How to Write a Lot… Revisited

A long time ago, I wrote a review of Paul J Silvia’s How to Write a Lot. I’ve just re-read How to Write a Lot in the context of how I work and write now. Here’s the best bits of my old review:

Paul Silvia’s book, How to Write a Lot was recently reviewed on Academic Productivity so I picked it up from the library at work. Silvia is a psychologist who studies emotion and in particular what makes things interesting so he seems like an ideal bloke to write a book about something that most academics find mind-numbingly dull.

 I found a lot in it to like in How to Write a Lot. This, from pg16 would seem to be the central message:

As an academic […] you’re a professional writer, just as you’re a professional teacher. Treat your scheduled writing time like your scheduled teaching time.

You’d never skip out on a class, so Silvia says that you should similarly schedule writing and stick to it.

[…]

There is a great picture in the book of Silvia’s writing table, which is little more than a sheet of fibre board on legs and hard plastic writing chair. He quotes Bill Stumpf, who worked for Herman Miller and co-designed the Aeron chair: “I’m not sure there is direct correlation between a piece of furniture and productivity.” So, stop complaining about your slow computer or bad chair. Sit down and write.

[…] Silvia’s main point is that writers who schedule time to write write more (duh) and have more creative ideas per day than “binge writers”. (Something tells me that the same could apply to industrial designers with respect to sketching.)

[…]

Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration. (Silvia quoting Ralph Keyes’ The Writers Book of Hope (2003).)

Silvia is a huge fan of clear, structured, achievable, quantifiable goals, an idea familiar to GTDers. He provides examples, which are too extensive to quote here. He also provides his own list of writing priorities for career academics and a second list for post-grad students. The central thrust of the career academics list is that writing that is closer to completion has priority over writing that has not yet begun. So, he says, do that last edit on your accepted journal paper before starting the outline for your next paper. Geeks will identify with this FIFO strategy.

[…]

Silvia has a dry sense of humour that is used through the whole book. On setting goals, which he says are essential to writing:

Some academics are so enamoured of goals, initiativges and strategic plans that they become deans and provosts.

And on science-ese:

“If the water is dark,” goes a German aphorism, “the lake must be deep.” […] I ought to have said, “Bodies of water characterized by minimal transparency are likely to possess significantly high values of the depth dimension (p < .05)”.

[…]

How to write in one easy step and one hard step:

1. plan to write
2. write.

Shamefully, I still don’t have a writing schedule, other than Friday Shut Up and Write, and I also don’t track my progress.

Now, my work days don’t have a regular schedule — I don’t even start at the same time each day, so I can’t say “9-10 is writing time”. Silvia would call that a spurious barrier, and he’s right. But, looking at my schedule, I think I can say, “the first hour I’m at work is writing time”.

Silvia also makes the distinction between “writing” being about words produced and writing being about moving a project forward. An hour of editing counts just as much as an hour of making the clackity noise.

As of today there’s four days until OZCHI long papers are due. Four days to make a start on making a new habit.

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