[Itech] Fwd: TP Msg. #1191 Want to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete

Teresa Franklin franklit at ohio.edu
Tue Sep 4 09:04:48 EDT 2012

Hello Graduates:

This is for all of our graduates who need to publish at least 2 journal
articles before they graduate!  Sound words of advice below! (And sounds
vaguely like what I keep telling you! -- I read the book!)  ;)

Dr. Franklin

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Mon, Sep 3, 2012 at 7:09 PM
Subject: TP Msg. #1191 Want to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete
To: tomorrows-professor <tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu>

Perfectionism is a deadly enemy of good performance. It’s like being judged
every time you write a sentence or paragraph. It’s far better to go ahead,
make mistakes and learn from them. Rather than expecting great output from
a burst of frenzied inspiration, the idea behind Boice’s brief regular
sessions is to work with moderate daily expectations, knowing this will
lead in time to better results.

"Desktop faculty development 100 times per year."
Over 44,000 subscribers at over 850 institutions in more than 100 countries


Archives of all past postings can be found at:

Sponsored by
Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning

Check out the Tomorrow's Professor Blog at:


The posting below has some great advice on making regular, sustained
progress in research writing.  It is by Brian Martin, a professor of social
sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is the author of
twelve books and hundreds of articles on nonviolent action, dissent,
scientific controversies, democracy, education, and other topics. Email
bmartin at uow.edu.au, web http://www.bmartin.cc/


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Helping Faculty Members Sharpen Their Focus

Tomorrow's Research

--------------------------------------------------------------- 2,325 words

Want to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete.

For many years, I have observed new faculty members devote enormous time to
their teaching, neglecting their research. When I recommend putting a
greater priority on research, they listen appreciatively but postpone
action until “things aren’t so busy” — a time that never comes.

Then, in early 2008, I came across a short, punchy book by Tara Gray titled
Publish & Flourish (Gray, 2005). It spells out a 12-step plan to become a
prolific academic author and cites research to back up the plan. Gray’s
plan enabled me to support faculty and graduate students to become much
more productive.

The foundation of Gray’s 12-step program is quite simple: write for 15 to
30 minutes every day. Yes, that’s it: the core requirement is daily
writing, at least five days a week, preferably seven.

Gray draws heavily on the work of Robert Boice, who studied the habits of
productive new academics (Boice 1990, 2000) and found that daily writing is
the key to success. Should this be surprising? Coaches expect their
athletes — swimmers, runners and so forth — to train daily. Junior athletes
are expected to show up for training every day, at the same time. Swimmers
put in the laps and runners put in the miles. This sort of training enables
dedicated high school athletes to achieve times better than world champions
a century ago.

So what were top athletes doing back then? Those were the days of amateurs,
usually from the upper class with spare time and access to facilities, who
trained when they felt like it, typically on weekends. Very gentlemanly.
But their performances weren’t outstanding by today’s standards.

What about writing? Most academics seem to be operating like the gentleman
athletes of the past. They wait until they feel like writing. That usually
means when they have a big block of time, or are forced to meet a deadline.

Boice found that aiming to write in big blocks of time is not a good
approach. The first problem is finding a big block. An earnest academic
might say, “I’ll wait until the weekend … or until teaching is over … or
until I’m on sabbatical.” Some never get started at all. Then, when the
putative writing times arrive, it is all too hard to actually write.

The second problem is that a big block of time for writing makes the task
seem onerous. Some writers are able to overcome their inertia — often when
a deadline is looming — and push themselves into a marathon session of
frenzied writing. This is exhausting. When finished, there’s little energy
left for writing on following days. It takes a while to recover before
mobilizing the mental strength for another lengthy session. Weeks can go by
with only a few days of actual writing.

This pattern is analogous to a weekend athlete who is physically exhausted
after a long workout and takes days to recover. Boice calls this pattern
binge writing. It’s analogous to drinking or eating too much — you feel
terrible afterwards.

Most academics learn binge-writing from doing assignments in high school or
undergraduate years. Bingeing becomes increasingly dysfunctional as tasks
become larger. Writing an essay overnight is possible, but completing a
300–page thesis requires planning and sustained work.

Boice’s alternative is simple: brief regular writing sessions. For
academics, the easiest regular pattern is daily. A daily writing session
might be for half an hour, or even less.

Many academics, as soon as this option is proposed, begin a series of
objections. “It takes me quite a while to get started — to get myself
immersed in the subject.” “I can’t just turn on inspiration at will.” True
enough. If you write infrequently, it does take a while to get back into
the topic. If you write in binges, you won’t feel like doing it again soon.

Regular sessions provide a solution to these obstacles. When you get used
to writing every day, you don’t need as much start-up time because you were
dealing with the topic yesterday. The result is greater efficiency, as
memory is primed and maintained more easily.

As for inspiration, Boice (1984) found that waiting for good ideas simply
doesn’t work very well. Writing is the crucible for sparking ideas, rather
than ideas being the trigger for productive writing.

The core of Boice’s and Gray’s prescription for productivity is daily
writing — but not too much. The idea is to make writing so inoffensive,
over so quickly, that doing it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. When
expectations aren’t so high, it’s easier to overcome your internal censor,
that little voice that says to you, “What you’re writing is no good. In
fact, it’s crap. Give up and wait for a better time.”

Perfectionism is a deadly enemy of good performance. It’s like being judged
every time you write a sentence or paragraph. It’s far better to go ahead,
make mistakes and learn from them. Rather than expecting great output from
a burst of frenzied inspiration, the idea behind Boice’s brief regular
sessions is to work with moderate daily expectations, knowing this will
lead in time to better results.

