i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgi-855500d0d4445ca8c1f2a7a9511d7eb4-Advicefornewfaculty.jpgI’m very excited how many of you have said in the comments that you’ll be joining me as I explore how to use Robert Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members (AFNFM) to help me with my writing during this semester. Even if you didn’t delurk in the comments, you’re welcome to join in. Hopefully your book has arrived, and your week didn’t start off as mine did with two dead laptops (one is now revived; the other one, with all my research files on it, is at the Apple Shop and I bought a Time Capsule this afternoon).

I started off reading the introduction to the book as an overview, and then dove in to Section II, on writing in “mindful ways.” Boice points out that many of us never learned how to “write with fluency and constancy in graduate school” (p. 103), and instead, we learned to approach writing with procrastination and pain. We learned to write alone, with the belief that we had to feel like writing in order to write well, that writing is “supposed” to occur in “a single, brilliant burst” (p. 104) as we imagine geniuses experience. He points out that new faculty already feel overloaded and overbusy, and we don’t feel like we have the energy or time for writing (particularly if we think writing occurs as above).

However, in contrast, he looks at the writing habits of new faculty he calls “exemplary” and “fast starters,” and finds

they get writing underway by learning to write in brief, daily sessions that seem impossibly brief at first. They learn to simplify and clarify writing, even to enjoy it. [!] And their constancy and moderation produce more manuscript pages with more likelihood of publication in refereed and prestigious outlets.

In the end, he argues these fast starters are more efficient, more mindful in how they write.

Sounds good, right? I want to like to write, to learn to write efficiently.

Boice then gives literary hints of exceptional and contemporary writers who engage in such mindful writing, and uses what they say about their writing to help explain how mindfulness applies to writing via these categories (p. 109-110):

  1. Mindfulness as being awake, allowing us to stop and become aware of what we’re doing after rushing about blindly. Why are we doing this faculty gig again? What was it about our research that we liked or cared about? Why do we want to share it? And so on.
  2. Clear-seeing, which allows us to see how our usual work or writing patterns are making us miserable.
  3. Calm efficiency, where if we stay in the present, we become less trapped by panic and doubt.
  4. Freedom from excessive destructive emotions and busyness, which he explains further has to do with extremes of emotions, not the lack of them; and the busyness that we might bring upon ourselves in different ways.
  5. Connectedness and compassion, which allows us to deal with criticism and even rejection in more healthy ways
  6. Letting go, which lets us work more “contentedly in the moment”
  7. Self-discipline, which we use to “awaken ourselves from mindless rushing or stultifying inhibition” (I think that’s where I am with one writing project, stultifyingly inhibited).

He then sets out skills that mindful writers engage in which, he hopes (and I do too) the rest of us can learn (p. 111-112):

  • working patiently
  • work regularly and constantly, but with moderation
  • keep their emotions stable
  • suffer less uncertainty and pain at writing (good good good)
  • welcome criticism (this one will be particularly hard for me)
  • work with efficiency.

And all this is just in the intro to the section!

Chapter 9 describes how to start this process of learning to write mindfully by learning to “wait actively,” a process which Boice describes as “a stage for planned work in the meanwhile.” He sets out some exercises, both formal (p. 121) and informal (p. 118), to help you to pause actively:

Schedule a week or two, starting now, for doing nothing else as a writer but . Schedule brief, daily sessions of this active waiting time each weekday, for perhaps 5 to 10 minutes, no more. Find this time, preferably, amid an otherwise busy morning; remember, it only needs to be 5 to 10 minutes — not a whole hour of your schedule. Spend this brief time at your writing site, with materials — such as notes, references, and old manuscript pages — already on hand. … Begin with a moment of meditative mindfulness by just staying in the present moment, following your breath in and out. This might last a minute or two, for now. Then use the remaining minutes, without hurrying and without leaving the present, to mentally sketch out ideas about your intended writing. (p. 121)

(Isn’t this zen? 😉 ) I think he means even to not write down your in-the-present ideas. This will also be hard for me – if I don’t write it down, I’m afraid I’ll lose it. I’ll have to work on this.

Okay. So I think it’s time for a week of actively waiting. Thereabouts next Monday, I’ll post on how I well I did, and those of you who want to join in are welcome to do so in the comments or with links to your own blogposts. Then we’ll consider moving on to Ch 10. Sound good? Hope so. Good luck with your own practice…


  1. #1 ScienceWoman
    August 18, 2008

    I dunno about this Alice. I got my book from the library and immediately went into the writing section so that I could keep up with you, but I felt like Boice was being too wishy-washy and non-specific and too repetitive. The writing kind of irritated me, honestly. I’ll stick with it for a while though, to see if it grows on me.

  2. #2 JaneB
    August 19, 2008

    I have written a post about my reaction to what I’ve read so far of the book, and will write another when I finish it. I hope to ‘play along’ but as my semester doesn’t start until the end of September and I have my big conference in ten day’s time, I might be quiet at the start. And I have two grants due for the end of the month so can’t take a week off writing! 🙂

    His style is a bit ‘fuzzy and quoty’ for my taste but he actually makes some really good points, I think, once you get past the language. For example, in this first week, I think it’s a useful practice to play with ideas in your head before writing them. I often do a lot of my thinking with pen and paper, but if I’m stuck, restless and feeling trapped by the need to write, I have found the best fix is to take a few minute walk around campus and let thoughts about the project bounce around in my head. And if that still doesn’t free things up, to sleep on it. So if ‘sitting mindfully’ really isn’t your thing, why not try taking a thinking walk?

  3. #3 KatyH
    August 19, 2008

    Whilst not directly related to the book above (and I’m still really looking forward to reading what you think on it Alice), I’ve been reading The Elements of Style, Strunk and White. More to do with style of writing than scheduling, I’ve already identified many of the very irritating habits I have in my writing and edited them out. The book was recommended by Isis the scientist (On being a domestic and laboratory goddess), which is a blog you may like if you are not already reading.

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