Monday, February 10, 2014

The 8-Week Challenge

Eight weeks is not a very long time. And yet, if you take a moment to do the math, you discover that there are plenty of hours in eight weeks to get some writing done. The trick is to train yourself to be able to use 27 minutes to write a single, coherent prose paragraph. Next, resolve to write between one and six paragraphs every day, depending on your other commitments. That is, write for at least half an hour and at most three hours every day. Suppose, now, that you have a very busy eight weeks ahead of you and that you'll therefore only be able to do a "minimal" amount of writing. That's five, one-paragraph sessions a week for eight weeks, forty in all, requiring twenty hours of work. (As a point of reference, a standard journal article is forty paragraphs long.) The maximum writing load you should take on is six paragraphs a day over those forty days: 240 paragraphs in all. That means committing 120 hours over eight weeks.

The first time you do this, think of the investment as seeking only knowledge about your writing process. If you commit twenty hours in total, just conceive of it as an opportunity to write forty paragraphs under some rather rigorous conditions. (The content of each paragraph will be decided on in advance and it will be written at a specific time the next day.) That's forty lucid experiences of writing down a piece of your knowledge. You can add a weekly conversation with a colleague, a coach, or a group of colleagues facilitated by a coach. Make sure that this conversation, too, is given a limited amount of time (I hold 27- or 54-minute meetings) so that your investment over the eight weeks is fixed in advance (four or eight hours total). All you are trying to do, initially, is to observe your writing process. What do you do when when you write? How much can you accomplish in half an hour that is devoted specifically to the problem of writing down something you know?

The two paragraphs above consist of 350 words altogether and took twenty-five minutes to write. I began at 6:30 at it's now 6:55. The words are almost perfectly evenly distributed: 174 to 176. I knew in advance that the first paragraph would be about the math (the second sentence is the key sentence) and the second paragraph would be about how to conceive of the investment of time (the first sentence). I went to bed confident that I had those two paragraphs in me and that I could post them at 7:00 AM. I was right. I challenge you to learn this sort of thing about yourself. It's nice to know.

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