I was recently identified – wrongly – as one of those people who does “daily writing”. Although I know the comment was meant positively – an obvious cause for my apparent productivity – I found myself strangely affronted by the idea. I have never really liked the fashion for writing in little tiny pockets of time (such as “pomodoros” of twenty-five minutes), nor the implication that we therefore don’t need long expanses of time in order to do research.
Each of my three monographs was written during a sustained period of research – my PhD, a three-year postdoc, and a funded research project. Even within these periods of research I tended to have bursts of writing and long months without. I am not a magician who can write books around the edges of normal teaching and administrative duties.
The only piece of research I managed to fit around the last semester’s workload was a single conference paper. I read and planned and sketched out the overall structure in snatched half-days, then wrote almost the entire thing in a single day, at home on the sofa. That was the grand total of my writing for January to April. Unless you count the 100-page application for the School’s Athena SWAN award, and even that was not written in daily pockets, but in sustained days and half-days.
The only time I have done anything that resembled daily writing was during the final year of my PhD, when I set myself the task of writing 1,000 words per day. I would start at around 8am, curled up at my desk in my PJs, with a pot of tea by my side. Usually I would finish writing late morning, and then spend the afternoon reviewing notes or sources ready for the next day’s writing. (I would also walk into town to use the university facilities to check my emails, as I did not have internet at home at that point – happy undistracted days!) In other words my daily writing was part of a broader routine of doing research all day. It was not tucked in around the edges of other responsibilities.
Daily reading is, however, a routine I return to periodically. I find it particularly useful at this time of year, when various duties are still punctuating my week – meetings, marking and moderating, reviewing and planning – but when I am also trying to get my head back into research mode. As I reminded myself through various futile attempts last week, I cannot really write at this time of year, as there are too many interruptions and my brain is too tired. Remembering to read for a few hours every day helps me to gradually reorient and refresh my brain. Then, later in the summer, I hope to have a few sustained weeks of writing!