Back by popular demand!

 width=This session is a follow-on from our recent webinar ‘Writing: how to be more productive without procrastinating or bingeing’. In that webinar Emeritus Professor Brian Martin from the University of Wollongong shared details of his high-output writing program, where participants write regularly in short sessions to improve their productivity and reduce stress levels.

In this webinar, Brian will be joined by four PhD candidates and two graduates who are participating in his high-output writing program and collectively they will share their experiences, wisdom and strategies.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from those who have gone before you and turned their writing pains into productivity gains.

Panelist insights will include:
– how they made writing a habit
– the importance of accountability in the writing process
– ways to write when English is not your first language
– practical suggestions to manage cycles of procrastination and bingeing
– what productivity really looks like and how to achieve it, and
– unexpected benefits of participating in the high-output writing program.

In this session, Brian will be joined by PhD candidates and graduates from the University of Wollongong:
– Anneleis: late stage PhD
– Jody: late stage PhD
– Qin: recent PhD graduate
– Qinqing: late stage PhD
– Paula: PhD graduate 2014
– Tonya: late stage PhD.

Watch the recording

Facilitator bio: Brian Martin is Emeritus Professor of social sciences at the University of Wollongong. He is the author of 20 books and hundreds of articles. Since 2008, he has been coordinating a writing program for academics.

Questions and answers from the panelists

Balancing tasks

Q: I’m just wondering if there is a recommended approach where I can manage between reading and writing on a daily basis?

Brian’s comments—The most common problem for writers is procrastination and bingeing. If you regularly postpone writing, then the most important thing is to spend a few minutes each day writing some new text. You can then spend the rest of the day’s research time revising previous text, reading, taking notes, searching for references, collecting data, doing interviews or experiments, etc. The right balance depends on the person and the circumstances. You can learn about the best balance for yourself by experimenting with different approaches and talking to others in the writing programme about the way they do it. We all have the capacity to learn different ways of doing things. Research shows that brief regular sessions are more effective than long infrequent sessions. You can apply the brief-regular-session approach to writing, revising, reading and indeed every part of the research process.

Q: Would you intentionally try to do more readings in order to have some ‘fresh’ ideas to write about in the next day(s)? But then, sometimes you just can’t wait to put every thought down immediately in case you forget that. Can anyone echo that? How to keep my writing sustainable if I just can’t wait to put things down while/ right after reading?

Brian’s comments—When you have a useful thought, jot it down with a few words, enough to remind you about it later.

Q:Can you describe the process after your quick 15 min free writing session how you continue to work this into a manuscript for publication? I get lost after the free writing and the pieces don’t progress.

Jody’s comments: This is where I have found using a table of contents (TOC) really helpful. If I write something I can roughly sort where it needs to go based on my TOC, or I might need to add a section to the TOC based on the writing. If it’s early days for you, you might only have the general chapter headings as your structure. That’s ok. Put the writing in a file for that chapter and as the writing progresses divide the chapter into more specific sections. If you have a structure already established, progess through the TOC and write something based on the next section in the list that needs addressing. The connections between the writing start to emerge and soon you will be able to identity where more writing needs to be done, or where changes need to be made to the overall structure. It’s all very dynamic!

Q:Does anyone have any approaches that have worked for blocking out the time within work hours, and helping your workplace respect this? I’m in a high admin/service level academic role so struggle to consistently block out reading and writing time.

Anneleis’s comments: Assuming focused writing is an integral part of your work, it might be useful to talk to managers/coworkers about your priorities. Research (and other) output is an integral part of academic life, and blocking out a small portion of your day to focus on this is not unreasonable. If others support your goals, they are likely to also support the strategies you use to achieve them. If that does not work, two other strategies might help: be assertive and just turn off your phone (take your office phone off the hook) and email and lock your office door; and/or carve out your writing time before you get to work (assuming your home is somewhat conducive; if not, perhaps there is somewhere else that is?). Just a few ideas, hopefully you find something that works!

Q:How many pieces of work can you do at the same time? Or would it be better to work on one at one time (until I finish it)?

