How Much Should You Be Writing?

Last week I discussed the importance of getting organized with your writing. In that post, the question of how much should you be writing (on average) in a week? This is what I want to address here.

That answer obviously depends on where you work and what the purpose of your job is. I can’t cover all contexts, and I don’t know what goes on at every university. What I do know is what you need to be doing if you are at an R1 and particularly if you are an assistant professor at an R1. That’s the perspective I will be taking, and you should adjust it as it makes sense for you.

Think of Writing as a Regular Act

In approaching this, don’t think if writing as cramming a specified set of hours into the fewest days possible. Think of it as a regular act that you should be engaged in three-four days a week. Ideally, you will be engaged in it four days a week, but stuff happens so finding time for three days a week can be ok and then.

You want to write some most days because you want to keep your head in the game. When you take extended breaks then you have to spend time ramping up to get back to the place where you left off mentally. This slows you down and is inefficient. So keep engaged with your writing throughout the week.

But How Much Time?

As as assistant professor at an R1, I think it’s reasonable to say you should be writing 12-15 hours a week but up to 20 is certainly feasible. Some of this time will not include actual writing. I like to think of this as writing and research time. So you might have time that includes data collection. You might have time that includes reading research to inform what you are writing.

seat-timeI look at my calendar each Friday and plan out my writing time for the next week. My favorite thing to do is write from 8:00-11:00. Sometimes I come back and write more in the afternoon. I normally write for 60-90 minutes and then take a 10-15 minute break. Then I repeat the process. Mindful breaks are important. Go outside. Get fresh air. Through clothes in the dryer. Move around.

What Do I Do With the Time?

During this time, you don’t have to work on just one thing. You should (ideally) have one research piece you are working on be it as a brand new piece or a revise and resubmit. The second piece could be anything. It could be a book chapter, a book proposal, a conference proposal….something that relates to your research agenda and is building your presence as a scholar.

How Many Pieces Should You Be Writing a Year?

Ok…You’re on a nine-month contract (I assume). But getting tenure at an R1 is not a nine-month job. You will have to write pretty much year round. Yes, take breaks and take care of yourself. But in a 12-month period, my advice to you is to write three pieces. Now, this won’t be super clean because once you get the ball rolling you’ll always have something getting bounced back to you for revisions. When this happens it can slow down the progress of your other pieces. But you have to get things moving so aim for three.

For those three, two need to be research pieces or pieces that could be submitted to a top-tier journal (so a high quality literature review could work here). One could also be a research piece, but I like to broaden my audience, and in my field (education), this is encouraged. Here I advise people to have the third piece be a book chapter or a practitioner piece that will go into a high quality journal for K-12 teachers.

How Long Does It Take to Write That Much?

In my experience, it can take one semester to write a research piece. I normally wrote two a year as an assistant professor and then my third piece over the summer. This was my timeline if I wasn’t revising and resubmitting anything at the moment. The key is to get the ball rolling and get everything flowing. Once you get a good volume produced you will find your own rhythm for working within it.

See the full playlist of academic writing tips.

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