One of the most valuable things I learned early on from psychologist Robert Boice who studied academic productivity was that a writer must write, every day. But most people find writing to not be appealing and it is easy to find excuses to not write because pretty much anything can seem more urgent and appealing (doing the laundry, cutting the grass, sorting paper clips) when compared to writing. Some also feel that inspiration has to strike for them to write.
But the most seductive argument to not write right now is that there is not a sufficiently large block of time to do so and so one sets aside the weekend or holidays or vacations for that purpose. Academics are particularly prone to this because the structure of the academic calendar has breaks between the semesters that promise loads of time for writing. But that is an illusion and people who plan on writing during such breaks tend to end up writing less than those who do regular writing every day, even if it is for just a short time. This is because the future always has less free time than you think it has.
But breaking the myth of future free time was one of the biggest hurdles that I faced in persuading my academic colleagues that they would do better writing every day rather than waiting for large blocks of time. When you look at your calendar for the coming week it looks very busy but the calendar for next month is always less crowded. Writing a little every day is better than waiting for big chunks of writing time to materialize in the future, because those almost invariably disappear like mirages as the time approaches, driven out by the routine accumulations of life’s obligations. As next month approaches, that calendar will get filled in just the way that the coming week got filled in.
A nice study from back in 2005 illustrated this phenomenon of ‘future slack’ by comparing people’s over-expectations of how much time they would have in the future with their much more realistic estimates of how much money they would have. (G. Zauberman and J. G. Lynch, Jr., Resource slack and propensity to discount delayed investments of time versus money, J. Exp. Psychol. Gen, 2005 Feb: 134(1): 23-37>)
Here’s the abstract:
The authors demonstrate that people discount delayed outcomes as a result of perceived changes over time in supplies of slack. Slack is the perceived surplus of a given resource available to complete a focal task. The present research shows that, in general, people expect slack for time to be greater in the future than in the present. Typically, this expectation of growth of slack in the future is more pronounced for time than for money. In 7 experiments, the authors demonstrate that systematic temporal shifts of perceived slack determine the extent and the pattern of delay discounting, including hyperbolic discounting. They use this framework to explain differential propensity to delay investments and receipts of time and money.
So if you want to write, start writing now. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. As Peter de Vries said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”