Brian’s comments—The answer depends on you. Some people like to stick with one topic at a time. I’ve developed the habit of writing new text each day about one topic and then spending time revising text on one or two different topics, and sometimes reading and collecting data about some other topic. It took some years for me to refine this habit. For the new text I write daily, it’s often on the same topic, but if I get a bit stuck then I’ll switch to something else and come back to the original topic one or more days later. You can experiment with different approaches to see what works best for you. We can all learn different to do things in different ways.

Q: Which part of writing (editing, reading) would take the most of your time at the end by using this method?

Qinqing’ comments: For my understanding, daily writing is more about writing. Writing something down is more important. It is not about reading or editing to me. During that particular writing time. I just write. Other work including reading and editing is not real ‘writing time’.
Tonya’s comment: I think reading takes the most time for me. Editing takes more time than first draft writing. However, reading and editing do not count as writing in this program. Writing ‘new words’ is done without refering to other texts. Writing in this way helps you to find your own voice, ideas and links. The editing stage helps you to add extra details, citations or quotations, etc.

Daily Writing

Q: I am stuck in writing the discussion section of my thesis. Any advice? Where to start?

Jody’s comment: I’m currently editing my discussion chapter. It has become full of interesting but not necessarily important points. I’m prioritising these and the points that are important I’m keeping and writing about. The points that are just interesting I’m putting in a new file to review later if I need more in the chapter.

Q: Where do you start with writing if your research is totally new with no prior understanding?

Jody’s comment: I’d suggest to start writing what you know about any aspect of the topic. It might be your assumptions, your aim, why you are interested in the topic. Once you get started ideas will be prompted and directions for writing will start to open up. In this way the writing program can help with thinking about research, the how, what and why.

Q: I feel that I only really enjoy writing when I can get on a roll with it. Do you have any suggestions for how I could embrace this without falling into a binging pattern?

Qinqing’s comments: It makes sense that you enjoy something when you’re into it. However, for daily writing, you don’t need to enjoy it every day. The practice of daily writing is more likely to build up a habit of writing. You keep writing every day (or maybe every workday). Then you get used to writing. That means, you don’t need to write a lot. Just writing for 5+ minutes will be enough. A timer might be helpful. Whenthe time is over, just stop, and come back to it the next day.
Tonya’s comments: Writing daily is one form of ‘getting on a roll’. You can write for more than one session in a day. The most important thing is that you write daily. Sometimes binge writing can lead to taking a few days off because you exhaust yourself and don’t feel like writing again the next day or it can lead to waiting for a perfect long day which can lead to procrastination. Keeping track of your writing will help you pick up these types of patterns.

Q: For a literature review, how we can use this method by not having much reading the papers?

Anneleis’s comment: The point is not to omit reading entirely. Chances are, you already have some knowledge on the subject. Starting to write straightaway serves three purposes: you begin your writing journey and start building the habit of writing, you identify the knowledge you already have, and you also identify the gaps in your knowledge which facilitates a more targeted literature review.

Q: I find the Pomodoro method intimidating as I am working to change my writing habits. I find there is a lot of pressure to produce a lot in each session. What I like about these ideas is separating the creative process, which I really enjoy, from editing and proofing text.  I think this is where I was previously getting stuck. Short writing sessions seem much less intimidating

Qin’s comments: I think it is a good way to separate the creative process, or what we call ‘writing new words’, from the editing process. Although these two processes are closely related—writing new words helps organise your thinking and editing these words strengthens your argument and generates new ideas that you can write later—these processes have their own priorities. Separating these two processes simplifies some complex and intimidating tasks.

Q: When starting a ‘new’ writing habit, is it better to focus on one point (e.g. discussion for a particular result)?

Qinqing’s comments: It will be good if you can start with a particular point since you will clearly know what you are going to write. However, it is not necessary to do so. Just write anything that you want to say. Sometimes, you may feel stuck with writing cause not everyone knows what to write every day. In this case, you are free to write anything as long as you can insist on daily writing.
Tonya’s comment:
I would suggest you start with your current work (e.g., results or discussion). There is no correct place to start.

