How DO people find the time to write? Are there optimal writing productivity types? I lie awake at night worrying about my own unfulfilled writing dreams and wonder how on earth I’ll help others achieve theirs. So, I swapped insomnia for surveys and put out a quiz. The results are now in and they’ve given me a whole heap more to ponder over!I’m fascinated how people write. After years of working with writers I know the number one problem people face is how to carve out time to write. In today’s hyper busy, over committed, highly distracting world there is little time and space for the creativity and deep work that writing requires.
Researching writing productivity
At Prolifiko we love researching writing productivity – delving into academic studies and running our own quizzes and surveys as well as speaking to hundreds of writers.
We know that ideas come easily – the thing people most struggle with is finishing their writing. We know that the ideal writing practice is a daily habit – writers tell us this again and again, and the research proves writing in daily doses it is far and away the most productive route.
But, a daily writing habit is hard to achieve.
Hearing about other people getting up at 5am, writing for two hours to churn out a 1,000 words a day, every day, before the sun rises, the children wake up and the day’s demands begin just makes us feel bad.
I don’t want people to feel bad about their writing. Because when you feel bad you’re even less likely to get motivated to write.
We ran a writing productivity types quiz
“The quiz comprised one question: How do you find time to write?”
The quiz comprised one question: How do you find time to write?
We asked people to think about their current life and commitments and, within that context, pick the option that best described their writing routine. There were six options:
- I’m a writing hermit – the only way I can write is to turn off distractions and get away from everything.
- I can write anywhere – I don’t need a routine, I can just write, anywhere, at any time – I just need to get it done.
- I’m a binge writer – nothing for weeks, then an intense period of writing.
- I write in daily doses – I like to write a little each day, ideally the same time and place.
- I compartmentalise – I separate my writing from my other work and life commitments. It’s easiest for me to write a for a couple of days a week, generally at the weekend.
- I’m a scheduler – I like to dedicate time within the working week, finding pockets of uninterrupted time within the day.
We ran the survey for a couple of weeks and 388 people responded. In addition, I asked writers in a workshop and also on Facebook. In all three environments, the same answer came top. Binge writer. The one writing type that is proven to be least productive.
“The same answer came top. Binge writer. The one writing type that is proven to be least productive.”
The writing productivity types
Before I dig into the binge writing phenomenon I want to share the results in full. And how it’s helped us to redefine the options. Back to the origin story.
Cal Newport had four writing philosophies: (read more about these 4 types here).
In the quiz, we renamed Newport’s monastic writers as hermits, and his bimodal as compartmentalisers, rhythmic as daily doses, and journalists as anywhere writers.
We added in two new types: binge writing, as this is how many people manage their time, and included a regular scheduling approach where people look across the week and find pockets of time to reserve for writing. This gave us our six types.
Cal Newport was right. And wrong…
In hindsight, I think Newport was right to have four types, but I reckon he picked the wrong ones. Here’s how we came to our four writing productivity types.
In reality, it is pretty impossible to be monastic. It is a highly-privileged approach and something people can do only once they already have success as a writer. As much as I long for my personal ivory tower, I can’t promote this way of working. So, I closed down the monasteries. Sorry monks.
I also created a false split between people who compartmentalise and people who schedule – so I’m combining these results. At heart, both approaches are about ‘time blocking’ to schedule writing into each week.
That leaves us with four writing types. This are how writers self-identified themselves:
- The binger – no writing for weeks then an intense period – 36%
- The time blocker – scheduling time across every week to write – 26%
- The daily doer – a regular habit of writing each (working) day – 23%
- The spontaneous writer – anytime, any place, at the drop of a hat – 15%
I have a hunch – bingeing ain’t so bad
The academic research is clear that binge writing is bad for you. Writing productivity guru Dr Robert Boice found that binge writers might get the words on the page, but it comes with an emotional cost and results in fewer creative ideas. In fact, Boice found binge writing to be counterproductive and potentially a source of depression and writers’ block.
He said: “Productive creativity seems to occur more reliably with moderation of work duration and of emotions, not with the fatigue and ensuing depression of binge writing.”
In short: binge writing sucks.
But, I have a hunch that though he was bang on back in the 1980s, times have changed, and if he did his research now he might be less judgmental. We’re going to dig into this more.
Onwards towards positive, realistic productivity – for all writers
Over the coming weeks we’ll share more ideas, research and case studies on these different writing productivity types.
We’re also partnering with a university to create a more robust survey and will get a much larger sample size.
We hope to get an understanding of how people can find the time to write and this will help us offer more personal writing productivity advice. Watch this space.
In the meantime, bingers fear not – accept that your life is busy, that you might only be able to write infrequently, and try to make the most of the time you have available. You will get it written.