How to schedule your writing like a professional writer

Just read this post at Study Hacks: How to schedule your writing like a professional writer. (hat tip Michael Nielsen).

The most striking observations from this study:

  1. The writers work in the morning. They often start very early in the morning.
  2. Five out of ten of the writers described a little ritual before starting their morning writing. A surprising number of these rituals focused on The New York Times.
  3. The writers drink coffee. Lots of coffee.
  4. The writers write in isolation. If they didn’t have families they would push this even farther. Many discussed having no e-mail or phone in their workspace. One purposefully used a “shitty old laptop” to avoid temptations like solitaire. Gay Talese rigged his home office so it could only be entered through a separate outside door.

This sounds familiar, actually.

Though I don’t really write that much, I do tend to get some writing done in the morning while having lots of coffee.  Usually when I’m working on a paper, for blogs it is not that essential for me when I write a post, but still the vast majority of my posts are written in the morning.

When it comes to reading on the other hand, there it is really important to me what time of the day I do it.  Some papers are just impossible for me to read after lunch.  That goes for tricky mathy papers and particularly dull papers.  I can read them with no problem in the morning, but once we are past noon I just cannot read more than a line or two before I have to have a break.

Anyway, back to the post above.  It concludes with:

How to Apply this Advice

If you are a student — or an amateur writer or blogger — here are some simple rules for emulating the habits of the professionals:

  1. Spread out work on an assignment over several days. Coming at it fresh increases its quality.
  2. During these days, get up early. Probably earlier than you are used to. Say, around 7 or 8 am. (This means these days will be weekdays, probably early in the week so you can avoid temptations to party the night before).
  3. Have a mini-ritual to jump start the day. It should probably involve coffee. Breakfast. Maybe the morning paper. Don’t take too long.
  4. Go to the most isolated place possible.
  5. To get your mind ready to think, review the last pages you wrote.
  6. Work for two or three hours. Then stop.
  7. Follow this habit regularly. Don’t write during other times. Don’t write in public places. Don’t start writing the day before.

I’m not sure I agree completely with the last point, but the others make a lot of sense to me.


Author: Thomas Mailund

My name is Thomas Mailund and I am a research associate professor at the Bioinformatics Research Center, Uni Aarhus. Before this I did a postdoc at the Dept of Statistics, Uni Oxford, and got my PhD from the Dept of Computer Science, Uni Aarhus.

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