Sunday, January 29, 2012

51. "How to Write a Lot" by Paul J. Silvia

Silvia, Paul J. How to Write a Lot: Practice Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Washington D.C.: APA, 2007.

132 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

In the introduction to How to Write a Lot, Paul J. Silvia states, “Writing productively is about actions that you aren’t doing but could easily do: making a schedule,, setting clear goals, keeping track of your work, rewarding yourself, and building good habits” (3-4). Silvia’s book takes a behavioral approach to writing. He does not emphasize writing from the stance of a creative art, but rather a set of behavioral habits.

Silvia convincingly emphasizes setting up and sticking to a writing schedule as a standard practice. The research he provides is persuasive. In a study done on three different groups of writers (writers who only wrote what they needed at the last minute, writers who only wrote when they were feeling inspired, and writers who were forced to stick to a writing schedule), the writers who stuck to a schedule wrote 16 times more pages than the last minute writers, and 3.5 times more pages than only-when-inspired writers (Silvia, 24).

One assumption that Silvia makes is that all professors and researchers struggle with writing and hate it. He writes that research is fun but writing is not (Silvia, 3). He even goes so far as to compare writing to “repairing a sewer or running a mortuary” (Silvia, 11). I disagree and I think some may take offense at this. I understand he may be attempting humor, but doesn't pull it off very well. He writes the book with an angle towards psychology professors in particular. What he fails to recognize is that there are actually quite a lot of professors and researchers (*cough* me *cough*) who enjoy the writing process. So, he offers good advice, but makes bad generalizations about the people doing the writing.

As stated, Silvia emphasizes sticking to a schedule as the most important part of writing. he also offers other glib pieces of advice such as the end of making excuses, forming a supportive writing group, and how to manage the differences between writing an article versus writing a book.

The first thing I did after reading How to Write a Lot, was make writing schedule and also set up a writing goal tracker in an Excel document. So far, these things have been incredibly useful. In all, if you are in some sort of career field that requires writing or if you just want to learn how to be more prolific in the writing you do, the information in this book, although not necessarily brand new information, will be very helpful and motivational.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: NONE (from the library)

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