Prof. Robert Boice’s Rules of the Road for Writers

 

1.  Pace yourself.  Work in brief, regular sessions, 10-50 minutes in length, no more than 3-4 hours a day, 5 days a week. Use a timer to help yourself keep the sessions brief, and take breaks between each.

 

2.  Pause while writing to check for comfort.  Watch for signs of impatience and rushing, particularly thoughts about needing to finish in any one session.

 

3.  Stop when you get to the end of your time limit, preferably in the middle of something (a sentence, paragraph, argument).

 

4.  Spend as much time pre-writing (noticing, collecting materials, taking notes, planning, outlining, making drafts) and rewriting as you do writing.

 

5.  Spend as much time socializing around writing (talking with other writers about what you are writing) as you do writing (and spend only moderate amounts of time at either).

                                                                                                                                 

6.  Make writing a modest, daily priority, something done routinely but not at the expense of living.  Take regular breaks and avoid working when you are tired or in large, undisrupted blocks of time.

 

7.  Pay attention to your emotions as you are writing so as not to get caught in reactive self-talk.  Watch particularly for thoughts about what you "should," "ought," or "must" be doing as a writer and recognize them as the irrationalities that they are.

 

8. Watch, above all, for the temptation to binge out of impatience to get something done.  Remind yourself that bingeing leads to overreaction leads to depression. 

 

9.  When you share your writing with someone, listen calmly and patiently to what he or she has to say.  Find something in their reaction to your work with which you can honestly agree and ask for clarification about anything that they say that you don't understand.  But don't expect everyone to like what you write or to read as carefully as you would like them to. 

 

10.  Check again for any irrational thoughts about what your writing or the experience of writing "should" or "ought" to be like and dispute them.  Remind yourself again of the link between strong emotions, hypomania, fatigue, and depression.

 

11.  If you find yourself worried about not being busy/smart/productive enough, stop and do something else (like sleep) until you feel rested again.

 

12.  Start before you feel ready.  Stop before you feel done.  

 

--Paraphrased by Rachel Fulton Brown from Robert Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure (Westport: Praeger, 1994).

 

Further advice from Prof. Boice

 

1. How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1994).

 

A program of concrete exercises developed by Boice over many decades in seminars that he has run working with writers in overcoming their blocks. Think of it as an investment for the long term in becoming not just a better writer, but a more confident, productive one. From the Preface: "This is a book about patience that can, in the short run, make cojourneyers feel impatient. This is an unusual book with some counterintuitive ideas that can seem off-putting until they are tried. This is a 'read' that demands a slow pace, with rereading. If you really want to reinvent yourself as a more joyful, efficient writer, you owe yourself more than a quick, single reading of How Writers Journey."

 

2. Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel, Practical Approach (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1996).

 

The research behind the recommendations in How Writers Journey. Boice explains how blocking is actually a form of procrastination and what the psychological mechanisms that result in procrastination are. Procrastinators and blockers tend to put off tasks that make them feel uncomfortable, while becoming ever more anxious, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by what they imagine they need to do in order to succeed. They then get to a point where they feel they can no longer wait, and rush to finish the task, knowing that they cannot possibly do it as well as they imagined they wanted to or should. This pattern of delay followed by rushing creates a vicious cycle of low self-esteem and perfectionism.

 

3. Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing (Stillwater, Oklahoma: New Forums, 1990).

 

Professors are often subject to the kinds of habits and self-talk described in Procrastination and Blocking. This book is a kind of workbook for self-diagnosis, coupled with practical advice about how to train oneself in new work habits. Most of the advice is the same as in How Writers Journey, but is here presented with more examples from the academic context and with some of the data presented in Procrastination and Blocking.

 

4. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000).

 

Boice takes the advice that he gives about writing and applies it to teaching, writing, and service in the academic context. He addresses in detail the kinds of traps that faculty fall into in managing the three different kinds of responsibilities that they have and gives concrete advice on how to develop better work habits. He also presents data on the studies that he has conducted on aspects of all three of these activities, including classroom behavior, productivity, and psychological well-being.

 

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