Writing Efficiently



“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together’” (George Eliot).

When a young William Faulkner met the famous short story writer Sherwood Anderson and learned that Anderson worked only a few hours and had the rest of the day to do what he pleased, Faulkner thought that was a pretty good deal and decided the writer’s life was for him. But you are probably not a person of leisure and must work on writing during the limited time available to you, which may not be much.

Round orange clock with sign saying 30 MinIn Publish and Flourish, Tara Gray advocates a writing program of a short 15-30 minutes rather than waiting for large blocks of time longer than three hours. Her interest was mainly academic writing and her little book was aimed at academics writing scholarly articles. But the research findings she cites and her prescriptions are pertinent to any writers who don’t have the luxury of lots of available time.

Gray refers to a survey of a college faculty engaged in research who estimated they worked almost 60 hours per week, including half of that time on research. The subjects were asked to keep records of their work weeks by jotting down every fifteen minutes whether or not they were working.  Although writing was supposedly to be the main emphasis, only a small fraction of their time was actually devoted to writing—30 minutes per week. The subjects agreed that they weren’t as busy as they thought and had free periods or periods of time spent on low-priority activities, time that could be used for writing.

To avoid irregular writing, program the activity–write on a regular basis. Writing every day even for a quarter or half hour will greatly improve your production. In one study people who wrote for a quarter hour to a half hour wrote twice as many total hours and produced ten times as many published articles as people who wrote for more than three hours, but sporadically.

Two women having coffee togetherForm a pact with a buddy. You’re more likely to achieve your writing goals—or any kind of goals–if you make clear to another person or persons what you’re trying to accomplish and share your results with them. And ask them to support and help monitor your efforts. In one study writers who wrote daily and kept records AND also made themselves accountable to another person for writing daily, outperformed the writers who wrote in blocks and didn’t keep records 9:1.

A group of writers were studied over two years. In the first year, they wrote occasionally in big blocks of time. In the second year, they wrote 15-30 minutes daily, kept records, and held themselves accountable to others. The percentage of participants who finished manuscripts rose from 10% in the first year to 100% in the second year.” (C.R. Boice “Strategies for Enhancing Scholarly Productivity.”)

Tara Gray suggests that the buddy should have certain characteristics:

  1. Should understand the absolute importance of writing daily.
  2. Should hold you responsible for your daily writing without shaming or blaming.
  3. Needn’t be a writer.Two gray tabby cats

One writer said, “Just having to tell someone the silly excuses I have for not working on my research helped me quit allowing it to happen.”

  1. Get the most benefit from your time no matter how little of it you have. French chancellor Henri Francois D’Aguesseau noticed that his wife came down for dinner ten minutes or so late every evening. Over a period of a little over a year he completed a book of three volumes while waiting for her, and the book became a bestseller in 1688.
  2. Don’t stop writing. “Once at the desk…you will find your subconscious drawing on various reserves to persuade you to stop: fear, boredom, and the impulse to track down that trivial point by adjourning to the library… Don’t.”( Deirdre N. McCloskey, Economical Writing).
  3. Write first thing in the morning. What you do first every day without exceptions gets done. Almost all writers are successful when they write in the morning. Many people who write at other times experiment and find that morning is best.
  4. Keep daily records and weekly summaries. Writers who keep daily record of time spent writing outperform writers who don’t keep daily records 4:1. A format to use: Jot down the exact minute you start actual writing, not your warm-up, not your review of yesterday’s writing. Doing that will be a message to yourself: “Now I’m focusing on writing.” Note the time you stop for a break and when you resume. And the time when you quit for the day. Write from the first day of the writing project.  Note every day the amount of time you spent writing.
  5. Treat yourself to something pleasant as a reward for staying with the program.
    Sun   Mo   Tue   Wed   Thu   Fri Sat   Total for week Shared with partner
Writing time



Minutes Writing





Old fashioned drawing of a woman at a writing tableIf you need to do research, keep your research minutes to the barest reasonable minimum and your writing minutes to a maximum.  You needn’t write for long periods to be more highly productive than you might expect.