Q: in the case of writing an academic paper,  I don’t think I can write without reading. But a professor once told me that I need to write write and write. He further said reading then writing just lead me to writing someone else’s idea not my original thoughts. But writing without reading first is impossible. I won’t know what to write. What do you suggest?

Brian’s comment—Write just a little each day. If you know nothing at all about the topic, then write down what you need to learn and how you’ll go about finding information. Write a little each day and separately spend time reading and planning.

Q: I struggle to write sometimes as I feel I need to have a clear purpose of what I am writing for. Is the point of this program to just be led by your creative ideas and then will find the right place for this writing? Have I been thinking about this the wrong way around?

Jody’s comment: The point of the writing program for me is to establish and maintain a writing habit so that I’m productive, and that production is more balanced without procrastinating or binging. At the beginning of my PhD the focus of my writing was about exploring different directions within my study. Writing was a thinking tool that I used to explore ideas and structure my thoughts. Towards the end of my PhD the writing became more focussed and structured. However, the process of writing prompts ideas at any stage of the PhD and now if I have a new idea it goes in a separate folder for future research.

Q: If you write everyday, how do you get your concentration to remember where you were at?

Brian’s comments — When you write nearly every day, it becomes easier to remember where you’re at. I have a series of dot points about my current writing project, and have it on hand so I can see where to start with each day’s writing.

Q: Is there a great benefit to logging your progress in time and word count? This would be unnatural for me.

Brian’s comments — Robert Boice’s research showed that keeping a log and sending it to someone, as a method of accountability, can greatly improve productivity. It’s unnatural because of the common idea that inspiration is needed for writing. Boice and Tara Gray’s research shows that developing a writing habit, used in moderation, is more effective than relying on inspiration. A log helps in maintaining a habit. Athletes know the importance of keeping records of their training sessions, for example times. Researchers can learn from the training routines of athletes.

Q: How do you stop looping from one reference article to another and finally write?

Brian’s comments — You need to set up a system so that you don’t do any reading until, that day, you’ve already spent time writing. For me, the routine that works best is to write in the morning before checking email or social media and before having breakfast. The challenge is to do what you’ve been postponing and to set up a system for doing that every day. Not easy!


Q: This sounds good for the first ideas – but how to “follow through” and get the articles out the door? Doesn’t this often require all-that nitty-focus to references + editing etc.? Or am I over-thinking it?

Qin’s comments—I generally do my reading and editing session in the morning before starting my writing session. I take notes to remind myself what I can write about and what I should argue and comment. When I start my 25 minutes’ writing program during my writing session, I would not do any editing or checking references. I just write my ideas that I generate from my reading and editing session. If I have some references that I am not sure about, I will put a quick note next to my texts—using the ‘new comment’ function in the Word—to remind myself to check it later. For example, I would write ‘refer to my supervisor’s article’ or ‘cite somebody’, etc. After writing some new words, I often have a clear idea where and how to continue my writing or editing my texts. Regarding the referencing, I use ‘endnote’ to organise all my references: I can easily delete/add references in my writing and change format.
Anneleis’s comment: I find it useful to chip away at each different aspect every day. So a little writing, a little reading, a little editing, and a few (sometimes just one) thing/s on my to-do list. This way I don’t neglect any aspect but I am also getting writing to my supervisors regularly.

Q: Have you found you’d easily accumulate a backlog of writings to be edited once you started free writing every day? How do you usually deal with that?

Brian’s comments—When I’ve accumulated lots of text, I write new text for a shorter time each day, maybe just five minutes. This way I produce less new text and can devote more time to revising what I’ve already written.
Anneleis’s Comment: Building on what Brian has said, I found it useful to block out a similar period of time for editing, in the same way I do for writing. I try not to edit writing I have recently completed, as I found the more time between writing and editing the more objective I could be about the writing. (When I write, I make a lot of assumptions about what the reader might already know, and don’t state obvious links. When spacing out the writing and the editing, these gaps become more clear.)

Q: If you are polishing a paper for publishing, should that not be done in the writing session?  I.e. in this situiation should you use the writing session for new text in another chapter?

Paula’s comments—I use the writing session for ‘new words’, to give an outlet to creative writing. I leave editing/polishing final drafts for other parts of my working day.

