One of the things I certainly struggle with now that I’m in a job that involves managing people and programs as much as doing Actual Science™ is finding time to write. About 18 months ago, a colleague forwarded this post from Thesis Whisperer on how to write 10,000 words a day. The secret: turning off distractions, working in a mutually supportive group, and editing later. It’s called Shut Up And Write (or SUAW), because that’s what you do. We’ve merged it with the Pomodoro Technique, and do 25 minutes of writing, with a 5-10 minute break, and repeat 4 times in a morning or afternoon about once every 3 weeks.
But sometimes, that’s just not enough.
In 2015, we had a 6-month expedition to Henderson Island which generated a metric boatload of data. Now, 6 months after the expedition ended, we’d had a preliminary look through the data, and outlined what we thought were the sensible papers that would come out of the trip. We just needed to crunch some data and write some papers.
So I went hiking in Switzerland.
Well, I actually went to a friend’s house, where he, I, and another colleague spent about 2 weeks crunch data, writing papers, and hiking in the Alps and the countryside. We’d get up at about 0630, work for a bit, have breakfast, work for a bit more, and then head outside for 3 or 4 hours, work a bit before supper, and a bit after supper. We still put in at least 8 hours each day on “work”, recharge mid-day (often discussing results, angles for papers, strategies for analysis, and implications of findings along the way). And it was amazingly productive. The last time I had so many related papers in such an advanced stage of preparation (all are now just about complete first drafts for coauthors, if not further along) was in the heady days of my Ph.D.
Now, I realize that I was very lucky in that the only cost of doing this was a train ticket (along with the mental anguish of Paris’s Gare du Nord, and the occasional overly vocal football/soccer fan on the Eurostar), and my boss and workplace was also highly supportive of me basically putting my other work responsibilities largely on hold for 2 weeks (we had only intermittent email, and weren’t checking phones for messages). During my Ph.D. in Newfoundland, especially towards the end, I lamented that there wasn’t a nice saltbox in Trepassey where grad students could go and write up their theses.
So if you’re a PI or department head or anyone else who manages people who need concerted time to write, try Shut Up And Write, and throw in the occasional writing retreat. You might just be pleasantly surprised.