The deadline was a few months away, so I decided to take my time. But in the hectic life of an academic, with countless deadlines for various projects, this task fell by the wayside until I realised I hadn’t written anything at all with a month left to go.

I thought I’d make short work of it, but then I realised it would take more work and particularly creativity than I’d thought. As driven as I am, I solved it immediately: with a bit of juggling, I was able to block out a number of mornings, afternoons and evenings in my schedule to get some writing done. Problem sorted.

Or was it? Alas, just blocking out the time in my schedule wasn’t enough, because for the first time in ages I hit the infamous writer’s block. I stared at the empty document on my screen for hours. I had no idea where to start or what to say, and I couldn’t bring myself to sit in front of my computer and fully dedicate myself to writing. I started to avoid the writing, or the staring, more like. As long as I didn’t open the file, I wasn’t confronted with the blank page. I became increasingly uneasy, and I started feeling anxious, stressed and guilty that I wouldn’t even manage to meet a new, delayed deadline.

Until I came across an article on LinkedIn by an academic who barely had time to write, and started with a sentence per day. That turned out to be the solution for me: micro writing.

Instead of taking hours out of my day for writing, I started writing one or two sentences during 10- or 15-minute intervals. The result: after two weeks, I had miraculously written almost a whole section.

By dialling down my expectations from writing a whole chapter to writing a few sentences at a time, I took off the pressure I had put on myself and I was able to achieve the goal far more easily. Sometimes, I even managed to write a whole paragraph. After a few weeks, I had written a large part of the chapter and the finish line was in sight. I made a final dash, but at a snail’s pace of course. You can go a long way by taking small steps forward.

Hanan El Marroun is professor of Biological Psychology.

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