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The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

academics ready to writeHere's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again.

Here's what you do: Post in the comment section:
  • what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and
  • the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily.
Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done!

Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.

 For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals. Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes without a break.

Using a timer helps. Many subscribe to the Pomodoro technique of scheduling writing sessions.

This article will help you if you tend to aim for too much time and then beat yourself up because you couldn't do it.

After you post what you'd like to work on and your maximum time per day, what's next?  Go back to this post daily, weekly or just at the end of the challenge (shall we say January 15?) to say how you did, to tell us about your problems or to encourage and commiserate with others.

This experience will give you a teeny tiny feel of the Academic Writing Club.

So, to summarize:
  • Post what you're working on
  • Post your daily time commitment
  • Post again periodically to tell us how you're doing -- I'll receive all posts as emails and will comment and encourage you!
If you think you'll need more than a little boost to get you going and/or keep you going, please join the Academic Writing Club. Thousands of academics like you have used the AWC to boost their writing productivity.

If you're already a member, get a friend to join: then you can both use the coupon code REFERME to get $10 off!

Good luck and happy holidays!


  1. Thanks for this opportunity to do a writing challenge on your blog!
    I will write for chapter 2 of my dissertation for at least 15 minutes each day.

  2. Need to write complete draft of BAMS paper, "Towards Community Software Development to Process and Analyze Cloud Physics In-situ Aircraft Data". By January 16. Need 100 hours total to do this. That is 4 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 5 weeks.

    Kurt and Jamies: Can you together match my 100 hours working on your Thesis?

  3. plan to write 45 min. per day, working first on an article revision

  4. I will write 45 min per day, working on a manuscript revision

  5. Hi Nancy, and welcome to the Writing Challenge! 45 minutes a day seems reasonable. Just remember, if you find yourself procrastinating or not getting it done at all, you might want to aim for a shorter work session. Just knowing that it's less time can circumvent the more resistant part of your brain. Sometimes people like to do two 15-minute or 25 minute sessions, with a break in between.

    I always tell people, "Your behavior is the data." You can't fight data. Just change the parameters of your experiment.

    I wasn't aiming this lecture at you in particular, Nancy (obviously, since I don't know you!) -- just taking the opportunity to get on one of my many soapboxes. :)

  6. Hi David, and welcome to the second, one-every-decade-whether-we-need-it-or-not Writing Challenge!

    I am very impressed to meet someone who can write that much every single day. Because it sounds like you're challenging your grad students to do the same, I have no doubt that you can do this. I'm used to working with people (like me), who get burned out when they work that hard for that many days. You must have a lot of cerebral fortitude!

    Don't be surprised if your grad students are not as able as you to work at that intensity. Even half of it! If they can't, they can follow my suggestions here (in my responses). It's better to write a little every day, then to try to write a lot and get nothing done because you're avoiding the pain of so many hours. (The latter advice is for them and not you.)

  7. Hi Amy, and welcome to the Academic Ladder and Academic Writing Club Writing Challenge! Your plan is exactly what we suggest people do during times when they normally would hardly get anything written. Anyone can squeeze 15 minutes into their day, right? Then you have the option of doing another 15-minute writing session later, if you feel like it and have the time.

  8. Getting started is always the hardest part for me, so knowing that I can stop after 15 minutes if need be is a nice way to lower the stakes. Thanks for that advice! I worked for two hours yesterday afternoon and 45 minutes this morning.

  9. Camila2:12 PM

    I am going to work on writing two first drafts of papers. I would like to have a full draft of one of them by Jan 10th. I will work for 25 mins a day, alternating between the papers.

  10. Amy, yes, you're right about lowering the stakes. In a way it's tricking your mind, but you're doing it in the cause of good and not evil. :)

    Now if you write for long lengths of time without taking a break, it may cause micro-burnout. So if you work for 2 hours, make sure to take a 5-minute break a few times. Just walk around, don't look at the computer, and de-compress for 5 minutes.

    Many people find that using a timer has amazing benefits, far above what you would imagine. You start when the timer says start, and you stop when it stops. You time your breaks, so you have a feeling that you WILL get back to your work if you stop for a break.

    Just giving some general advice for anyone tempted to do focused writing for more than an hour or two a day.

  11. Over the holiday season, I would like to increase my writing to 2 hours total per week with a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

  12. Hi Camila, and welcome to the writing challenge. I'll be interested to hear how it goes writing every other day on two papers. This is a good experiment, because I've never coached anyone who's done it that way. If it works, we'll have a new technique and name it after you! (with your permission). :)

    The only concern I have is that you'll lose one of the advantages of daily writing, which is that your brain will be so familiar with and ready to work on article A that it will resist working on B. But I never say never until I see the data. I do hope it works well and be sure to let us know!

