Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ten ways To Write Every Day

If you have been following my advice and writing every day this semester, congratulations! If you haven't, ask yourself "why not?" If you need some ideas on how to actually write every day, then this post is for you!

Write every day” is fabulous advice. But, how do you actually do it? That was my question for a long time before I convinced myself to give it a try. Now that I have been writing every day for five years, I can share with you a few ways to make that possible, and explain to you why I wake up each weekday morning and write.

Lettres de Lou

Why you need to write every day

I decided I needed to try to write every day when I found out that scholars who write daily and hold themselves accountable write nearly ten times as much as others! In Robert Boice’s article, he explains the virtues of writing every day. Boice describes a study where he divided new faculty into three groups and recorded their writing productivity:

  • The first group did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in one year they wrote an average of 17 pages
  • The second group wrote daily and kept a record of their writing; they averaged 64 pages
  • The third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group's average was 157 pages (Boice 1989:609). 

Once I read those findings, I was convinced I should at least try daily writing.

How to write every day

After deciding I needed to write every day, my greatest challenge was to figure out what it meant to write every day. I asked myself, "What counts as daily writing?" To find out, I dove in and tried to write every day. I joined an online writing accountability group where I could record my writing progress and talk to other daily writers about the practice.

Eventually, I came to realize that writing means a lot of things and that there are lots of ways to write every day. Daily writing works for two reasons: 1) It ensures you are moving forward with your writing projects. 2) It keeps you engaged with your writing. Thus, any activity that accomplishes these two goals counts as daily writing.

Here are ten ways you can write every day:

  1. Write on a blank page
  2. Line-edit something you have already written
  3. Restructure a paper that you have been working on
  4. Pull together pieces of older documents you have written into a new paper
  5. Check references and footnotes for accuracy
  6. Outline or mind-map a new project
  7. Summarize or take notes on something you have read recently that might be relevant to present or future research projects
  8. Make a revision plan for a rejected article or a “revise and resubmit”
  9. Make tables, figures, graphs, or images to represent visually concepts or trends in a paper
  10. Create an After-the-fact or Reverse Outline
If you think of writing as only #1): Write on a blank page, it will be hard to do that every single day. However, it you are open to other kinds of writing, it will be possible to do at least one of these kinds of writing every day.

I try to do at least two kinds of writing each day, starting with the blank page in the morning. I am at my best early in the morning. That is my prime time. I use those early, fresh moments of the day to free-write and to create new material. Once I run out of steam, I might turn to editing something I have written or to checking references. If I get stuck, I will pull out a mind map and brainstorm ideas.

My routine each weekday, then, is to begin the day with writing or writing-related tasks. On a good day, I can concentrate for two hours. Usually, however, my mind drifts after an hour, so I take a break to check email or have some coffee, and put in another hour after my break. I keep track of the time I have spent working on writing so that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and so that I know when I need to stop.

I know that many academics reject as ridiculous the idea that one could or should write every day. To them, I would gently ask if they have ever tried it. And, I would add that it is not only important to try writing every day, but to commit to trying it for at least a month to see if it works for you. It is also important to have others to whom you are accountable and with whom you can share your struggles.

If you do try writing every day, let me know how it goes! If you are a seasoned daily writer, let me know why you keep it up!


  1. I love the advice and have been given it before as well. I am just starting out in my graduate career and am still doing lab rotations. Therefore, I dont have a manuscript or even a specific project to be writing about. What would you advise someone to write about in the beginning stages? This would be the time for me to start a habbit like this but I am unsure where to start.


    1. IMHO, only summarizing your lab experiences and explaining them in light of authentic publications should be enough. This will develop a rich "Theoretical background" and enhance your writing skills. As you find your major, this little scribbling will make way to your major area in no time.

  2. This is simply GOLD. Thank you so much. The data helped a LOT !

    W. Noel Robbins
    Sociology Grad Student
    Oklahoma State Univ

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I will try it! :)Actually I am starting from today!

  4. I love that you include "other writing tasks" because you're right: the thought of writing on a blank page every single day seems a little daunting. This seems easier and more realistic to aim for everyday.