Q: I’ve made changes since the previous webinar – I have written over 5000 words in 10 mins per day – fantastic. But now I’m trying to work out how to progress this ‘crappy first draft’ to polished work. Do you start using your routine short writing time to now start adding the references in and correcting your sentences etc., or do you make those revisions at times separate to the routine time?

Brian’s comments—When you’re starting out, it’s often better to separate writing new text from revising text you’ve already written. If you’ve accumulated lots of text that needs revision, cut back on your daily writing of new text, maybe to 5 minutes or 100 words. Separately, allocate several sessions of 10 to 30 minutes in which you revise text you’ve written earlier. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just go through it making improvements, adding references, checking information, etc. After this, wait several days or a week and then go through your revised text again. The idea is to give your mind time to unconsciously process what you need to do.

English as a second language

Q: While the thinking process goes on in the head before start writing, is it good to do it in one’s Native language or in the writing language that is English?

Paula’s comments– English is my second language. My daily writing has always been in English. I found that writing in my native language and then translating would be a ‘waste of time’ as I would be going through the same text twice. If the thesis needs to be presented in English, my view is that the best way is writing in English from the beginning. ‘While the thinking process goes on the head’, any thoughts/words that might be difficult to express in English can maybe be written in your native language so that they are not ‘lost’, but overall, and in my own experience, try to write in English from the beginning.
Qin’s comments – From my perspective, I think it is good to write in English. I had tried to write in my own language—Chinese—in the early stage of my phd before I realised that it would not help me express myself clearly and correctly. I think translating from Chinese to English is very different from writing in English and thinking in English. It would also consume a lot of time. But I would sometimes to do the other way around. I would sometimes use my native language as a tool myself to check if my ideas are clear after writing them in English. For example, when I finish writing a paragraph of a new concept or theory in English, I would translate it into Chinese in my head. Then I could see if I have described this concept/ theory clearly in a way that I can understand well both in my native language and English which means I have truly understood this theory.

Q: For people for whom English is not our first language, would it be good for friends to check our work ?

Paula’s comments— I don’t see why not. Having a non-expert reading your work might be helpful in giving you feedback on clarity of expression, even if not on the accuracy of content since they might not be expert on your field.
Qin’s comments: I think sending work to friends for comments and feedback is good. For example, I sent one of my chapters to my friend for feedback, as that particular chapter is related to his area of research. He gave me some helpful feedback and recommended some references that helped me polish my work. I also received some work from my friends (some of them are not native speakers of English) to give them some comments even though we are not in the same field. I made some comments on some concepts that I think might need better clarification, and pointed out some weak links between paragraphs and controversial ideas. I think it is not just about reviewing work for one another, it is also about support.

Q: English is my second language. Which is better, directly writing in my own language then translating it into English, or directly writing in English? Another issure, grammar always become my problem during writing. Any suggestion how to fix that problem?

Qin’s comments: English is my second language. I usually write in English. It would take extra time to write things in my own language and then translate them in English. The translation would not help me with my writing. If I was translating something from my own language into English, I would focus on the translation itself, like the words, phrases, and expressions, etc.; I would miss other things like connections between paragraphs, arguments themselves, and the overall structure of my article. Regarding grammar, maybe you could write down a paragraph and send it to your supervisors or friends (native speakers of English) for detailed feedback on your grammar. Then you will know what specific grammar issues you have and can work on them later.

Q: Hello. As an ESL student, when I first draft something, I always tend to immitate some model articles or materials (references). So does this program suggest that I should not look other materials when producing new words? Just rely on my own thoughs (words)?

Paula’s comments – Yes, the writing program suggests that the time allocated for daily writing (any thing under 30 minutes) should be about ‘new words’, i.e., free writing where you put on paper thoughts/ideas about your work. And if ‘nothing is happening in that space’, use the daily writing to write to a friend or comment on what you did yesterday or intend to do today/tomorrow. The important thing is that you create the habit of writing.


Q: What kind of feedback do you get from the group, considering that the work is often unpolished and may be in a different genre from what the rest of the group is working on?