  13. Hi A Alston and welcome to the second once-per-decade writing challenge.

    My only comment to your minimum 30 minutes per day is that I encourage people to aim for a maximum. Now this is only for people who may tend to procrastinate. If you're one of them (or for anyone reading), when your brain hears "minimum," it feels immediately overwhelmed. When you brain hears "maximum," it thinks, deep in your subconscious, "Well, I might not be able to do a half hour, but I can certainly get started."

    If you find yourself somehow not getting to your writing, then fall back to 15 minutes or even less. That way, your brain has run out of excuses. Who doesn't have 15 minutes? Sure, you won't get much done, but you'll get yourself slowly back into the flow.

    I'm trying to inject a little of my writing philosophy into each comment I make!

    Please let us know how it goes, A!

  14. I'd like to work on my dissertation introduction chapters for about 1 hour a day.

  15. I'd like to work on my dissertation introduction chapters for about 1 hour a day.

  16. Welcome to the Holiday Writing Challenge, Mark! One hour a day sounds reasonable. I always tell people that you start with a hypothesis ("I'm going to be able to write for one hour a day"). The experiment is what actually happens. If you do write for one hour a day most days, then your hypothesis was correct. If you don't write for one hour a day, then after a few days or at most a week, change your hypothesis to "I'm going to be able to write for 30 minutes a day" or "I'm going to write for two 25-minute writing sessions"

    The idea is that you don't fight the data. What I usually see is people beating themselves up and not changing their approach. (This is not about you, Mark; it's just my taking this opportunity to get on one of my soapboxes.) They might say, "I'm going to write for 3 hours a day." Then 5 days go by, and they don't write. So what they do is start to yell at themselves internally: "You are an idiot, You were never cut out to be an academic, what's wrong with you" etc.

    But that's silly -- it's like saying that the only way on earth to go on a diet is to eat 2 eggs for breakfast followed by grape juice. Everyone is different in how their minds work and what kind os work they are doing etc.

    So you have to find what works for YOU, and you do that by running the experiment. Scientists don't yell at their data. They just try a different approach. And that's what you should do (people reading this, not meant for Mark in any way, shape or form). Write down your "hypothesis," and then if the experiment doesn't turn out the way you hoped, change your hypothesis.

    That's my science lesson of the day. Thank you for allowing me to hijack your comment, Mark.

  17. Nandini r8:25 PM

    I plan to work for 45 min to 2 hours per day to work on an article revision. Giving me a window might make this seem less restrictive for me!

  18. Adriana1:53 AM

    My goal is to revise an article and get it submission ready. I will work on it min. 30 min. per day

  19. Hi

    I have been ten quarter with my dissertation proposal. It is never ending. My chair sometimes forgets what he asked m to correct. I did, but, a few weeks later, he asked me to correct another way. I have difficult time with it and almost give up. Now is no motivation at all.

  20. Welcome to Academic Ladder's Once-A-Decade Writing Challenge, Nadine!

    Your idea of making it feel less restrictive is a good way of explaining how we can "trick" our mind into doing what we know we should do. I suggest always doing short sessions, even if it adds up to 2 hours. Those breaks do a lot to prevent burnout and resultant avoidance of writing the next day.

  21. Sorry, Nandini. I Americanized your name!

  22. Welcome to the Academic Writing Club Holiday Writing Challenge, Adriana! It's perfect to say that you will work on it 30 minutes a day. When you say, "minimum," just make sure that you feel good about yourself if you "only" do 30 minutes and no more. A major point of this exercise is to give you a feeling of success. So all I'm saying is make sure to set this up so that you feel good about yourself each day for what you've done, instead of having a feeling of guilt.

  23. Hi "Unknown,"

    I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling with your dissertation advisor's feedback system.

    You could really benefit from a recording I created years ago with Jayne London to help graduate students deal with different kinds of situations with their dissertation advisors, including the one that you're dealing with.

    You can read more about this recording here: Hundreds of grad students have purchased this class over the years and have loved it.

    I would just add: Don't Give Up! A Ph.D. is an exercise in perseverance. If you've gotten this close, just keep at it, using the tips you'll find in the recording to deal with your advisor. Get all the support you can, because, believe me; you're not the only one having this kind of struggle.

  24. Christine S.9:18 PM

    I'm game!

    I need to work on an article (need to get it out in the next two weeks, and we're starting our last week of class tomorrow, so lots going on!), and after finals I need to work on my suggested book revisions, which I just received from my editor on Friday.

    I've tried the Writing Bootcamps through Academic Ladder before, and they didn't work well for me because I just had too much teaching stuff to do and online platforms tend not to have the "pull" of face-to-face writing groups for me, but I'll give it a try! Academia is a very lonely place, and I'd really like to become more adept at taking advantage of online communities.


  25. My advisor has asked me to write a over page overview on my what my dissertation will address. I want to write 10 minutes 5 days a week.

