- Professors as Writers – A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing
- by Robert Boice
- New Forums Press
- Copyright 1990
- 130 pages (+56 additional pages in two appendices)
Rating (for the entire book) – 8 out of 10
Chief among my professional goals at the moment is to get started on my research again. Early in my career – pre tenure – I could grind out the articles like nobody’s business. Of late, I’ve slipped. I enjoy reading books on how to be a better writer and – at some point – came across a reference to Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers. Last week, I checked out a copy from the University library.
Boice worried me at the beginning with a clunky, dull forward (pp. vii-viii) that made me glad that I hadn’t paid for the book. The proprietor of a book store once told me that if you’re ever unsure about whether to read a book, try to first chapter and make your decision on that basis. As a general rule, I’ve found that to be sound advice.
But I wasn’t going to quit Professors as Writers because of a boring forward – and I’m glad that I didn’t do so. Boice soon rights the ship. Boice hits you with one of main themes right from the start – success as a scholarly writer depends on working for a short, set duration at specified times. Boice wants you to be a tortoise, not a hare.
Chapters 1-5 – I am the 85%
Toward the beginning of the book, Boice states that research reveals that – in most academic disciplines – 15 percent of the professors publish 85 percent of the scholarship. He also says that the sole way to know our disciplines in depth is to contribute to them as scholars. At the end of Chapter 2, he includes an exercise asking the reader to describe recent attempts to write. Likewise, Chapter 3 contains several pages on which Boice asks the readers to assess whether common writing problems apply to them. (I did the exercises as I went through the book and found them to be very helpful).
Chapters 4 & 5 get into the crux of Boice’s recommendations. He talks about the value of automatic (or spontaneous) writing for removing writing blocks. Automatic writing amounts to stream-of-consciousness writing. In Chapter 5, he switches to generative writing, which is similar to automatic writing; the writer works without self judgment, but focuses his or her work on a research-related topic. I tried the exercises for both of these. My automatic writing was mediocre, but the generative writing was excellent.
Chapters 6 – 8 – Long-run Strategies and Dealing with Relapses
Chapters 6 & 7 concentrate on the need to discipline oneself to produce a steady flow of work. Boice states that tracking your progress (time spent, number of words written, and percent of daily goal accomplished) will keep you on track. He said that we need to give ourselves an unpleasant contingency (such as mailing a $25 check to a hated organization) if we don’t complete our scheduled writing. I’ve already decided that my contingency will be no Internet if I don’t complete my writing.
Chapter 8 focuses on potential issues with relapsing to former bad habits. Boice states that continuing to use contingencies prevents relapse.
So Far, So Good
My summer work is going well. I’m about halfway through a journal article – and I’m even enjoying the process. Obviously, time will tell whether Boice’s plan is for me. I recommend Professors as Writers. While Boice can repeat himself too often, the “meat” of the book is thought provoking and should help scholars who need to regain their writing momentum.