Writing Process Reengineering

Twice a year, I run a writing process seminar for all the researchers at CBS. The aim is to help participants imagine their writing process as something that can be managed alongside their other responsibilities as teachers, researchers, administrators and, not least, ordinary people with lives to live outside of work.

At the core of my seminar we find the standard prose paragraph, the “unit of composition” in scholarly writing. I try to get researchers to remember that they will normally be expressing their ideas in paragraphs of at least six sentences and at most two-hundred words. Each paragraph says one thing and either supports it or elaborates on it. For purposes of time management, I encourage writers to train themselves to produce a paragraph in about half an hour.

We can then organize the writing of these paragraphs across four, 8-week periods in a given year, 32 weeks in all, working between 30 minutes and 3 hours a day. That’s 2.5 to 15 hours a week, or 20 to 120 hours in a given 8-week period, or 80 to 480 hours per year. Since it is possible (for a trained and disciplined writer) to produce two paragraphs an hour, that’s 40 to 240 paragraphs every 8 weeks or 160 to 960 paragraphs per year. To put that into perspective, consider that a typical journal article consists of about 40 paragraphs. So you have time to write between 4 and 24 drafts of fresh prose every year, working at least half and hour and at most three during only 32 weeks or 160 days of the year.

The aim of the seminars is to help you establish a regular routine that gets a predictable amount of prose written during a year, fully cognizant of the many other things that will also, necessarily, occupy your attention.

None of this can guarantee that you will get published, of course. But, all things being equal, you’re more likely to improve your writing skills by writing regularly than not. And consider the added advantage of not worrying about whether or not you will get your writing done. On this model, with a bit of practice, writing is something that simply happens.

The seminars are normally held in late January and early June. I’m going to be booking the exact dates soon, and I’ll post them under the new “seminars” page. Stay posted.

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