Writing programs

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.

I added one tweak to the Boice-Gray program. I ask participants to begin
each 15–30 minute session by writing new words, for 5 to 20 minutes, and
only doing other writing activities, such as taking notes or editing
previous text, after the new words have been produced. I request this
because composing new text is, for most writers, the most difficult task
they face and the one most commonly postponed.

One of the common laments of people using this program is “I don’t know
what to write,” often accompanied by “I’m not ready. I need to do more
reading, or thinking, or investigation.” This is an indirect expression of
the familiar formula of researching first and then writing up the results.
Boice and Gray want to turn this on its head. Their motto: “Write before
you’re ready!”

This means starting writing even though you don’t know enough about the
topic, you haven’t read all the background material and haven’t done the
experiments or fieldwork or interviews. Indeed, you’re just starting work
in a field that’s entirely new to you. How can you write about it?

One approach is to write about what you’re going to do. Describe the things
you know and the things you need to find out. Tell about the experiments
you’re planning and how you’ll set them up. Tell how you’ll analyze the

Another approach is pretty similar: start writing the paper that you’d
normally write at the end of your research. When you come to any part that
you don’t know or don’t understand, just do as well as you can and keep

This feels very strange at first. Here’s how it works. By writing, you
stimulate your thinking. In order to make progress on your project, you
need to think about it — and writing is an efficient way of making this
happen. Even after you’ve finished writing for the day, your unconscious
mind will be working away at the topic, trying to address the matters you

Of course it’s quite possible to think about your topic without writing
about it. Writing is just a reliable way of sustaining and focusing the
thinking process. How many people schedule 15 minutes per day of
concentrated thinking about a topic? If you’ve tried it, you’ll know it’s
not easy to sustain.

Unconscious mental processing — during the time you’re not writing — is one
thing that makes daily writing more efficient than bingeing. When you do a
long stint of writing, you’re attempting to do all the thinking in one
burst. This intensive effort can be exciting, but despite appearances it’s
not as productive as harnessing the mind over longer periods. The brain is
like a muscle: it responds best to sustained, incremental training.

There’s another, more practical reason why writing first — before doing all
the research — is more efficient than writing only at the end. Let’s say
there are ten major books in the area you want to write about. The normal
approach is to read them first, and probably you’ll want to read even more
books and articles just to be sure you understand the topic.

When you write first, before doing all the reading, you find out exactly
what you need to know. You find gaps in your argument, points where you
need examples, and places where you need a reference. So when you turn to
the ten books, you don’t need to read them in full. You know exactly what
you’re looking for, so you can just check the relevant bits.

Does this mean you learn less? Not at all. When you read a book or article
with a purpose, you’re much more likely to be able to remember crucial
information because it fits within a framework you’ve developed.


Regular writing is a powerful tool, but for many it is extremely
challenging. The temptations of procrastination are powerful. Therefore,
rather than relying on willpower every day, the key is to establish
conditions in your life that help develop and maintain a habit. These
include finding a dedicated place and time for writing, keeping tallies of
minutes spent writing, and reporting to a mentor. The task of undertaking
writing sessions that are brief and regular helps reduce psychological
resistance to starting, which is often the greatest barrier. Putting these
steps into place can make it far easier to establish and maintain a habit
that leads to high productivity.

However, only a few writers find themselves in the fortunate position of
being encouraged and supported to make these sorts of arrangements. The
wider social circumstances are not particularly supportive — indeed, they
are at the foundation of bingeing behavior. Boice says that established
writers and editors are actually unsympathetic, as they think people who
aren’t publishing don’t have anything to say. He quotes one editor as
saying, concerning a writing program, “Why bother? Too much is already
being written and good writers don’t need help.” (Boice, 1990, p. 126).
This sort of view, which Boice calls “elitist,” assumes that writers are
born, not made.

The Boice-Gray program challenges this sort of elitist attitude. It is
based on the assumption that with the right conditions, just about anyone
who wants to become a much better writer can do so. The program is also a
challenge to every academic — you can do better too.


Boice, R. (1984). Contingency management in writing and the appearance of
creative ideas: implications for the treatment of writing blocks. Behaviour
Research & Therapy, 21, 537–543.
Boice, R. (1990). Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive
writing. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Boston:
Allyn & Bacon.
Gray, T. (2005). Publish & flourish: Become a prolific scholar. University
Park, NM: Teaching Academy, New Mexico State University.

I thank Sharon Callaghan, Don Eldridge, Ian Miles and Kirsti Rawstron for
helpful comments and Tara Gray for inspiration and encouragement as well as
detailed advice. This is an edited extract from Brian Martin, Doing good
things better (Ed, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2011),

* * * * * * *
NOTE: Anyone can SUBSCRIBE to the Tomorrows-Professor Mailing List by going
You can UNSUBSCRIBE by hitting "return" to this posting with the word
"unsubscribe" in the subject line.

tomorrows-professor mailing list
tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu

*~~~~~~The best student-centered learning *experience in America~~~~

Dr. Teresa Franklin
Professor, Instructional Technology
Instructional Technology Program Coordinator
313D McCracken Hall
Dept. Educational Studies
The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701
740-593-4561 (office)
740-541-8847 (cell)
740-593-0477 (fax)
also: franklinteresa at gmail.com

"A teacher affects eternity; [she]he can never tell where the influence
stops." - Henry Adams


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://listserv.ohio.edu/pipermail/itech/attachments/20120904/ac18ed1d/attachment-0001.html 

More information about the Itech mailing list