  5. After reading some of your writing strategies a few days ago, I decided to give it a shot. Nothing urgent was coming up, so I started easy, 30-45 minutes per day. Wow. Half an hour a day of writing sure beats the heck out of weeks of feeling guilty about not writing. I already had the research for my task done, so I could just sit and write, edit, proofread, etc, and in a week and a half, I finished a conference paper... without interfering with the rest of my schedule!

    I have a lot of morning responsibilities, so I started getting up an hour earlier. Not nearly as hard as I thought. Now, if I could just remember to ONLY write... no reading, no opening internet for a thesaurus, no fact-checking... that's where I fall!

    Thanks for your very useful advice.

    1. Thanks for reporting back! I am very glad to hear the strategy was successful.

  6. Very nice and interesting article. I am about to commit to write every day a post on my blog during my PhD. What do you exactly mean by keeping "a record of their writing". In which way should I record what I have written_

    1. For most people, what works is either keeping track of the number of minutes or the number of words they write each day.

    2. I have created blog to write during my PhD and since then, I haven't write anything. I have some topic in mind but I am stuck. How do you plan to proceed?

  7. I write daily and use kanbanflow (free project management software) to keep track of the time: you can use the software to plan which weeks you will work onm specific essays, chapters, etc., and then use a programable pomodoro timer to keep track of how many minutes you devote to each task.I also reguarly schedule Skype meetings at my writing time with colleagues/friends where we both check in, say what we'll work on, and then 'confess' how it went -honesty being a powerful tool here for self-discipline. One thing I struglee with is reading - I notice that is not one of your writing tasks, but working with notes on something already read is. How do you manage your reading time?

    1. Good question! I read in the afternoons when I don't have meetings and in the evenings before bed. I then take notes during my writing time on the next day of what I have read.

  8. I have a question about organizing and prioritizing writing tasks. As a PhD candidate, I often struggle to schedule my writing tasks when multiple writing projects are going on. How do you tackle this issue as an academic?

    I'm currently trying to write daily and schedule my writing tasks. To provide a bit more context, I'm currently working on two papers for publication, my dissertation proposal, and a comprehensive exam. I was considering doing two days a week for each project, but I'm not sure at the moment. Any advice on this issue?

    1. I've actually written about that here:

  9. Thank you so much for your post.
    I am a graduate student and I can tell you I am still struggling to be a daily writer. I am a slow writer, slow reader and it take me so much time to came up with an idea and write it down even for a very short paragraph. I use to write often but that was fro my personal reflection but for the academic life, I am so bad at. i cannot focus when I write, so many useless things come up in my mind. I always start writing when it's too late and then I don't have time to proofread, so you can imagine in graduate program this attitude cannot work. I will try your advice. But do you have other ideas about how to survive the writing and reading in graduate program.

  10. Thank you so much for your post.
    I am a graduate student and I just finish my first year and I can tell you that I am not a writer!!! I am a slow writer and reader. It take me so much time to come up with an idea and write it down, I always write at the last minute, so I don't have time to proofread. I used to write often for my personal reflection but for the academic life, I am always stuck. I don't know how to manage. I have many notes I took from my reading or field course but I still don't put it in order or outline it. In reading your post, I just realize that I have to start do it, otherwise I am going to fail in my graduate. will try to follow your advice and find the best time for my writing. But what can you advice with my other problems: procrastination, many thing in my mind, that's why I don't focus when I am reading or writing.

  11. I am a full time teacher, parent, and a 3rd year doc student. As a graduate student, I have found myself challenged with characteristics of ADHD and Anxiety. This summer I vowed to find a way to focus on my work and enjoy it. The first thing I did was hire a personal trainer. Although, I knew how beneficial exercise was in helping reduce stress and focus, it was difficult to do on my own with an already full plate. My initial training evaluation required me to go without caffeine for 24 hours. Mind you, I have been drinking caffeine since I was 13 and am now in my 40's, but I decided to see if there were any benefits in my writing and achieving my goals by going without. At first my day began with exercise, followed by a 30 minute nap, and 4 hours of active work towards my dissertation. I am now doing this without a nap and have not had a drop of caffeine all summer. In addition, I feel like I can focus on what I need to do, what I am reading, and what I am writing. Finally, I am excited about the goals I have set for myself and the work that I have completed. Not your typical graduate student advice, but it has been of tremendous value in my life as it reminded me to take care of myself inside and out.