The always interesting and useful Jo van Every has a post on using all three types of writing time. These range from ‘full days’, to ‘longish periods’, to ‘short snatches of time’.
I think this is helpful – too many people seem to get into a habit of only thinking they can write if a whole day or more stretches ahead of them (and then sometimes feel so daunted by it they get little done). I think Jo is right to say that four hours in a full day is probably about right, with six as a maximum. Few people seem to be able to sustain the intensity of writing for that long – though it of course depends on what you mean by writing. I will frequently work for far longer than six hours on a full writing day, and on that project alone, but it’s not always what everyone would see as writing in a narrow sense.
The ‘longish periods’ are also important. Jo describes these as ‘meetings’ with your writing – perhaps of one or two hours, in a day filled with other things. Last academic year I tried to write for two hours before I went into work each day – not always successful, but more often than not it was, and it did pay off. With term fast approaching I’m going to try to do the same thing again. Blocking this into a calendar/diary is, I think, important. Last year I tried hard to protect the early morning; other times I’ve needed to be more flexible. I’ve said before how at my busiest, when someone else could schedule meetings in my diary, I insisted that while these writing slots could move around to accommodate other things, they could not be deleted.
Perhaps most important in the post is the suggestion that you can do something useful in even short bursts – 10 to 30 minutes. As with the ‘longish periods’, it’s a lot easier to get back into a project quickly if it is only a day or two since you last worked on it. If it’s a week or more, waiting for that ‘clear day’, then it can take a while to get going again, and the time slot may have gone. Jo insists on the idea of ‘moving your writing and research projects forward in tiny increments’, and remaining engaged with it. I’d really stress her point about how writing a note on what to do next at the end of one session can be a useful spur at the beginning of the next.
If you believe that anything that moves the writing forward counts, then when not feeling so inspired you can fill these little periods of time with mechanical tasks – references, checking style guides, downloading articles, sourcing books, etc. See also her good post asking ‘Is tidying your desk procrastination?‘
Jo has another good recent post on ‘Maintaining your writing practice when things get busy‘ which is also helpful, there is loads of other good advice on her site and I should recommend, again, her little book The Scholarly Writing Process.
There are lots of other posts and links on writing and publishing from Progressive Geographies archived here. Some of these link to other people’s advice or suggestions; some to my own.