I get folks asking me quite often, how do you write so much? I have written 20+ articles, several chapter essays, four books, and I have a few manuscripts I am working on now. Here are my tips:
Writing has to be a passion. It can’t just be something you do. You have to love it. You have to have a fire in your belly and heart and mind to get these ideas out there. If it is not a passion, it will get sidelined. You have to ask – why am I doing this? Do I love this?
Schedule and protect your writing time. For me, I have a master weekly schedule and I have blocks of time set aside for research and writing. I like to have 2-3 hour blocks to really focus. I know for others, you can only manage one hour blocks between classes or meetings. No matter what, though, you need to protect that time. It’s not “free time.” It’s writing time. If you don’t restrict it, you won’t use it well. One can easily get caught up in a conversation at the water cooler (or Facebook!), but I have disciplined myself enough to “excuse” myself from the conversation to sit down to write.
Overlap research and teaching. One of the main ways that I have been able to be “productive” involves the way I have been able to combine my course material with my research and writing interests. If I want to write on Philippians, I focus my Greek course on interpreting Philippians. If I am teaching a prayer class, I write on prayer. The one supports and fuels the other, and I am able to give fresh thought to my students, and I feel like the interaction with students supports my reflection on the writing project. This may seem obvious, but I assure you it has made it possible for me to do a lot of research.
Set word count goals. Don’t just make time for research, set goals. Set big goals (completion of book, article, etc.), but also weekly goals of how much you want to write. Goal setting will help motivate you to protect and use your writing time.
Permit yourself to write garbage at the drafting stage. This is probably what I have learned the most about myself as a writer. I struggle to commit to writing things down because I am afraid it is not good. But this has now become my mantra: Write something bad, and then make it better until it is good. Of course, the main thing I do at first is outline the chapter or essay. Then I fill in the outline. But the bigger point is about letting yourself spend time free-thinking and drafting.
Reward yourself. Set certain milestones for your writing (finishing the researching stage; getting to the half-way point of word count; finishing the first draft, etc.), and then reward yourself. Maybe it is a good cup of coffee. Or a hike. Or a nap! For me, little rewards are like milestone celebrations – I got through stage 2, 3, 4, 5…
Finally – and somewhat ironically – learn to say “no.” One of my mentors told me he did not learn how to say “no” to book project offers until it was too late, and now he is buried under piles of manuscripts, which is both stressful and also doesn’t leave room for fresh ideas. This has helped me to remember that I want writing to continue to be a joy, and not a burden (of endless deadlines). I am learning how to focus my writing energy more and more on projects I am passionate about, not just getting another “thing” on my CV.
Now, there are certain special projects or people that are hard to say “no” to, but the point is that we must evaluate why we want to be productive. Is it to feel important? To “be somebody”? Yes, getting that article accepted can be a “high,” a nice achievement. But I am thinking more and more about a scholarship legacy. What do I want to be my lasting mark on biblical scholarship? How do I want to change scholarship? How do I want to improve the world? It’s nice to pad the old CV, but you don’t want to look back at your career with regrets. Stick as best as you can to your mission and passion, and leave “space” in your life for fresh ideas to pursue.
What are your productivity tips?