Frustrated by Your Writing Productivity?

by Kristin Janke, PhD

Join the club. Academic writing is the source of much consternation and frustration. In an environment where there are so many teaching and service-related demands on our time, it can be tough to make time for writing. Let’s face it, writing rarely has the same urgency as the student standing in your doorway or the committee chair demanding a report. Our schedules are cluttered with meetings and commitments. Planned moments for writing are hijacked by someone else’s emergency that has now become our emergency. As a result, we constantly feel behind in our writing. The projects are completed, the data is in hand, but the writing sits waiting for our attention. We tell ourselves that we will work on it this weekend, through the holiday or over the summer break. We will catch up.

On top of the unrelenting pressure to make time and the frustration of not having it, we can easily heap on some guilt and angst about our progress. Our curiosity about the volume of publication in pharmacy education,1 coupled with the relative ease of quantifying contributions, has led to analysis of publication rates.2,3 The individual faculty member, then, logically asks “What is the desired publications per year?” Looming annual reviews and promotion deadlines leave us questioning “Am I publishing enough?” There’s a certain precision, yet uncertainty to this work that can leave us uncomfortable and questioning our productivity.

As an author, I can get frustrated with myself. There’s a seemingly endless list of writing-related tasks and I could be completing them more quickly and/or to a higher standard of quality. I can easily chastise myself for not hitting certain timelines and goals that I feel I should meet. It’s important that we break through the isolation that can come with academic writing and the perfectionism that may plague us. Instead, we must commit to building our abilities as a writer, knowing that it will happen incrementally, over a lifetime.

As a member of writing teams, I have heard others berate themselves unfairly. We experience circumstances both within and outside of our control and we need to avoid self-recrimination for those unpredictable intrusions that get in our way. However, we also need self-awareness and self-understanding of our abilities and work processes as writers. How can we improve? Honest self-examination and determination are required to become a successful writer.

As I accumulated more experience with writing, and heard more stories from authors, I felt compelled to act. As an advocate for educational scholarship, I know we need to do more for the members of our community. I’m convinced that there are ways to make the academic writing experience better. Overcoming writing challenges and engaging in self-development as a writer is tough work. We can only get so far, nose to the grindstone, and left to our own devices. We must learn about productive, successful, and dare-I-say, enjoyable writing from others. But, that means talking and sharing. How do we shift from the pressure filled, guilt-laden, reality to something else?

We do it together.

That’s why I created the #RxWritingChallenge. I believe the challenges related to academic writing need more open dialogue. We need to give voice to the difficulties and learn from the collective knowledge of other pharmacy writers. For something so important to the advancement of our disciplines, the practice of pharmacy and the students and patients that benefit from our work, we can’t afford to be silent and hope that all goes well. In addition, for something so important to the academic success and wellbeing of individuals, we need to devote our collective wisdom, energy and efforts to improving our systems.

The #RxWritingChallenge is inspired by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s 14-day challenge. Participants are encouraged to try on the practice of writing 30 minutes per day to see if it works for them. Participants can also treat the challenges as a writing sprint (e.g. a short, defined period of time to focus on writing progress). Whether building the habit of daily/regular writing, or engaging in a writing sprint, the #RxWritingChallenge is a twice-yearly opportunity for concentrated time and effort on writing. There’s no doubt about it – time on task is important to writing productivity.

Using Helen Sword’s BASE model, the spring challenge is focused on Behavioral habits and subsequent challenges will address Artisanal, Social and Emotional habits that support successful writing.4 Participants are encouraged to undertake the Challenge with an eye to experimentation. Daily emails, webinars and social media are oriented to creating an environment of empowerment and choice where we can learn from one another. Together, we’re fostering stronger writing habits of mind, such as: persistence, pragmatism, creativity, patience, collaboration, openness, positivity and risk-taking. 4 Please consider this your invitation to join us!


Ben Aronson, PharmD, PhD, and Kate Smith, PharmD have been early supporters of the #RxWritingChallenge, helping to pave the way for others to connect and be involved. Shane Desselle, PhD (Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy) , Robin Zavod, PhD (Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning) and Zaheer Babar, PhD (Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice) have been partners in the 2nd (Spring 2018) Challenge.


1. Sweileh WM, Al-Jabi SW, Zyoud SH, Sawalha AF. Bibliometric analysis of literature in pharmacy education: 2000-2016. Int J Pharm Pract. 2018;epub ahead of print.

2. Chisholm-Burns MA, Spivey C, Martin JR, Wyles C, Ehrman C, Schlesselman LS. A 5-year analysis of peer-reviewed journal article publications of pharmacy practice faculty members. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76(7):Article 127. doi:10.5688/ajpe767127.

3. Bloom TJ, Schlesselman L. Publication rates for pharmaceutical sciences faculty members at nonresearch-intensive US schools of pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ. 2015;79(9):Article 136.

4. Sword, H. Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academic Write. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; 2017.

Kristin Janke is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems and Director of the Wulling Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Pharmacy Education at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. She is Executive Associate Editor for Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning and Editor for Innovations in Pharmacy where she is responsible for the education section.Her scholarly interests include: unique methods for student leadership development, enhancing assessment practices in colleges/schools of pharmacy and broadening publication options for the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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