© 2020 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Habits, Programmed Activity, Rewards, Writing

10 responses to “Writing Efficiently

  1. Michelle Endersby

    On behalf of procrastinators and would be writers everywhere, I thank you, David, for this encouraging piece. I don’t know why it is, but little charts to fill in get me excited. It feels as if you have handed me a tiny ladder to climb out of the quicksand of chaos and distraction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear, dear, funny Michelle,

      I’m glad you like my little chart. If my article helps you settle in to write one morning, I will feel I have done my part to bring your writing to a public who will adore it.

      One day you and I will talk about “quicksand and chaos and distraction” in our careers and compare experiences. We will say, “i can top that,” and laugh.

      So good to hear from you. Today is Valentine’s Day, and somehow I feel it is your kind of holiday.

      Best wihes,


  2. Good morning Dear David….Really good to see you here….You have been on my mind a great deal of late.

    Thank you for this very important reminder – which also applies to painting.

    As you know I have been writing a book – and have found that the best way for me to proceed is to write short ‘vignettes’ about anything, everything and everybody that comes to mind.

    I am loving this process and as I look through my vignettes I see patterns occurring which ultimately I believe will add up to be the material for books!
    They are like short stories….each one having the possibility to turn into more…..

    This morning in London we are battening down the hatches again in preparation for another big storm….not cold and icy like the ones you have, but very windy and wet!

    My best wishes to you and the family
    Janet XX


    • Dear Janet,

      So good to hear from you. I know you will produce a wonderful book and I am glad to hear that you are enjoying the writing. The writing process you describe is very much like one I use at times, but a bit different because I start with an overall concept in mind of what the book will be.

      I hope the storm will not be too bad and will be over quickly with minimum damage. We tend to stay inside much more in these cold winter months, and we are looking forward to spring.

      You seem to have made a great recovery, and your recent work has been wonderful. But do take care over yourself and get the needed rest to ensure that you stay healthy and fit.

      Best wishes,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good morning David….thank you so much for the comment. The storm hit S. Wales very badly including Crickhowell where I used to live. Worse one in living memory and given that it followed another terrible storm the previous weekend, the water has no where to go!
        Given that these vignettes are all about people, places and incidents that I know well. and have experienced first hand, I suppose I am seeking to write about my own life but in a much richer fashion. A little like a tapestry and or jigsaw puzzle….I am hoping that eventually all the pieces will slot together….
        I promise you that I am looking after myself, probably better than I have done in years, given that I now have fewer pressures.
        I do hope your writing is going well….Best wishes to you and the family. Janet 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve been following the storms on TV. Scary. How powerful nature is. I hope your friends in Wales are safe. Nature just does whatever it feels like and we have to try to respond as best we can. Your approach to writing vignettes with hopes of piecing them together in a narrative that makes sense is just the way the great novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote. Whenever he remmbered an episode he dashed to a typewriter, Also, I’m reading a bio of Dickens who pumped out an amazing volume of work–sometimes writing three novels and editing a magazine and traveling and lecturing at the same time. For the first ten years of his career he would start a book without having any plan for its completion. Thank you or the comment. Best wishes, Janet


        • Thank you so much for this David….I think I told you that Dicken’s writing house, the Swiss Chalet – is in the garden my art college in Rochester Kent. Sadly a brand new art college was built, I am glad to say after I left, but the Swiss Chalet is still there. I will send a picture soon.
          Several friends in Crickhowell, have major clean ups to do….I really feel for them…Best wishes to you Janet.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hello Janet, I look forward to seeing that picture. So sorry to hear about your friends in Crickhowell. What a mess.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This is sound advice. I tend to think if I can’t dedicate several hours a day to write, then it’s not worthwhile. Perhaps 15-30 minutes each day (starting today) will get me back on track. Writing down the time spent writing will make me accountable to myself and my sister. As my fractured tibia continues to heal I anticipate being able to spend more time at the computer desk. I’m so used to writing on the computer that I can’t do any creative writing except on a keyboard. Very helpful post, David.


    • Janet, I’m sorry to hear that you have a health concern, but I beleive that shorter but frequent writing periods will help your productivity. I once had a similar health concern and couldn’t work at a computer too–and it was awaful because I write best at a computer as well. You’ll overcome that and your sister will be agood buddy. Keep me posted too. Best wishes. David


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