Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How to Be a Prolific Scholar

Tonight my daughter and I drove past our local Planet Fitness.  The parking lot was full.  I imagine that January is a busy month at health clubs.  I think it has something to do with New Year's resolutions.

I imagine that some of our readers have made resolutions to start writing more consistently.  I know I have had.  Oxford University Press must have my American Bible Society book by May 1, 2015 in order for it to appear in time for the organization's 200th anniversary in May 2016.  I need to get moving.

Earlier today someone told me that his adviser--a very prominent Ivy League historian--once told him that scholarship is 10% intellectual and 90% hard work.  There is some truth to this.  All prolific scholars should have a regular writing schedule.

Tanya Golash-Boza, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced, knows this.  Here is a taste of her Vitae essay: "The Trick to Being a Prolific Scholar."


A study by Robert Boice, reported in his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing as well as in this article, provides concrete evidence that daily writing produces both more writing and more ideas. Boice conducted an experiment with 27 faculty members who wanted to improve their productivity. He divided them into three groups and examined their writing progress for 10 weeks.
Boice instructed Group No. 1 – the abstinent writers – not to schedule any writing sessions but to write only if they felt compelled to. He also asked them to keep a log of creative ideas to write about. The thought behind planned abstinence was that these writers would have a list of creative ideas ready when they finally did feel like writing. Result: The abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages a day and had one creative idea a week.
Boice told Group No. 2 – the spontaneous writers – to schedule writing sessions five days a week for 10 weeks, but encouraged them to write in those sessions only when they were in the mood. They also were asked to use part of the scheduled writing time each day to come up with a new idea to write about. Result: The spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages a day and one creative idea a week.
Group No. 3 – the forced writers – agreed to a strict accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for 10 weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas to write about. To ensure they would write every day, whether or not they felt like it, the members of this group each gave Boice a prepaid check for $25, made out to an organization they despised. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would mail the check. Result: The forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages a day and one creative idea each day.
Read the rest here.  And get to work.