Rule #1

Always decide the day before what you will write and when you will write, one key sentence and 27 minutes at a time.

The first habit to learn — or, rather, for most people, to unlearn — is not showing up unprepared to write something in particular at a particular time. It is not sufficient that you know what you will be writing “about”. It is not sufficient that you hoped to “make some progress”. A vague plan to “work on” a paper or even to draft your methods section does not adequately focus your mind. You don’t really know what you’ll be doing if that’s your plan. When tomorrow comes, you won’t really know whether you’re doing what you planned. Worse, if you were vague about what time you’ll be doing it (“tomorrow, I will…”) you won’t even know when it’s relevant to ask whether you’re doing what you said you’d do.

What happens the day before, therefore, is very important. You are telling your unconscious what to prepare for tomorrow. Wait until the end of the day, when you are not going learn anything new. Take five minutes, certainly no more than ten, to make your decision. Be specific. “From 8:00 to 8:27 I will write a paragraph saying that the Internet has changed the way businesses communicate with their customers, which will be the first paragraph of my paper. From 8:30 to 8:57 I will write a paragraph saying that I conducted 34 semi-structured interviews with PR managers in 5 selected companies for my methods section.” (I have italicized the key sentences.) That’s it, you’re done for today. Relax.

The important thing now is not to think about the claims you’ve planned to write paragraphs about tomorrow. You’ve chosen something that you are confident you know something about. If you had been forced to elaborate at the time you made your decision, you would have been able to do it. But you have decided to do it tomorrow instead. Don’t worry about it. The evening is beginning, the night is coming. This is not the time for writing, nor for worrying, but for unwinding with your family and friends or to have some time for yourself. Have a nice meal. Watch some TV. Read a good book. Do not give your plan another thought. Let your unconscious begin to compose itself in prose. You’ll be surprised at how much can happen to your style when you’re not looking directly at it.

Do not overthink this. Don’t make it harder than it is. Remember that you do know something and that you can write a paragraph. All you are doing is making a plan to write some specific paragraphs tomorrow. You are trying to be deliberate about something that you have previously, perhaps, just tried to “let” happen. I’m encouraging you to go into your writing as consciously as you enter your classroom. You know what you are going to say.

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