  26. Over my 10 day break I will transcribe 5 hours a day of my dissertation interviews.

  27. Hi Christine S, and welcome to the Once-a-Decade Holiday Writing Challenge!

    You have a slightly different challenge than others, because you have a hard external deadline. You've already got accountability going for that article, or at least that's what I think you meant when you said, "need to get it out in the next two weeks."

    I'd still love to hear about how that goes, but the most difficult thing for most people is to keep writing steadily on most weekdays. That's why I recommend the method that Robert Boice's research showed works so well -- writing for moderate amounts daily.

    So once your article is done, you can focus on your book revisions, and take those in small daily chunks. If you have book revision phobia, as so many do, here's how I've seen people make it workable. Make a list of each revision that you have to do. Just seeing it as a list makes it seem more doable. You may need a few days to cool off, if you are handling critical revisions (as often happens with articles). You may need a day or two after making the list. Then start down the list, beginning with the easier ones). and check, tick, draw a line through, etc. each one that you complete. It's just one way to make it manageable and handle an emotions associated with the suggested revisions.

  28. Hi k, and welcome to the Holiday Academic Writing Club Writing Challenge. You have chosen your amount of time wisely. It will make a task that may sound difficult more doable. Peter Elbow teaches that you learn what you're thinking by writing. It's in the process of making your thoughts suitable for writing and talking that you become clear in your mind. The trick is to write a rough draft, and be satisfied with how bad it is, in the moment. Then come back to it, and re-write, delete, change, whatever, and be satisfied in that moment, then go back, etc. That way you can listen to the more creative parts of your brain without censoring it.

    1. Thank you! Any advice on how to organize and keep track of literature? I have a spread sheet where I record authors, titles, the reason I want to use the literature, and key words. But I've been 'working' for so long (3+ years) that I feel like I need to reread everything. I've had two children since I've started, and each birth has created a large gap of time where I stopped working/reading/writing. I'm feeling overwhelmed at being able to do this at all.

      Thank you in advance,


  29. Hi Abigail, and welcome to the Holiday Writing Challenge brought to you by Academic Ladder and the Academic Writing Club!

    5 hours a day of transcription sounds awful, but I guess you have to get it done. I don't suppose you could pay someone....? Just a thought. The only thing I will say is that if you find yourself skipping days (other than the big obvious holiday days), then perhaps this task is too onerous for your unconscious to bear. You may have to aim for shorter transcription sessions, so that you can get the proverbial "butt in seat" and get started each day. Good luck!

  30. Hello all! I am finishing an article I'd like to submit Iin a week or so) and over the holidays I would like to start writing my book proposal. I do not have a book written but I feel I need to write down the idea before writing the chapters, don't you think? Even though I know that when I send the proposal it will be different. I would like to get started with a chapter, too (Is this realistic?) I can work for 2-3 hours/day (taking breaks). My break is Dec 17-Jan 17. However, Dec 24-27 I have family visiting and Jan 4-8 is the MLA. Any suggestions and previous experiences? The good news is that I barely have to work on syllabi, as they are mostly ready by now. I am excited to participate in this challenge!!

  31. Wow, Esther, I just wrote a whole long comment in response to you and Blogger ate it up. Grrrrr...

    I support you writing a draft proposal first, to find out what your initial opinions and thoughts are on the topic. As you already mentioned, it will change over time, but it's a good way to get started. I'd suggest breaking your focused writing times into shorter segments such as the famous Pomodoro 25-minute time. This is where you don't stop your writing to check facts or do some more reading -- you just write. You'll do your best work in your first few writing sprints. Then you should just do something else instead of pushing yourself.

    Only you know if it's feasible to work in very short sessions when your visitors are there. Tell them you're going to write for 25 minutes and you'll be right back, or do it first thing before they notice you're not around! Working at the MLA is probably not possible, though.

    Congrats on having your syllabi approved!

  32. Hi Kristin, thank you for the question. I'm not current on all of the apps that are available to track literature, but it's well worth investigating. If anyone reading this has experience with citation or bibliographic apps or software, please let us know!

    In the mean time, a quick search yielded this for a short review of apps, and also I've heard people praise EndNote, Mendeley and Evernote for this purpose.

    As someone who wrote their dissertation in the dark ages (the age of index cards), I'd say take advantage of the software that's out there, and don't forget to back up in 2 separate places!

  33. How is everyone doing? Maybe the weekend before New Year's is the wrong time to ask...

    But if you are finding those little windows of time to write, hurrah!

    If you're having trouble, then aim for shorter times, even 5 minutes of writing or planning or list making. Staying in touch with your work pays dividends that go beyond any logic. It's where the brain goes beyond computers. It works when you're asleep. So touch your work, then get a good night's sleep.

  34. The Winter Holidays have not yet ended for many of you. So how is the writing going? Have you followed some of the suggestions that I wrote about in my comments and replies above? What worked and what didn't?

    Remember that it's the consistency of writing that makes a difference. It's not how many pages you wrote, but did you develop a habit.

    Please keep us posted, whether or not you're satisfied with your progress!


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