My next step was to encourage others to adopt the Boice-Gray writing program. I started with my PhD students, most of whom were highly receptive. Six months into the program, one of them, Jody, wrote “It is just wonderful, and I know if I keep it up I will get better and writing will become easier for me.”
I also set up programs with faculty and graduate students in the Arts Faculty. One of the participants, Nichole, wrote that the program has “provided me with a non-threatening way of untangling my messy thought process, thread by thread.” Running these programs enabled me to learn much more about obstacles to writing and what helps to overcome them.
Boice and Gray recommend that writers make themselves accountable to someone, as this will help sustain the habit of writing regularly. I asked my students to send weekly totals to me listing the numbers of minutes they had written each day and the number of new words produced. That way I could assess how they were doing and discuss, in our weekly phone calls, ways to fine-tune the program
In helping others use the Boice-Gray writing program, I make some specific recommendations. I suggest making notes about the points to be covered in your new writing, doing this a day or week beforehand. I recommend that when you sit down to write, you close or remove all books, articles and other polished text. Why? Because reading the polished text switches your mind into its flaw-noticing mode, the enemy of creating your own new words. I also recommend not reading yesterday’s writing, but instead using just your notes to provide guidance to today’s writing.
I also recommend closing the door, turning off the telephone, closing email and web applications and generally removing all distractions. Producing new words, for many writers, is a delicate process. Interruptions are temptations to do something else.
Some academics say they are so busy they have no time to do 15 minutes of daily writing. What this usually means is that they have put writing too low on their priority list. These busy academics spend hours preparing lectures, marking essays, attending seminars and committee meetings — and checking emails, surfing the web, and gossiping with colleagues. Devoting 15 minutes to writing at the beginning of a nominal eight-hour working day can’t make much difference to getting other things done, can it?
The title of chapter 4 in Boice’s 2000 book, Advice for New Faculty Members, is a single word: Stop. If the first principle of productive writing is to start, the second is to stop — before doing too much. For regular writing, you need to feel fresh when you start. If you feel worn out from too much writing yesterday or the day before, then you may postpone your session until tomorrow, starting a cycle of boom and bust, namely binge writing. So, Boice says, stop sooner rather than later.
Gray in her 12-step program made the advice more specific: write for 15 to 30 minutes per day. This means stopping when you get to 30 minutes. That may not seem like much, but it’s only the writing part. There’s a lot of additional work required before this becomes publishable prose: studying key texts, obtaining data, running experiments, seeking comments on drafts, submitting articles, and perhaps revising and resubmitting. Writing is the core activity, something akin to the highest intensity part of an athletic training program, but it has to be supplemented by a lot of other work.