Paula’s comment: Feedback is given into parts. First, we start by giving positive feedback – any particular aspect of the topic that caught our attention; clarity of writing; coherence of argument; as a non-expert, does the text make sense to me? The positive feedback is then followed by any suggestions that we might consider relevant to improve the clarity of the text – grammar; sentence construction; any points that might be clarified.

Q: How exactly is the feedback done in the writing group?

Brian’s comments — When we met weekly face to face, we spent half an hour reading each other’s texts and commenting on them right then. See With online meetings because of the pandemic, we do things a bit differently. Texts are circulated after the meeting, and we comment on two or three other texts, sending comments by email.

Q: Could you describe the type of feedback you give?

Jody’s comment: In writing group we give positive comments on what the writing does well. For example, the writing might be clearly expressed, structured well or have a logical flow of ideas, among other things. Then we give comments for improving the text. For example, the writing may be improved with better expression and structure, or some ideas may need expansion for greater clarity. There can also be comments about correct use of punctuation, discipline-based writing conventions and spelling mistakes.

Q: How many people should review your first couple of drafts?

Qinqing’s comments: There’s not a specific requirement on the number of people who should review your drafts. You will get more feedback if you invite more people to read it. However, you will learn to review your stuff on your own at some point. A suggestion to do this is, leave the writing there for some time (maybe one week or one month), and go back to review it. You will have a fresh idea about your writing and point out some typos or grammar mistakes easily.

Tonya’s comment: I would bring my first draft (edited once by me) to writing group or send to my supervisors/colleagues. Once I have made any suggested changes then I decide the next person it needs to go to (i.e., ready for the thesis or paper submission, or send first to another non-expert or expert for futher comments and suggestions before submission).

Joining or creating a group

Q: How does one join the group?

Since April 2020, the Wollongong writing group has been meeting online, due to Covid-19. We meet 11.30-12.30 every Wednesday, Eastern Australian time. We welcome participants from any part of the world. To benefit from the meetings, before joining us you should try to write for several days, or more, according to the guidelines in “Hop plan”, a document available at

Aim for about 10 minutes per day using these guidelines. After you’ve done this, contact Brian ( ) and ask to be added to the list of meeting invitees. It doesn’t matter how well you wrote beforehand. The important thing is that you tried, and you can come to the meeting and tell us about your experience and receive tips on improving. At the meetings, we often go into breakout rooms with 3 to 5 people. We are all trying to help each other do better.

Q: What are the difficulties that come up in establishing a writing group?

See “A program for writing”,

Meeting Administration

Q: How does the group work? Is there a leader? How often do you meet?

See “A program for writing”,

Q: How big should a group be?

Brian’s comments—A group can be two or more. There’s no ideal size, as it depends on the who is involved, topics covered, goals and much else. For a good discussion of each other’s texts, we’ve found that groups (or subgroups) of three to five work well.

Q: Just curious. Pre-pandemic, did your writing group meet in person?


Q: Is there a cost associated with this program? If so, how does it work?

There’s no cost. See “A program for writing”,

Organisational Skills

Q: How do you organise all these bits of 5-30 minutes of writing a day? Probably need to set up some useful folders etc.?

Qinqing’s comments – In my case, I don’t have a particular folder for daily writing. I normally write my own diary/thesis/emails, and record the number of words that I wrote. I use logs to keep a track of how many words I write, which you might be able to find on Brian’s website (

Tonya’s Comment: I usually write them as part of a specific working document, for example, a results section or literature review section. I keep the comments documents I receive from the group or supervisors separately and update the original document according to what I accept from these. ”

Q: Because creative writing can go in any direction, and any perspective, how do you file your writing coherently?

Qinqing’s comments – I don’t have a particular folder for daily writing since it really depends on what I write on that day, which could be my thesis, paper, diary or emails. I just use a log to record how long it takes me to do it, how many words I wrote to keep a record. For the contents I wrote, they are where they belong to. For instance, if I wrote something about my thesis, that would be in the folder of my thesis.

Tonya’s Comment: I usually write them as part of a specific working document, for example, a results section or literature review section. I keep the comments documents I receive from the group or supervisors separately and update the original document according to what I accept from these. I do change what part o

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