, limit social interruptions during writing times by closing the door to your office, den, or whatever else you want to call your writing space.
Rearrange Mental Space for Writing.
Boice calls this the rearrangement of the writing habits. This is the mental reconditioning a writer needs to do to ensure that writing becomes a priority item in his life.
Boice defines an important principle called the “priority principle” for rearrangement of the mental space.
The priority principle states that “That which can be delayed need not be. Decide which recurrent, daily activities you enjoy and make them contingent on doing a valued or delayed task first.”
In Simple words, if you are not writing as much you intend to write, then you are not making writing a priority. And in order to make writing a priority, attach a contingent daily task as punishment, the day you do not write. Writing thus gains when you do so.
For example, you plan to write 2 hours every day without fail. And let us say you failed to keep up your commitment on Friday. Therefore, as a punishment, you forgo your favorite daily activity (say play tennis) on that day. This way Writing gains and becomes a priority in your life.
Mostly you need to experiment with contingencies until you find the right one, which matches your writing priority. You will have to see what works reasonably and reliably for you and you will need to use good sense for that. Writing made too high a priority at the cost of necessities of life is doomed to failure. You need the right balanced approach to hit the sweet spot.
Boice suggests the following actions for rearranging your mental space using the priority principle.
· Prepare a chart for the week ahead mentioning the date and times on which you will write.
· Enter the times you actually wrote including the times, you did not write by putting zero against the time.
· Establish a contingency for daily writing. Identify the most valued daily task you love to do (playing tennis, watching television, Surfing the internet, etc.) and make it contingent on completing a scheduled writing period first.
· Write while you are fresh. Schedule other, less mentally demanding tasks for times of the day when you are less alert and energetic.
· Keep daily charts tracking minimum these three things 1) Time spent writing.2) Pages completed 3) percentage of planned work completed. Use these charts as motivational and feedback tools in your writing journey.
· Share your writing with peers and friends to get constructive feedback. Ask for specific actionable feedback and then incorporate it immediately.
The key is to create a routine and stick to it. Establishing and dedicating yourself to the process says that you believe in yourself and that you can do it.
Lastly, a Word of Caution.
Boice warns us against binge writing. Binge writing is always unproductive.
“The urge to continue,” Boice writes, “includes a big component of impatience about not being finished, about not being productive enough, about never again finding such an ideal time for writing.”
The ideal state of writing is mindfulness. “When we work mindlessly,” he writes, “we encourage an excess of tense and negative thinking that distracts and undermines our writing.”
Thus, when your daily writing time is up, stop dead, even if you have momentum and could write more. Maybe you could but don’t. .Stop when the timer goes off and you will build self-discipline. Keep going longer, and you are just indulging your insecurity. The brain can be trained just like a muscle. The right sort of training can make it far stronger.
As aptly told by Boice.
“Be quick, but don’t hurry. That is the key to good writing.”
Robert Boice, Professors as writers: a self-help guide to productive writing (Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, 1990).
Robert Boice, Advice for new faculty members: (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000).
Tara Gray, Publish & flourish: become a prolific scholar (Teaching Academy, New Mexico State University, 2005).
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